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Editor's note: The text below should have been continued after Issue 354. That issue indicated that the series had already ended. We apologize for the oversight and present the rest of the series.
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Excuse me because I am going to speak in English and John Chu will translate [on location]. Some of you will follow me in English and some of you will have to wait for a couple of minutes.
When [the Venerable Master] Hsuan Hua came to America, he realized that translating Buddhism into American society and European society would require rephrasing a lot of Buddhist concepts within a context that Americans could understand. This is a major task that is carried out at the Institute for World Religions in Berkeley, California, which is an offshoot of the Dharma Realm Buddhist University and the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. [Located] in Berkeley, California, it is right next to UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. This is actually an interface between Buddhism and Western philosophical and scientific ideas. Every few weeks, we have a symposium or discussion between some of the major thinkers at UC Berkeley and Buddhist scholars/ practitioners. Lately, we've been talking to people in quantum physics.
I know that people in this audience already know that there is a linkage between Buddhism and science. To introduce Buddhism to American society, Buddhist concepts should be explained in the context of Western thought. Buddhism has similarities and differences with the scientific approach. Let me quickly go through some of the areas of possible connection between Buddhist approaches and scientific insights.
First of all, the Buddha questioned, continually questioned, the truth behind the surface. He was never satisfied with the surface without looking into the deeper level of truth. This is the spirit of science as well. Both Buddhism and science question traditional notions of self and self-identity. Both push analysis of self past our immediate impulse and experience (although in different directions).
Another very important point that links science and Buddhism is that both are profoundly humanistic. In other words, knowledge is something within human existence and experience. From a scientific view, knowledge is not something outside and beyond human understanding. Buddhism disagreed with some of the fundamental principles of Newtonian, classical physics, primarily with the radical separation between subjective and objective spheres of knowledge. There was no real model in which consciousness played a dominant role in understanding the way in which we constructed our sense of the universe. Buddhism would not have been able to connect to this classical understanding.
Fortunately, at the same time Buddhism became better known in the West, Western physics has gone through a tremendous change (the quantum revolution or quantum physics, quantum mechanics). Bohr and Heisenberg began to realize that the universe was quite different from the deterministic mechanistic model—that there was indeterminacy. They talked about its tendency, events or tendencies and so forth. When this other model of the universe was beginning to develop in the 20's and 30's, it opened a way to a profound connection between Buddhism and modern physics.
In addition to this breakthrough, in the last ten to fifteen years, there have been major new breakthroughs that bring consciousness into the equation. In other words, Bohr and Heisenberg were still talking about a relatively classic situation. But in the last ten or fifteen years, quantum physicists have begun to realize that you cannot talk about the universe without taking into account consciousness.
Fortunately, some of the foremost cosmologists who are working on these problems, work in Berkeley. As they are thinking out a cosmology that will make quantum physics fit with the Newtonian one; there are new problems that have not been resolved. As they try to think out a cosmology we happened to be there in Berkeley discussing Buddhism with them at the same time.
On this matter, I recommend the book that was written very recently, by one of the foremost cosmologists whose name is Henry Stapp, called
Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics. In this book he attempted to develop the beginning of a coherent cosmology based on Heisenberg's original thought. Obviously in the short time that I have, I will not be able to go into too much detail. This is one of the people we have been talking to regularly in Berkeley. But I just want to give you a few of his ideas. In the course of this talk, I'll speak about what we as Buddhists are discussing with him about in relation to some of his ideas.
The basic problem and paradox within quantum physics that we have discussions about, and which I am going to discuss in the next few minutes, is based on Einstein and Rosin's paradox. This paradox suggests that there are instantaneous actions at long distance that must be faster than the speed of light. In other words, there is an automatic relationship between events that are occurring without relationship to time and space in the sense of transmission of light.
Bohr, another very famous and important person, did some sort of experimentation that showed the relationship between certain events occurring faster than the speed of light. This was an entirely automatic and instantaneous relationship, even beyond the usual laws that we would apply, that even Einstein's theory of relativity would not fit. In his book, Stapp concluded that if an experiment is made in one region, it affects what is happening in another region simply by virtue of the experimentation being carried out.
This new view of quantum physics means that every event occurring in the mind is instantaneously connected to every other event occurring in the universe. In other words, there is nothing occurring in the universe that can possibly be separate from any other event. Every event in the universe has to be exactly as it was for us to have the last thought that each of us had in this room. It's impossible to separate the mind from nature. Consciousness and nature are totally intertwined in a very profound sense and cannot be separated.
So this new view of quantum physics disagrees with the old ideas that the universe is totally determined by its original, initial state. The universe is simply a set of tendencies that may or may not occur based on probability.
From a Buddhist standpoint, every event that occurs creates a whole new set of potentiality. So as each event occurs, it's creating a totally new universe, potentialities, and so cause and effect is absolute.
Obviously the entire universe—every single event in the universe—is totally connected to every other event and you cannot separate any aspect. It's like a jewel net from the
Avatamsaka Sutra, a jewel net where you draw any pearl in the universe and it pulls the whole universe with it.
This brings all kinds of interesting issues, but you can begin to see already the potential for discussing issues (that are traditionally issues of Buddhism) within a scientific framework is very possible. From a Buddhist standpoint, there is always free will conditioned by karma. Free will is free will in each instantaneous event. Once the universe is determined by that event, once the event occurred, then you have the causation of karma. So you have karma; you have the Buddhist concept of karma. But you also have the Buddhist concept of the free will of each instantaneous moment.
To be continued