Shinzen Young: Towards a Science of Enlightenment

These are my notes from Shinzen Young's keynote “Toward a Science of Enlightenment” at Buddhist Geeks | The Conference tonight. Wish you guys could be here for this, it’s fascinating stuff. 

Buddhism + Science —-> Elevate the global human experience

H.G. Wells quote from 1920

Over great areas of the world it still survives. It is possible that in contact with Western science, and inspired by the spirit of history, the original teaching of Gotama, revived and purified, may yet play a large part in the direction of human destiny. —H. G. Wells

Based on the history of Buddhism across Asia (pre-literate civilizations in Southeast Asia vs. established cultural and literate civilizations like China), we could assume the West would influence Buddhism more than Buddhism would influence the West. BUT…

  • Prior to the Counter-Reformation, Catholic Christianity was a meditative religion. Mystical and contemplative Catholicism has resurged among priests and monks who have studied with meditation masters (ie. Thomas Merton).
  • The same happened in contemplative Judaism with the emergence of Kabbalah and other forms of Judaic mysticism in the US in the 1960s.
  • William James, great American pragmatist, said in the early 1900s that “Buddhism would make a profound and permanent impact on western psychology.”

Buddha was the first and greatest scientist of human happiness.

  • Meditative clarity = Microscope
  • Systematic inquiry = Scientific method
  • Equanimity = Unbiased research

His logical theorem (the 4 Noble Truths) posits that suffering stems from clinging and that suffering ends with the absence of clinging, therefore enlightenment comes from the elimination of something (clinging), not the addition of something. Medical evidence - not to mention direct experience - backs this up today (strokes that remove the brain’s sense of self, etc.).

Like Galileo or Einstein, there is the possibility of great genius, tremendous discovery and yet still the possibility of his being wrong about some things. All this means is that the dhamma has the potential for continued growth and deepening evolution.

Global human happiness is a positive feedback loop that may eventually create an exponential growth curve.

  • Any number of things may get in the way of this growth, one of which is the belief that we’re further along than we are. 
  • If A(ultimate tool/technology/paradigm) leads to B(millions of enlightened people), then lack of B means A wasn’t enough. In other words, we still have a long way to go.

The people who can save the world will need:

  • Deep meditative practice (first and foremost)
  • Scientific interest
  • Ability to think outside-the-box


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