Science and a Renaissance of Faith

-by Upasaka Kuo Chou Rounds

But that perceptions are subjective does not make them unverifiable. Religion is actually as empirical as science, and no less than science employs the method of reduplicable experiment to gather its body of knowledge. All the religious scriptures of the world are nothing but the recorded accounts of religious experiences set down by the people who experienced them or by their followers. People who study more than one religious tradition often remark that the conclusions drawn by religious masters are remarkably similar, irrespective of their time and place in history. That ordinary consciousness can be transcended, revealing the falsity of ordinary perception; and that all beings can be known to be fundamentally of one substance, revealing the absurdity of selfishness in human activity—these ultimate truths of life have remained the unvarying bases of religion for a history many centuries longer than that of science, which, rather than an agreed-upon body of certain knowledge, is more a collection of provisional findings and possible explanations which change from decade to decade.

Any scientist, equally with anyone else, can verify the discoveries of religion for himself. He does not need a Ph.D. or a federal grant or a laboratory with expensive apparatus. He need only learn to abandon every particle of selfishness and to bring his mind to one. This is the method, based on moral practice, meditation, and prayer, that has always guided religious experience and been the road to religious knowledge. To whatever extent anyone practices unselfishness and inner concentration, to that extent will he reduplicate the experiences and reconfirm the insights of his predecessors.

What divides science and religion and methods of discovery, then, are not faith and reason, subjectivity and objectivity, or degrees of responsibility, but rather the direction of the search. Science looks with out, and like a camera does not take pictures of the picture-taker; religion, knowing that the picture is determined by the camera and so cannot be the true reality, turns its attention to the lens, the film, the hand, the eye, and above all to the mind.

Thus, with the exception of some psychologists and physicists, scientists have failed to verify the discoveries of religion, and have therefore labeled them unverifiable, because they have looked in the wrong place. They have not looked within themselves. Hearing, for example, that there are such places as heavens and hells, populated by beings variously called gods or angels, hell-dwellers or the damned, scientists declare that no such places can be found, even with the subtlest of optical instruments in the laboratory. They forget the primary and subtlest of all optical instruments: the mind; and they consider daft the proposition that if one changes the focus of this instrument through meditation and prayer, one will perceive such "supernatural" phenomena as are described in religious texts--phenomena which are in fact no less natural than anything else the mind perceives in any of its states. Just as microorganisms were not a known part of scientific reality until the microscope became a part of scientific apparatus, so heaven and hell will not be a part of scientific reality until spiritually developed minds become a prerequisite for scientific investigation. Until then, science will consider the discoveries of religion  to be fantasy. But that will not stop the laws of heaven and earth—the laws of karma, of human nature, of good and evil, and of life and death--from holding sway over humanity, any more than an ignorance of microorganisms will prevail against the progress of an infectious disease.

The very fact that science has nothing to say about what happens to consciousness after death should be enough to convince anyone of the partialness of scientific knowledge and of the limits to its reliability as a guide in life. Because they do not know how to turn around and see the mind, scientists—convinced that only they can know anything for certain--have declared the matter of life and death to be unknowable. As to the teachings of religion that throughout one's life one must prepare oneself for death through meditation, goodness of action, and prayer—such preparations, science concludes, are a waste of effort, a flurry of concern with no rational basis, a placebo for the weak of heart. Thus it is that at the time of death, the very culminating point of all our experience, science, having demanded our faith and allegiance from our earliest years, now abandons us and leaves us with nothing. Those of us who have seen close relatives who have no religion approach the end of life in fear and despair, or who ourselves made this approach naked of any guidance, must hold science accountable above all else for its cheating its adherents of religious faith when they most need it, and of thrusting upon them a purported substitute which at the crucial moment is revealed in all its bankruptcy.

Above all, we people must understand how to live and know how to die. We must know how to act with compassion and wisdom and to cease our action with courage and equanimity. The greed, anger, and confusion that come from our own selfishness we must learn to overcome, so that we may purify and make calm our conduct and our minds. These are efforts worthy of all of us, whatever our particular religion and our walk of life; if we make them, our lives together will be at peace, and our deaths will be met with strength.

These efforts are what religion teaches us how to make; of these efforts science knows nothing. If the world is to be saved from destruction, religious people everywhere must put aside their superficial differences and the competitive striving of the past, and they must unite in a renaissance of faith. They must declare before the world their common belief in reverence for life, in humility and goodness of action, and in the validity of inner knowledge. By their united example, they must inspire everyone--above all the scientists, but also the businessmen, the soldiers and politicians, and all society--to join them in rediscovering the spiritual life, so that its principles can be a shared guide toward a saner future for our endangered earth.