IN THIS MODERN, SCIENTIFIC AGE the sciences and technology have enjoyed remarkable progress, leading to the rapid and exciting changes we see around us. One of the most important factors in this progress is the expertise resulting from specialization, which has enabled human beings to utilize profound and highly detailed stores of knowledge. This knowledge has in turn been used to answer mankinds needs on a practical level, which is a concrete and tangible fruit of scientific research. Science is at the vanguard of this specialized approach to research, and the exciting developments of technology are a concrete manifestation of it.
Before embarking on this quest for specialization, human beings lived surrounded by innumerable natural forces, all of which had a great effect on human life. Human beings were ignorant of the causes for these natural phenomena, how they affected human lives, or how they were related to each otherall of nature was a mysterious enigma.
In order to know and understand the natural world, human beings were motivated to begin searching for answers, with a variety of different people searching in a variety of ways, amassing knowledge on an ever-increasing scale of detail. But the more they learned, the more there was to learn, and the search for knowledge went deeper and deeper into these specialized channels.
The world has long been absorbed in this specialized search for knowledge, penetrating deeper into these specialized paths, delighting in the knowledge found. Now we find ourselves immersed in a mass of minutiae, and we tend to think, speak, act and try to solve problems in a specialized way.
We seem to have forgotten that the original objective of this meticulous and compartmentalized search for knowledge was an understanding of the relationship which natural phenomena have on human life, both from a specialized perspective and from a holistic one. With researchers drowning in the data of their own isolated fields of research, human knowledge becomes fragmented and disjointed. We have till now concerned ourselves mainly with the wonders that all this knowledge has enabled us to produce, to the neglect of the fundamental problems with which humanity is still faced.
Ultimately, an impasse has been reached, and we are beginning to see warning signals. This impasse can been seen on two levels:
In the search for knowledge: some of the branches of learning, especially physics, which is leading the race for knowledge, seem to have reached the limits that depth and detail can take them. They are incapable of understanding the basic truths of nature, because such an understanding demands an awareness of other fields of learning. This has forced researchers to look for ways to transcend their self-imposed specialized limitations and integrate their knowledge with other fields. At the very least, they are beginning to realize that research in any one specialized field will not lead to realization of the truth. In the application of knowledge: the practical application of specialized knowledge has been geared mostly to responding to human needs and desires. This has led to many problems, which the funnel vision arising from specialization prevented us from foreseeing. These problems are becoming increasingly urgent, threatening the destruction of the human race. The most obvious and urgent of them currently is the destruction of the environment, which is forcing human beings to search for a solution based on a more integrated approach to knowledge.
One of the most important indications of the extent to which the specialized approach to knowledge has developed is the human ability to synthesize both knowledge and new products. Such developments have caused many scientists to delude themselves into believing that they have penetrated reality and conquered nature.
But in fact such knowledge of causal factors and relationships is still limited to the confines of specialization. Beyond these confines, in the whole natural order, such knowledge is no longer sufficient, and the practical application of it leads to problems. It has led to an impasse, one that has awakened humanity to its limitations. The realization of this impasse and its implications is itself one of the most recent advances of human research.
From this realization and awareness of the insufficiency of human knowledge, movements have begun to try to integrate the knowledge of these various specialized fields in order to arrive at a more holistic understanding of the natural order, one which includes both mankind and the natural environment, both the physical world and the mental. This step beyond the confines of specialization and the attempts to integrate diverse bodies of knowledge is a change in direction for mankind, one which has been very difficult to make.
In the context of a holistic understanding of the natural order, the human position within it, and the development of a beneficial human society, the extremely detailed knowledge of specialization has in effect led nowhere, and human beings are still very much in the dark. Science, as the major actor in this scenario, the leader of the quest for knowledge and specialization, is in a most opportune position in which to help the world in this regard, by integrating its research and knowledge with other fields of learning in order to arrive at a more holistic understanding of the natural order.
That the Science Faculty of Chiang Mai University invited me to present a lecture, which is the source material for this book, and organized the printing of the book in both Thai and English, is a beginning in this direction. At least it is a gesture of open-mindedness and willingness to consider ideas about the field of science in the eyes of a field which is traditionally regarded as directly opposed to sciencereligion, the field which specializes in human nature or the mind.
It is worth mentioning here that Buddhism has never seen science as an antagonist. Buddhism welcomes scientific knowledge, recognizing it as another branch of learning about the natural order. Many Buddhists are in fact hopeful that the truths unearthed by science will serve to support and verify the timeless teachings given by the Buddha thousands of years ago. At the very least scientific knowledge may reveal the truths of the physical world, which can only help to improve our understanding of life and mankinds place in the natural order, especially when such knowledge is incorporated with knowledge about the mental world or human world as explained through the teachings of Buddhism.
From the perspective of academic research, this book represents a step toward a more integrated approach to academic learning, broadening the fields of research by recognizing that religion is one branch of the humanities. It is not only academic learning which stands to gain, but human civilization, society and the whole human race.
I would like to extend my appreciation to Ajahn Chatchawal Poonpun, of the Science Faculty of Chiang Mai University, who diligently took upon himself the task of helping the Science Faculty realize its objective, and also saw to the subsequent extension of that first initiative into the printed page. I would also like to extend my appreciation to Khun Yongyuth Dhanapura, the Director of the Buddhadhamma Foundation, who tirelessly dedicates himself to the task of spreading the Buddhas teachings.
I would like to express my thanks to Venerable Phra Kru Palat Insorn (Cintpao), who has given of his time and energy in the preparation through the Desk-Top Publishing process of the original Thai text, which was the source from which the English translation was taken.
Last but not least, I would like to extend my appreciation to Mr. Bruce Evans, who brought to the English translation of the Thai book not only a fluency in both the Thai and English languages, but an understanding of the Buddhas teachings and a dedication to the work, resulting in this admirable English version of the talk in book form. For any inaccuracies which may be remaining in the text, I myself take responsibility.
- Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto
- November 30, 1993
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