IS SCIENCE TRUTH?
Vol. III, No. 7, 1958
Mankind today is obsessed by Science. The conquests over nature that science has achieved within recent years, and the vast amount of material benefits that it has conferred, has led to the rise of a materialist philosophy that all the problems of men, irrespective of their nature or extent, can be solved through material means. In this process, the physical and the mathematical sciences have played leading roles. The physical sciences with their experimental data and verification, and the mathematical sciences with their logical precision, have combined to take hold of men's imaginations so completely that the ruling force in mankind today is what may be called a scientific philosophy of life.
But if science means truth in that it has extended the boundaries of knowledge in an unprecedented way (that is, from the point of view of science), yet there are vast and important fields of knowledge that science by its nature has perforce left unexplored, and must perforce continue to keep unexplored, for a very long time yet to come.
Such a field, for example, is the realm of mental phenomena. In spite of the long line of distinguished philosophers, psychologists, psycho-analysts, physiologists, anatomist, and other enquirers, science has just touched the fringe of the field of enquiry. It has not as yet effectively entered that limitless domain known as the unconscious, while from the point of view of the Buddha Dhamma, it does not even know of the existence of that sphere of mental calm known as bhavanga.
It is partly on account of this lop-sided development in the scientific exploration of matter on the one hand and mind on the other, that modern theories based on science place so much emphasis on the supremacy of matter in relation to the mind. It is because science knows so much of the details of matter and comparatively so little of the details of mind that ideas have arisen in certain materialist quarters that mind is conditioned by matter.
This lop-sided development of scientific achievements is in large measure due to the mental approach that science has adopted in its enquiries, and to the methods that have been forged out of this mental approach. Thus the relations between mind and matter, and those between mind and energy are not susceptible of experimentation and verification in many important aspects by known methods of science. In the case of the noumena in relation to the phenomena, it is now beginning to be recognised that science has neither the intention nor the power of giving an ultimate explanation of anything.
From the point of view of the Buddha Dhamma, science is ill-equipped for the purpose, probing into Truth. For, while science purports to deal with the Laws of Nature, it completely ignores the existence of a very important natural law, the law of Kamma. According to the Buddha Dhamma, there are four main factors which govern the creation and the transformation of matter, namely, Kamma, Citta, Utu, Ahara. In its investigations and in its solutions, science takes account of Utu and Ahara. In view of the limitations of its methodology, it takes but partial account of Citta, while it takes no account at all of Kamma.
It is difficult in these circumstances for a Buddhist - that is, a person who accepts the word of the Buddha as Truth and leading to Truth - to accept that the conclusions born of science can represent the real truth, or that science can lead to true conclusions. If people who call themselves Buddhists - or who imagine themselves to be Buddhists - are still dazzled and attracted by the apparent truths of scientific discoveries, it seems to be that they have been led astray in much the same way as they cling to the apparent truths of the Pannatti Dhamma as distinguished from the Paramattha Dhamma.
Apart from the question of whether the discoveries of science are actual truths or apparent truths, the things that science has so far discovered, multifarious as they are, are at best partial truths, and when dealing with partial truths it becomes extremely necessary for men to keep themselves vividly reminded of the story of the six blind men of Hindusthan who went to see the elephant. From the point of view of each of these blind men, the particular conception or each of them regarding the structure of the elephant was true as far as descriptive accuracy was concerned, and yet from the viewpoint of the whole truth they were not only all of them in the wrong but the composite picture of their conceptions was also short of the truth.
In the language of the Buddha Dhamma, science concerns itself exclusively with the Pannatti dhamma , and does not attempt to enter the field of the paramattha dhamma. If in Buddhism, there is such an idea as samuti sacca (conventional Truth) governing the relations in the Pannatti domain, the ultimate truth (paramattha sacca) is confined to the paramattha dhamma. The apparent but unreal manifestations of thepannatti dhamma are mirages that lead men astray away from the ultimate truth. From the Buddhist aspect, therefore, science (as at present constituted) can never reach the truth by itself.
While science deals exclusively in the details of the Pannatti dhamma, the Buddha Dhamma deals both with the pannatti as well as the paramattha dhamma . But the emphasis of the Buddha dhamma is unequivocally on the paramattha dhamma. If the Buddha Dhamma deals with the Pannatti dhamma, it does so only to the extent that it serves as a preparation ground for the entry into the domain of the paramattha dhamma, and as an aid towards that entry. The Buddha dhamma does not concern itself with the lurid details of the Pannatti dhamma, as does science, for the more one gets lost in the details of the Pannatti dhamma the more does one veer away from the paramattha dhamma. If this process of losing sight of truth is comparatively easily apparent in the pursuit of the baser wordly attractions, yet the tendency is equally emphatically true in the case of the pursuit of the finer and more subtle details of Pannatti dhamma which comprise the intellectual heights which science has attained.
According to the Buddha's teachings, truth cannot be realised by a mind circumscribed within the pannatti plane - that is, by a mind whose capabilities are limited. Unless an attempt is made to pull the mind out of the pannatti plane on to the paramattha plane, the mind potential cannot be improved, and without an improvement in the potential beyond the pannatti plane no mind is ready or capable to grasp the truth. This improvement in the mind potential cannot be attained by intellectual pursuits alone, but needs a specifically directed course of mental exercises. Thus the true worth of the Buddhist way of life, and a realisation of the truth of the Buddha's teachings, lies in a sustained course of practice designed to lift the mind beyond the limitations of the pannatti dhamma. Thus and thus only can be truth of Buddha Dhamma be truly tested.
The course of exercises that the Buddha Dhamma prescribes for the realisation of the truth is known as kammatthana. The true propagation of Buddhism, therefore, must include a propagation of these kammatthana exercises. These exercises constitute the experimental field of the Buddha Dhamma. Done in the right way, and with due preparation, they are exercises that are bound to produce concrete results within a definite period. This is the assurance given by the Buddha, an assurance in which he invites all to test personally the truth that is embodied therein.
These kammatthana exercises, in themselves, need the creation of a suitable atmosphere, both subjectively in oneself and objectively in one's surroundings. The first step in the subjective preparation consists of purifying one's own moral behaviour in the context of the incidents of modern life with reference to the moral code laid down by the Buddha.
Modern men are rather conceited in their mental make-up. The age of reason that is the child of modern science has made men think that they are in all ways superior in wisdom to the great and unique sages of past ages. When even, as in our present era, they are confused by the widespread lapses in human behaviour, and the necessity of using some of the ancient wisdom of these great sages arises, they are apt to introduce modifications of their own, on the assumption that these great sages were not in a position to know and to appreciate the unprecedented changes in the conditions of human life that the modern age has wrought. Truth, instead of being ultimate, has become relative to time, place and circumstance. Thus has it become necessary to examine one's moral code rather minutely with reference to the thousand and one details of modern life.
The period of preparation for the realisation of the truth may be confined to this life: but it is possible that it may comprise a series of lives. It is therefore possible that the truth may not be realised within this lifetime. But conscientious and sustained application for at least a predetermined period is bound to reduce the mists of kilesa that hide the view of truth, and in proportion as these mists become thinner and thinner so will the personal realisation of the way to truth become stronger and stronger, and even though truth is not actually realised, glimpses of it are bound to be experienced. It is in these experiences that the test of the Buddha Dhamma lies.
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