Is Buddhism a science?
All sciences, or at least those we call “pure sciences”, are directed towards the external world, towards those phenomena that we perceive. Buddhism, on the contrary, is directed towards “the inner”, meaning it is focused on the mind. For such reason, sometimes Buddhism is called Science of Mind. However, as with other definitions, it is still limited.
I prefer to say that Buddhism is unclassifiable, and that is far from categories and paragons. From an historical point of view, Buddhism are the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, who lived in India more than 2500 years ago. Throughout centuries, these teachings have been transmitted and translated in different languages, as well as enriched with many commentaries. For this reason, the Buddhist literature is incomparable extensive.
At a deeper level, Buddhism is the way Buddhas think, and this can be summarized into two principles: compassion and wisdom.
So Buddhism is a way of thinking. Buddhists are those who aspire developing this good / virtuous way of thinking and who practice it. Buddhas are those who succeeded.
We can also say that Buddhism is the reflection on happiness and the teaching of its causes. By showing us how much we tend to deceive / fool ourselves, or how we lose our path due to our wrong perception of the world and ourselves, Buddhism wake us up with a new view. It makes us seeing reality in a different way than usual, and progressively leads us towards the realization of the true nature of phenomena and of the mind.
Such realization is exactly the source of the cessation of suffering and of all fears. The Buddhist is essentially a serene person. He/she has nothing to fear of, and is also a good person, open to others. These three qualities – wisdom, serenity and good heart – are connected with each other’s and arise one from the other.
In this way, Buddhism is a journey towards wisdom, serenity and generosity.
Buddhism is not a cultural, political or social phenomenon
Culture, of which art in all of its aspects can be considered its highest expression, is rooted in concepts and mundane / ordinary needs, while Buddhism goes beyond this definition / fixation. Within culture, art is an aim itself, on the other hand, within the sphere of activity of Buddhism, art is used a means. Art is inferior when compared to wisdom. In other words, Buddhism is timeless and beyond the ordinary, while culture and art are underpinned in specific period of times and societies.
Buddhism is not political, meaning it doesn’t know frontiers and groups boundaries. It is not based on opponents. It doesn’t come from “somewhere”. It transcends continents and human groups. Nationality, race, social class, supporters of politic parties and so on, do not constitute relevant criteria for Buddhism. On the contrary, the process is to show that ultimately people, and in general all living beings, share the same fundamental nature, the same emotions, the same wishes and fears.
Either is Buddhism a social phenomenon. It is a personal search for perfection. The Buddhist look at him/herself. He/she progresses in his/her own personal spiritual path. The Buddhist message influences the attitude or the behaviour of those who study and practice, but is not taking into account social changes or reforms. It doesn’t pretend being a lobby group and doesn’t proclaim rules within society.
Buddhism cannot be categorized
Actually, there are no definitions that best suits it. Buddhism is not a religion, or at least not in the sense the word is usually used and understood. In fact, it doesn’t assume faith in one god or many gods, and categorically rejects the idea of believing in something without having first analysed through logics and rationality.
Buddhism is either a philosophy, since it is not limited to a mere intellectual approach or through concepts. In truth, it teaches that comprehension alone is not enough. The student has to experience and eventually “realize” (having a direct experience) the teachings. This is the spiritual dimension of Buddhism.
This text was originally written in French by Lama Urgyen Chokyi Dorje in December 1999.