When I am on the road teaching, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “What is the greatest problem facing today’s world?”
Listeners are sometimes surprised when I state that I believe the most crucial challenge we have is bringing together science and spirituality.
In other words—bridging our understanding of how things work and why they matter. I then explain how I’ve found the Buddhist tradition to be both a personal inspiration and a vehicle for this quest.
The story of the historical Buddha is an archetypal tale of human evolution—the paradigm of our budding potential—widely regarded as the fulfillment of our universal consciousness. His poetic life story serves as the pinnacle example of evolutionary intention for all people. It demonstrates the potentiality of responding to, becoming open to, and being at one with the universe.
The Buddha’s life story can be communicated in a way that can be understood both by those immersed in science, and those immersed in spirituality. Unfortunately, the language of spirituality and the language of science classically appear in two very different ways. In fact, many scientists and theologians are quite comfortable with keeping the worlds of experience and the meaning of this experience as two separate conversations. The problem is this only creates an unhelpful duality that divides and destroys us.
As fundamentalist religion and secularism in the form of atheism continue to grow, not having a common language could prove disastrous.
The challenge is to find commonality of attitude between science and spirituality. Many assume that science and spirituality create different attitudes—that science is all about logic and objectives and that spirituality is about personal and sometimes superstitious beliefs.
This has not been my experience. When I speak with quantum and astrophysical scientists about the universe, they actually sound a lot like mystics. They are awe-inspired by the universe and rely deeply upon their imagination to find experimental and elegant solutions to the mysteries of life. In the darkest depths of our transient and contingent life, the scientist and the spiritualist alike are filled with both a yearning for meaning and a haunting doubt.
I propose we find a way to integrate the spiritual and the scientific as two facets of a single harmonized way of being. We can allow ourselves to be immersed in the wonders of our universe through the vistas of knowledge opened up to us by science. This knowledge becomes more than just information; it becomes a fertile soil from which a contemporary spiritual practice can grow.
As a Buddhist-oriented person, I find the story of the historic Buddha’s fabled enlightenment to be a wonderful starting point. It is said that when, at the end of his spiritual quest, he looked up into the dawn sky from his meditation and saw the planet Venus, he declared, “That’s me! The morning star is me shining so brightly! I and all things in the universe are one!” Somehow, this experience helped him to see all life in the universe as deeply interconnected and interpenetrating. This incredible insight revealed that everything exists in dynamic and dependent-arising relationships. This was not only true of the “outer” world of nature, but also of the “inner” world of consciousness.
So, whether I sit before the flatscreen in my living room and watch “Cosmos,” or relax in my hot tub beneath the starry sky, or contemplate the vastness of the universe in meditative repose, my own inquiry becomes a magical world of ritual play—one in which I am not like the Buddha, but actually am the Buddha.
Like this, we can experience a oneness through science that informs us of a universe that is deeply interconnected and interpenetrating, from atoms and subatomic particles, to quasars, and everything in between. I understand that my very life is a cosmic event—the result of innumerable evolutionary causal relations. And so is yours.
This realization could address the psycho-social and existential suffering of our species by liberating us from the view that we are separate, lonely aliens obsessed with survival and trapped in fearful delusions of greed and hatred. We could wake up to our true identity as relaxed, completely self-giving Buddhas, unfolding evolutions of connectedness and compassion.
Indeed, this approach can shift our view away from the delusional myopia of separation and into the reality of a larger, more spacious cosmic consciousness in a meaningful and mysterious dance of being.
Author: Tony Stultz
Image: Science Freak/Pixabay
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Travis May