Buddhist scholar David McMahan and Tricycle contributing editor Linda Heuman are guests on the newest episode of Interfaith Voices, the nation’s leading public radio show on religion and spirituality, to speak about the longstanding dialogue between Buddhism and science. An alliance between Buddhism and science began “sometime in the late 19th century,” McMahan tells host Maureen Fiedler,

in some ways as a reaction to characterizations of Buddhism by…European colonists who were colonizing Buddhist countries and missionizing Buddhist countries, and were portraying Buddhism as superstitious and backwards and idolatrous. As a response, a lot of Buddhists began highlighting the philosophical, ethical elements—things that resonated with powerful forms of modern knowledge and Western thought, like transcendentalism and enlightenment rationalism and psychology, and also a lot of different kinds of science.

These historical developments have led to an understanding that contemporary studies on meditation somehow prove that Buddhism “works.” But according to Heuman, this approach “assumes that meditation is doing the same thing in a religious as in a secular context”:

We actually need to be asking, “efficacious for what?” and to really ask ourselves…whether proving the efficacy of meditation for therapeutic ends really translates into whether or not it works toward liberative ends.

Listen to the full conversation below, and don’t miss Linda Heuman’s interview with the Dalai Lama’s translator Thupten Jinpa Langri on this topic in the new issue of Tricycle.


—Alex Caring-Lobel, Associate Editor