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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 September 2017
For many years, I have belonged to a Sutta study group in which we have read many of the key texts of the Pali canon, the earliest of the surviving Buddhist scriptures. We recently read the famous text (Sutta no. 63) in the Mahjima Nikaya, the mid-length discourses, in which the Buddha tried to discourage certain kinds of speculation by offering a simile based upon a poisoned arrow. If someone is struck by such an arrow, the important thing is to have it removed rather than to worry about the type of the arrow's wood or feathers, the clothing worn by the person who shot it, etc. The Buddha suggests that those who worry about certain metaphysical questions, such as whether the world is finite or infinite, whether the world is eternal or transient, or whether the soul is separate from the body or part of it, are like those people who ask irrelevant questions about the poisoned arrow rather than try to remove it as expeditiously as possible. This simile to me seems to capture something important about the relationship between Buddhist spirituality and certain scientific questions, and it encouraged me to read the Dalai Lama's recent book, "The Universe in a Single Atom."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama's eloquent book in fact discusses (pp. 77-78) this enigmatic Sutta together with the divergent interpretations it has received in Buddhist thought. Difficult as the Sutta is, I think it captures a great deal of the Dalai Lama's message in his book, both in his teachings themselves and especially in the tone and manner with which the Dalai Lama conveys his teachings.

The Dalai explores the Sutta I have mentioned in an appropriate place -- in the context of a discussion between the relationship between Buddhist thought and the big bang theory of the origin of the universe. The Sutta and the discussion suggest to me that spiritual questions have an urgency and immediacy of their own, notwithstanding scientific findings. But for me, the most revealing parts of this book were not the sections in which the Dalai Lama discusses the relationship between Buddhist thought and specific scientific teachings. Rather, I thought the most moving discussions were in the opening chapters and in the conclusion. In the opening chapters the Dalai Lama offers some personal biographical information about growing up in Tibet, his monastic training and teachers, and his budding interest in mechanical and scientific subjects. He describes with obvious affection the many Western scientists he has met over the years and how he has responded to what they have taught him. He also tries to draw a distinction between scientific study, which is based upon repeatable, empirical observation and theory -- what he describes as the standpoint of the "third party" and introspection and the search for meaning, which is subject of spirituality and of creative and altruistic endeavor. Science and spirituality frequently interpenetrate, for the Dalai Lama, and have much to give each other. He expands upon this discussion throughout his book and in its conclusion.

In successive chapters of his book, the Dalai Lama discusses, quantum physics, the big bang theory, and evolution. He frequently draws parallels between the results of contemporary science and the results of Buddhist thought. In some cases, he points out that scientific discoveries invalidate certain crude assumptions about the nature of the physical universe found in early Buddhist texts. He candidly recognizes that where specific scientific findings conflict with a Buddhist teaching, the Buddhist teaching must give way. But in other cases, the Dalai Lama is somewhat critical of scientific theory. Thus, the Dalai Lama seems to suggest that the theory of evolution takes too little account of karma -- the nature of consciousness and intentionality -- that he believes necessary to a full understanding of the world. In my opinion, these criticisms of evolutionary theory are unnecessary to the weight of the Dalai Lama's message to look within, to study consciousness and to develop wisdom and compassion. In the process of discussing evolutionary theory, however, the Dalai Lama gives a lucid discussion of kamma, distinguishing it from simple mechanical causation of from the fatalism with which it is sometimes confused.

The strongest scientific discussions in the book are those of the last several chapters where the Dalai Lama discusses consciousness, as developed in Buddhist texts and in the practice of meditation. He suggests ways in which scientists working with the brain and meditators can interact in valuable ways that complement their respective practices without denying either of them. Because these discussions of consciousness and introspection involve subjects the Dalai Lama knows intimately and at first-hand, I found them more persuasive than some of the other writing in the book about the interaction between science and Buddhism.

What I took from this book, and from the Pali Sutta discussed at the outset of this review, is that, in some instances, such as those captured by the poisoned arrow simile, spiritual questions are separate from those of science but that in other instances these questions interpenetrate. (That is, a person trying to understand him or herself needs to understand where science belongs in that particular endeavor) The results of scientific investigation, including specifically evolutionary theory, must be respected. But whatever science teaches, one must try to understand oneself and one's feelings, to understand suffering and grief, and to work towards a development of wisdom, compassion, and understanding. This is the message I took from the Dalai Lama's wonderful book.

Robin Friedman
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 October 2009
The Universe in a Single Atom: How science and spirituality can serve our world, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Random House (Doubleday) 2005, New York; Little, Brown, London, 2006.

The fusion of science and spirituality
By Howard A. Jones

It's now more than thirty years since the publication of Fritjof Capra's Tao of Physics (1975). Since then, an increasing number of both mystics and scientists have pointed out the connection between science and spirituality, even as the gulf between science and dogmatic religion has widened. The incessant cosmic dance of fundamental particles and energies is a scientific expression of the fundamental Buddhist belief `that all conditioned things and events are in constant flux.'

Here is another book on the same unifying theme and it could hardly have been written by a more eminent spiritual authority. As well as possessing a depth of spiritual vision, the Dalai Lama has the intellect to be able to discuss scientific concepts meaningfully with eminent physicists, though he always acknowledges his lack of formal scientific training with humility. These facets of his personality come through in this treatment of the subject.

The preliminary pages set the tone of the book with a quote from Buddhist scripture: `In each atom of the realms of the universe, / There exist vast oceans of world systems'. This is a spiritual expression of the scientific world view of physicist David Bohm, who became a friend and scientific mentor of the Dalai Lama. Bohm's concept is expressed by his notion of `implicate order': just as each molecule of DNA contains the biological blueprint for the whole organism, so each atom has within it a representation of the whole object of which it is a part, each molecule the germ of every system.

This Buddhist world-view demands an infinitely existing universe: `the origination of the universe must be understood in terms of the principle of an infinite chain of causation with no transcendence or preceding intelligence.' This idea differs from the Hindu principle of creation which has found support in recent years from another scientific model - that of the primacy of mind. Both agree in their rejection of `the reducibility of mind to matter', a core principle of many present-day biologists.

The science and spirituality inter-relation is expressed in this book within an autobiographical framework as the author recounts various experiences in his life that have given rise to his present state of enlightenment.

This is a book for those who are open-minded enough to see the world from a Buddhist point of view, if only temporarily. The scientific concepts are all explained in non-technical language.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

Mysticism and Science: A Call for Reconciliation
Creative Evolution: A Physicist's Resolution Between Darwinism and Intelligent Design: A Quantum Resolution Between Darwinism and Intelligent Design
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on 24 August 2017
Wonderful read.
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on 24 October 2012
If you are looking for a clear introduction to the science/spirituality debate, which is everything to do with the issues generated by differing worldviews, then this is an excellent place to start. The Dalai Lama takes you through his journey into and through science and clearly points out and clarifies the landmarks on the way. So he provides you with some excellent orienteering in a region that could easily overwhelm.
But, just in case you make the assumption that this is therefore only for newcomers to the discussions that have been taking place between thoughtful people in both science and religion for many years, take a pause. This is a wonderfully clear overview that will provide those readers already acquainted with the issues with a valuable summary of what's involved. The dialogue between Buddhism and Science is proving to be very fertile, especially in the area of brain, mind and consciousness; the Dalai Lama's ability to communicate wonder, generosity and humility reveals just how nourishing and fruitful that dialogue can be.
If you've been irritated or perhaps saddened by the simplistic treatment of the human search for meaning, purpose and value by the headline grabbers in the field of science and religious debate, enjoy this rich and deceptively simple exploration of the domain.
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on 5 January 2015
For those trained in science, a book about science that publishers have classified as “Mind-Body-Spirit” can cause an inward groan, however distinguished the author. The numbers of ill-informed renderings of science by well meaning New Age authors are legion. This book is different and could have been classified equally well as philosophy of science. It is a beautifully written and thought provoking account of His Holiness’ interest in science. It begins with his early encounters with Western science, through discovering in Potala the fruits of its technology in the form of telescopes, cars, watches, movie projectors and generators; many of which he relished dismantling, reassembling and repairing. We are also treated to glimpses into the world of the teenage Dalai Lama; including the vision of him driving a 1927 Baby Austin around the streets of Lhasa and breaking a headlight. These practical encounters were followed in Tibet and later in India and Europe with meetings with some of the most famous of contemporary scientific minds, including Karl Popper, David Böhm and Francisco Varela.
From his reading, discussions and interactions with the scientific community, which span mechanics and quantum physics to neurobiology, His Holiness draws on Buddhist teachings to show how two very different systems of thought have come to similar conclusions about the nature of reality and of consciousness. In the case of science, its conclusions are derived from experiments on matter and intellectual analysis; in the case of Buddhism through long centuries of spiritual practice and meditative and speculative thought. By making a bridge between the two, His Holiness argues a persuasive case for a stance that allows for accepting and taking seriously the validity of science’s empirical findings, while not denying the richness of human nature and he validity of other modes of knowing. In doing so, he reminds us of the Buddhist analogy of the finger and the moon. Scientific method is a means, the finger, it is not the moon – the ultimate reality it seeks to understand.
The lucidity of the writing is a joy and conveys with simple elegance profound truths from both traditions. For those wishing to understand the nature of reality, this is an excellent work.

Citation: Crowley, Vivianne. “Review: 'The Universe in a Single Atom: How Science and Spirituality can serve our World' by H.H. The Dalai Lama.” The Middle Way: Journal of the Buddhist Society 81, no. 3 (November 2006): 179.
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on 31 July 2006
Two important concepts in Buddhism are: (1) to know the way things really are and (2) a quote from Buddha, " All I have done is to discover the laws of nature". Buddhists strongly believe in an analytical approach to find the truth. The Dalai Lama has since 1960 studied Western science meeting many of the most prominent Western scientists in the USA and Europe. The Dalai Lama became extremely impressed by the progress made in science in the last 400 years, and the contribution science had made to make a high standard of living in the West and Japan and by the contribution it can make to solve the poverty problem. The Dalai Lama studied all types of disciplines, especially physics. Physicists hold different views of the future of the science of the mind. The "two-world physicists" believe that physics cannot develop theories that explain how the mind works and explain concepts like responsibility, happiness and decency. The "Mathematics- Physicists" believe that everything including the processes of the mind can be expressed in mathematics. The "Universe Physicists" view is that physics can make great progress in understanding how the mind works but that it requires additional methods of analysis and is not limited to mathematics.

Buddhists have for more than 2500 years investigated how the mind works, not by brain scans but by intensive training of the mind to enable people to observe the processes in their minds. Their theories are based on logic and on those investigations.

Buddhists like scientists believe in cause and effect as a universal principle. This in Buddhism referred to as "dependent origination ". The world is constituted of dependently originating processes that give rise to dependently originated consequences according to the laws of causality. That also applies to each of us, what we do and think in our own lives affects everything we're connected to. A consequence of this view is that nothing exists on its own, that is independent of causes and conditions. That is why this concept is also referred to in Buddhism as "emptiness" (empty of inherent existence). Many people think or would like to think that they are independent. That according to Buddhism is a dangerous illusion that leads to ego-centeredness.

The meaning of the title of this book, "The universe in a single atom" refers to this connectedness. The thoughts and physical conditions of all of us are influenced by and influences external processes and we are therefore an integral part of the universe.

Chester Barnard, the author of "The Functions of the Executive" wrote in 1939 that people in an organisation function as iron particles in a magnetic field. Even though you cannot see anything the purpose and values of the organisation influence all members of the organisation. The values and traditions of the company are reflected in the minds of each of its members. By studying the processes in the mind of one member of an organisation you can get a picture of the mind of the organisation as a whole. The universe and the atom are in a similar relationship. A bridge between "dependent origination" and physics on this point is quantum theory. In quantum theory the observer does not play a purely passive role. Whether an electron behaves as a particle or a wave depends on the experiment being done. It is the observer who decides on what sort of experiment to do.

The Dalai Lama and the "Universe Physicists" believe that very important progress will be made in this century in knowledge of how the mind works and that collaboration between Buddhist and Western theories will be very productive. Several of the "universe physicists" have published relevant books- David Bohm, was Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of London and worked with Albert Einstein And Niels Bohr, Piet Hut, professor of astro-physics and interdisciplinary studies at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, Arthur Zajonc, professor physics from Amherst College and B. Alan Wallace.

The Dalai Lama is very concerned that scientific knowledge is developing much more rapidly than the moral standards that should direct its use. He refers specifically to genetic engineering of foodstuffs, gene therapy, and genetic manipulation at the level of human embryos, cloning and therapeutic cloning, The Dalai Lame believes that a "moral compass" should be developed, not in isolation by government departments, business, scientists or spiritual leaders, but that it is of such importance that it should involve active participation by all of these groups and by the pubic at large. Who will take up this challenge?
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on 21 July 2014
Excellent book, by a great man I've read a number of title by the Dalai lama and they've always proved thought provoking. The universe in a single atom is no different, discussing the similarities between science, especially Quantum physics and Buddhism as a practicing buddhist I found his opinions clear, insightful and extremely fascinating. The book was in excellent condition. And arrived in good time. I will definitely buy from them again.
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on 5 August 2012
The Dalai Lama is always an inspiration, but more than that he is always looking for and communicating possibilities to make the world a better place for everyone - regardless of religion or other beliefs. Science traditionally bags spirituality - the DL shows how they can and must work together for the sake of all life on earth.
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on 28 March 2015
I'm hooked on the title - the book, unfortunately, doesn't present any more ideas with the same clarity or precision.
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on 12 July 2015
Fascinating, very readable and enlightening
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