Saturday, March 20, 2010

Describing The Proof-Based-Faith Process Using The Scientific Method pt. 1

(TBO's Note - The following was written during the course of an email conversation with a couple of secular co-workers, SC an agnostic, and KTC, an avowed atheist. The three of us have the habit of getting into heated discussions on a regular basis that end with an understanding if not necessarily an agreement.

How we get to this point in this conversation is pretty convoluted (involving Sandra Bullock/Jesse James, a digression into astrology, whether science was a faith-based ideology, and finally the scientific process itself); but ultimately, not important.

It's important to note that what follows is my own opinion, especially regarding the matter of reincarnation.

The content has been edited to eliminate personal material.)

KTC - Just a question – what experiments are done in Nichiren Buddism? I don’t get how you equate that with the scientific process. What is being hypothesized about? Are we talking thought experiments? What’s the matter under discussion?

I'm going to try to keep this focused, to the point, salient and simple; if only to try to curb my propensity for heading off into tangents.

First, while looking for the possibly apocryphal Sagan quote I mentioned earlier*, ran into this one instead: "I'm not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they're called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation."**

I could argue that the difference between hypotheses and inspritation/revelation is pretty thin, but instead I'll laud the thought being expressed as one that is necessary in matters of faith and science both.

Now, some basic truths about Buddhism in general:

Buddhism = Philosophy concerning matters of birth and death.

Nichiren Buddhism = Hypothesis that the universe functions according to the Law of the Simultaneity of Cause and Effect, as espoused in the Lotus Sutra. To use the most obvious and basic example of cause and effect, "because of the cause of your being born, you will inevitably die."

Seeing as that is the case, the theory goes, then every action/cause you take/create will have an effect; not necessarily a predictable effect, but not exactly a random one either. A further hypothesis is that the phenomena is observable, and that it is possible, with wisdom gained from experience, to achieve a desired effect by producing the appropriate cause.

A corollary goes that, using all of the above, the moment you set your mind to a specific goal/effect, two things will happen: 1) the law governing the universe will align itself to provide a path to the desired effect, and 2) it will also provide obstacles along that path.

Why? So many different answers, and I'll give a few:

- What would be the point of life if not for the journey and struggle to get the things you want out of it? It'd be pointless if it was all just easy wish fulfillment.

- Just like birth and death, cause and effect, light and dark, yin and yang are all part of their same individual coins, so is victory and struggle.

- In an answer that ought to sound familiar to the rational among us: It just is that way.

Okay, that was a tangent. Backing up.

Right. Another further hypothesis is that by chanting NMRK (Nam Myoho Renge Kyo - literally "I adhere to the Mystic Law of Cause and Effect as Described in the Lotus Sutra," but broken down to an abstract is the same as saying "I align with the law that governs Sagan's star stuff"***), by aligning with the law that governs the universe, you gain wisdom and increase your ability to make the proper choice that will lead to a desired effect.

These are some of the basic theories and hypotheses that are unique to the Nichiren School and particularly to the SGI, the organization of Buddhist lay people I belong to. These are the approaches to life that we test everyday with the mind toward proving them correct or incorrect. And if after exhausting every possible method of practice, we find that it is incorrect, the father of this school, Nichiren Daishonin, tells us to yell from the mountaintops that this practice does not work.

These may not be experiments in the strictest scientific sense, but they are more than mere thought experiments. I can't just think this stuff and then suddenly *poof* everything I want is mine. The legwork of taking action in everyday life needs to happen, I have to apply this thinking in every action I take, in every move I make, every thirst I slake, every cake I bake (I'll be watching me), because I need to collect proof that this is not a waste of my (and other people's) time.

These are experiments in living life successfully.

(continued here.)

*I mentioned a quote by Carl Sagan that supported Eastern religions. Alas, Mr. Sagan has never said such a thing.

**Full quote: "The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can't all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It's a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I'm not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they're called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation." - Carl Sagan surrogate Dr. Arroway in Sagan's Contact

***Earlier in the email conversation, KTC, asked whether she believed in the interconnectedness of all things, replied by quoting Carl Sagan (for the record, she quoted him first): "We are all star stuff."


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