Photographs by Matthieu Ricard
Photographs by Matthieu Ricard

Before you were a monk, you were a scientist in cell genetics. How does science inform your perspective on meditation? The basis of science is a rigorous, empirical, and pragmatic approach to everything. A suitable theory has to include the possibility that it can be proven or disproved by fact. A theory that has a ready-made explanation for anything that could happen (like the theory of universal selfishness or psychoanalysis, to give just two examples) is not scientific. A theory should not be just an intellectual construct, but it has to be in tune with reality.

One of the main pursuits of Buddhism is to bridge the gap between the way things appear and the way things are. That approach does not come just from a curiosity to investigate phenomena. It arises from the understanding that an incorrect perception of reality inevitably leads to suffering. Grasping to solid reality and to the notion of an independent self in particular engenders a host of afflictive mental states and afflictive emotions that are the primary cause of mind-made sufferings.

Thus Buddhist science is not just an intellectual pursuit for the sake of unraveling the mystery of nature, but it also has a therapeutic aspect that gets to the very basic cause of suffering. In this context, a rigorous pursuit of science is not to hold a blind belief in anything but to honestly and eagerly pursue the investigation of the mechanism of happiness and suffering.

Are there things that science can’t measure? Science is an authentic, valid means of knowledge. Science is not only about what you can measure; it is also about investigating the relative and ultimate nature of things. A valid means of investigation can be applied to the nature of mind. Provided these means are logical, rigorous, and can be tested experimentally, they do not absolutely require physical measurements. If, for instance, you evaluate the consequences of destructive emotions on your state of mind, you can investigate this thoroughly and repeatedly over time and draw conclusions about the states of mind that need to be phased out and those that need to be cultivated, without necessarily having to “measure” anything physical.

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