The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism has been engaged with scientists for the last 20 years regularly attending Mind Science symposiums where dialogue between him and the world’s top scientists have taken place.
Buddhism is more than just one of the world’s major religions it has a rich history of philosophy, psychology and metaphysics which have enriched the views of the scientists as much as the Dalai Lama has been deeply affected by modern science. The Dalai Lama has even made such radical statements as whatever in our religion does not accord with science should be discarded. Quite a huge thing for a religious leader to say but emphasises his commitment to reason and logic.
Now with thousands of studies being done on meditation methods the Dalia Lama has his own evidence that Buddhist practises work and are not merely beliefs or superstitions. A prominent Buddhist monk has even been declared the world’s happiest man.
One statement which blew my mind was when the Dalai Lama said “we have no problem with the big bang theory, it’s just that it’s probably not the first big bang.” This ties in with ancient Indian Hindu cycle of the Breath of Brahman. What if every big bang, with its huge cosmic expansion and equally huge contraction taking trillions of years was just one in and out breath of the universe?
But that’s not the statement that’s turning modern science on its head because it can easily fit in with current scientific models if not expand on them. The question that can turn science up-side-down was asked when the Dalai Lama was discussing consciousness with the best neuroscientists in the world and he said:
“What if the brain comes from consciousness instead of consciousness coming from the brain?”
In Buddhist theory the body comes from past acts of karma which arise from seeds of consciousness. The person in the form of a clear and immaterial stream of consciousness travels from life to life until that person liberates from this constant cycle by transforming into a fully enlightened being. In other words first there is a stream of consciousness and then arises a new incarnation into a body but the consciousness was already there and is the primary and fundamental cause of the body.
Further and deeper still is the esoteric Buddhist idea that there is a universal field of consciousness at the base of the individual’s personal stream of consciousness. The person becomes a fully enlightened being when they realise their substantial identity as the universal field of consciousness or Buddha Nature and stops being attached to and identifying with insubstantial incarnations of physical form.
The Hard Problem of Consciousness
The consensus amongst scientists is that consciousness is an epiphenomena of the brain, an emerging property of ever increasing complexity of neural networks. In other words consciousness is caused by and comes from the brain. It is important to note, that whilst this is the consensus at the moment it has still not yet been proven. You would not know that because scientists accept the unproven theory so thoroughly that they risk becoming outcasts to question this position.
It was David Chalmers, an Australian cognitive scientist and philosopher, who coined the tern ‘the hard problem of consciousness‘ which highlights the fact that scientists cannot answer the questions of consciousness. So when the Dalai Lama implies the brain comes from consciousness it should be an integral part of the ongoing dialogue about the mystery of consciousness but most neuroscientists are stubbornly ignoring it, if not dismissing it outright.
The idea that consciousness is fundamental to reality rather than physical mass is not a new theory it is known as panpsychism, ‘pan’ means everything, ‘psych’ means mind, essentially everything has consciousness and comes from consciousness.
Panpsychism is one of the oldest philosophical theories, and has been ascribed to philosophers like Thales, Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz and William James. Panpsychism can also be seen in ancient philosophies such as Stoicism, Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism. During the 19th century, panpsychism was the default theory in philosophy of mind, but it saw a decline during the middle years of the 20th century with the rise of logical positivism. The recent interest in the hard problem of consciousness has once again made panpsychism a widespread theory.
Hopefully there will be continued integration of ancient spiritual wisdom and modern science so humans can crack the code and understand our own existence comprehensively. The answers won’t be easy and may blow wide open concepts of reality that we all accept as true.
Change in opinions has always been a slow process in human history. Until then, as the Dalai Lama constantly preaches, let’s make understanding each other’s views and loving kindness toward each other the main way we communicate and interact. With open dialogue and respect for each other we can move toward understanding the universe in a peaceful and unified way.
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Written by Chad Foreman
Chad Foreman has been teaching meditation since 2003 and is determined to bring authentic meditation practices into the lives of millions of people. Chad is a former Buddhist monk and spent 6 years living in a retreat hut studying and practising meditation full time. He is now a fully qualified meditation teacher with the Australian Institute of Meditation and has designed a unique 21 day meditation challenge to guide people gradually from the basics of mindfulness and relaxation to profound states of awareness. Click Here to learn more about the 21 Day Meditation Challenge.