Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Middle Way

While my daughter visited last weekend, she was reading a little book by the Dalai Lama, How To Practice: The Way To a Meaningful Life. This is my scientist daughter, and she finds in the teachings of the Dalai Lama much to admire.

I do not know much about Buddhism, but of the various world religions, it seems most compatible with scientific empiricism and what we here call religious naturalism.

The Buddhist Middle Way, for example, seeks a middle path between philosophical extremes. There is a modesty in the Middle Way, a suspicion of dogmas of every stripe. The Buddha is said to have remained silent when asked to pronounce on certain questions that have bedeviled Western philosophy, such as whether the world is eternal or non-eternal, finite or infinite. Like the Buddha, when faced with the Big Questions of Ultimate Meaning, the religious naturalist is prepared to say "I don't know."

The Middle Way, like religious naturalism, eschews dualities: natural/supernatural, body/soul, matter/spirit. Philosophical dualism has been an endemic affliction of Western philosophy, and remains at the heart of the enduring tension between science and faith.

From what I know of the Dalai Lama, he is not threatened by science, as are so many practitioners of faith-based religions. He writes (in How To Practice): "I believe that the practice of compassion and love -- a genuine sense of brotherhood and sisterhood -- is the universal religion. It does not matter whether you are a Buddhist or Christian, Moslem or Hindu, or whether you practice religion at all. What matters is your feeling of oneness with humankind." And, I might add, a feeling of oneness with all of the universe.