In science we have scientific knowledge on one hand, and scientific attitude on the other. In many cases the scientific attitude is more important than scientific knowledge. Why is this? Because the data or knowledge obtained by science has sometimes proven to be wrong and had to be corrected. This tends to be an ongoing process. This scientific attitude or objective is a constant principle, one which has been of immense benefit to human beings. Whether individual pieces of knowledge can actually be used or not is not a sure thing, but this attitude is a condition that can be used immediately and is of immediate benefit. However, the attitudes of science and Buddhism have some slight discrepancies.
For example: You see your friend walking towards you with a sour look on his face. For most of us, seeing a sour expression on our friend's face would normally be an unpleasant sight. We would think our friend was angry with us, and we would react in negative ways. An awareness of unpleasant experience has taken place, and a reaction of dislike arises, thinking, He can get angry, well so can I''. And so we wear a sour expression in response.
But with a Buddhist or scientific attitude, when we see our friend walking towards us with a sour expression, we do not look on it with an aggravated state of mind, through liking or disliking, but with the objective of finding out the truth. This is the attitude of looking at things according to causes and conditions ... Hmm, he's looking angry, I wonder why my friend is looking angry today. I wonder if something's bothering him. Maybe somebody said something to upset him at home, or maybe he's got no money, or maybe ...'' That is, we look for the real causes for his expression. This is what I call the Buddhist attitude, which is applied to mental phenomena, and which correlates with the scientific attitude, which applies to the material plane. It is an attitude of learning, of looking at things according to causes and conditions.
The scientific attitude is one clear example of how science avoids the subject of ethics or values while in fact containing them. That is, the scientific attitude is in itself an ethic, but because science does not clearly recognize this, it fails to fully capitalize on this ethic. More importantly, science fails to see ethics as an essential factor within the process of realizing the truth of nature.
Buddhism does not use attitude simply for the acquisition of knowledge, but incorporates it into daily life, in the actuality of the present moment. When we incorporate daily life into the picture we come to the quality I call 'too late'. Because the scientific attitude is an attitude and means simply of finding knowledge, any practical application must wait until science finds out all the answers. As long as we don't know the answers our hands are tied. If we don't yet know what something is, we don't know how we should behave towards it.
But in this world there are so many things that science does not yet have the answers for, and there's no telling when science will have the answers. At the same time, mankind, both as an individual and as a society, must conduct life in the present moment. To put it simply, the conduct of life for human beings in a skilful and proper way, within the space of one individual life-span or one society, in real time, cannot wait for these answers from the scientific world.
The Buddhist attitude is to search for knowledge in conjunction with living life, holding that to look at things according to cause and effect is part and parcel of the process of living a good life, not simply a tool to find knowledge. Therefore, with the Buddhist attitude, whenever we meet something that is not yet known clearly to us, or has not yet been verified, we have an outlook which enables us to practise skilfully owards it. We do not lose our standard in life.
The scientific attitude seeks knowledge only, but does not give an outlook for living life. Buddhism teaches both levels, giving a path of practice in relation to things in present day life. I will give an illustration, one which has troubled mankind throughout the ages and toward which even we, as Buddhists, fail to use a proper Buddhist outlook. I refer to the subject of heavenly beings''.
The subject of heavenly beings is one that can be looked at in terms of its relation to verifiable truth, or it can be looked at in relation to human society, in the light of every day life. Looking at the subject with the scientific attitude, we think of it in terms of its verifiable truth, that is, whether these things actually exist or not. Then we have to find a means to verify the matter. The subject would eventually become one of those truths waiting to be verified', or perhaps unverifiable'.
But regardless of whether it is waiting to be verified, or it is considered unverifiable, the matter gets stuck right here, and mankind has no practical course to follow. As long as it remains unverified, it becomes simply a matter of belief. One group believes these things do exist, one group believes they don't. Each side has its own ideas. Take note that those who believe that there are no such things are not beyond the level of belief - they are still stuck on the belief that such things do not exist. Both of these groups of people are living in the one society. As long as they hold these differing and unresolvable beliefs, there is going to be a state of tension.
In this instance, science has no recommendations to offer, but in Buddhism there are ways of practice given in graded steps. On the first level, looking for truth by experimentation, regardless of who wants to prove the matter one way or the other, there is no problem. Those who are looking for the facts are free to continue their search, either in support of the existence of heavenly beings or against it.
On the second level, finding a right attitude for the conduct of everyday life, what should we do? In Buddhism there is a way of practice which does not contradict the case either for or against the existence of heavenly beings . Our lives have a standard which is clear and can be applied immediately. We are always ready to accept the truth, whether it is eventually proven that heavenly beings do exist or they do not, and our way of life will be in no way affected by such a discovery.
Most people are easily swayed or put on the defensive because of doubts about issues such as this, which tends to make them lean towards either one of two extreme views - either that heavenly beings do exist or that they don't. If you believe that heavenly beings do exist, then you have to make supplications and perform ritual ceremonies to placate them. If you believe that there aren't any heavenly beings, then you must argue with those who do.
But in Buddhism we distinguish clearly between the search for facts, which proceeds as normal, and the conduct of everyday life. Our life does not depend on the heavenly beings. If there are heavenly beings, then they are beings in this universe just like us, subject to birth, subject to aging, subject to sickness and subjected death. We Buddhists have a teaching which encourages us to develop kind thoughts to all beings in the Universe. If there are heavenly beings, then we must have kind thoughts toward those heavenly beings. The essence of Buddhism is the teaching of self-development and self-reliance. The objective is freedom. If we are practising in accordance with the principle of self-reliance, we know what our responsibility is. Our responsibility is to train ourselves, to better ourselves. And the responsibility of the heavenly beings is to better themselves. So we both have the same responsibility, to better ourselves. We can no-exist with the heavenly beings with kind thoughts. At the same time, whether heavenly beings exist or not is no concern of ours. It's like the hippos and the jungle cats - each can exist peacefully in the world without problems. In this way, Buddhism has a clear outlook on the matter, and Buddhists do not have to worry about such things.
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