About me

This blog is created by a Buddhist living in Singapore. He embraces the Mahayana spirit of Bodhicitta, deeply respecting all Buddhist Traditions as expressions of Kindness guiding us on the path towards human perfection ~ Buddhahood.

He likes to post stuff that he had read or think is good to share here, sometimes he adds a little comments here and there... just sometimes..

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“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”

~ Amitabha Sutra

When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.

~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Buddhist Community Announcement (Singapore)

I'm actually new to Palelai Buddhist Temple and its Sangha. I was requested by a Dhamma friend to make this announcement. I personally find this a good opportunity to practise Dana, build karmic links with the many distinguished members of Sangha from various countries, and support the Triple Gems when we are still able to. We never know what surprises tomorrow or next moment may bring. It's still kind of early as the event is in Feb 07. (In case you may forget it, note this event in your mobile calendar with alarm on.) I think if I'm still alive then, I might attend this auspicious event too. See you there. :)


(Picture source: flickr.com I think its taken in Haw Pha Kaew, Vientiane.)

Opening Ceremony Of Phra Maha Chedi Dhammasathit

Greetings to all friends in the Dhamma,

Palelai Buddhist Temple in Singapore has been building the Phra Maha Chedi Dhammasathit since 2004. The building process is expected to be completed by end this year. To mark the official opening of Palelai’s new Chedi building, the Resident monks and executive committee of Palelai Buddhist Temple will be holding a Buddhist ceremony from 24th – 26th February 2007.

Venerable Somdej Phra Yanvarodom from Thailand is our distinguished Guest of Honor for this grand opening ceremony. About 180 Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana tradition monks/venerables from Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand are invited to attend and share this auspicious and joyous day in celebration with us. These invited venerables from various Buddhist traditions will be chanting continuously during these three days to consecrate the new Chedi building.

Devotees are welcomed to join us in the three-days celebration and may wish to offer food and requisites to the Venerables during this auspicious celebration. We will also be holding an 8-preceptor retreat during these three days. Devotees interested in taking part in this retreat may register with Palelai Buddhist Temple Administration Office before 28th January 2007. Registration will be based on first come first serve basis as vacancies are limited.

Below is the program for these 3 days’ celebration:

Date Start Time Description of Program
24th February 8:00 a.m. 8 Precepts
10:30 a.m. Food Offerings to Sangha (Venerables)
25th February 7:00 a.m. Invitation of Devas
8:09 a.m. Official opening of Phra Maha Chedi Dhammasathit by Venerable Somdej Yanvadorom from Thailand
9:00 a.m. Offering of food & requisites to the Sangha (Venerables).
11:00 a.m. Offering of food & requisites to the Sangha (Venerables).
1:00 p.m. Meditation / Dhamma Talks
2:00 p.m. Meditation / Dhamma Talks
3:00 p.m. Commencement of 24 hours continuous chanting
26th February 9:00 a.m. Offering of food & requisites to the Sangha (Venerables)
11:00 a.m. Offering of food & requisites to the Sangha (Venerables)
1:00 p.m. Meditation / Dhamma Talks
8:00 p.m. Meditation / Dhamma Talks
10:00 p.m. Relinquishing of 8 precepts
27th February 12:00 a.m. End of continuous chanting & opening ceremony

All friends in the Dhamma are welcomed to join us in this auspicious celebration.

May the triple gems be with you always!

With Metta,
Yours in the Dhamma

This is a nice contribution, I want to share my reflections and experiences too!


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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Survival Tactics by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Thanissaro Bhikkhu will be conducting a meditation retreat from 2nd to 9th Dec 2006 at Palelai Buddhist Temple in Singapore. See the retreat program schedule here. A S$20 fees for the entire retreat is applicable. Interested friends can obtain the application forms from me.


Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff) is an American monk of the Thai forest tradition. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1971 with a degree in European Intellectual History, he studied meditation under Ajaan Fuang Jotiko in Thailand, himself a student of the late Ajaan Lee, and ordained in 1976. In 1991 he traveled to the hills of San Diego County, USA, where he helped establish Metta Forest Monastery, where he is the abbot. He is a prolific writer and translator. Many of his works can be found online at www.accesstoinsight.org. (Extracted from www.Audiodharma.org)

(Picture source: www.flickr.com) From Buddhist texts: "The roots of a lotus are in the mud, the stem grows up through the water, and the heavily scented flower lies above the water, basking in the sunlight. This pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment. Though there are other water plants that bloom above the water, it is only the lotus which, owing to the strength of its stem, regularly rises eight to twelve inches above the surface."

Survival Tactics

(Article source: www.mettaforest.org)
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
May 2001

You know the passage where the Buddha says that heedlessness is the path to death? When you’re sloppy and careless, you die. He’s not talking only about physical survival, although that is an important consideration and many people do die because of they’re own carelessness. But here he’s talking more about the survival of the mind, the good qualities in your mind. When you’re careless, the good qualities in your mind die. And when they die, what do you have left? There may be brute survival of the body but it’s not worth all that much.

When we come to practice the Buddha’s teachings, it’s basically survival techniques for the mind, how to keep the mind’s good qualities going strong. Observing the precepts, practicing concentration, developing discernment: those are the tactics. Like the meditation we’re doing right now: that’s a survival tactic for the mind. Both on the everyday level and at the moment of death, the tactics you learn, the techniques you learn while you’re meditating, are going to stand you in good stead.

The steps we have here – focusing on the breath, making it comfortable, spreading it throughout the body, allowing it to grow calm to the point where there’s a sense of ease and rapture – the beginning stages of breath meditation: they aren’t useful only on the cushion or your meditation seat. They’re also useful in daily life. In other words, by focusing on the breath you keep the mind in the present moment to begin with, because that’s an important place to stay. That’s where all your decisions are being made. All your kamma is being created right there in the present moment. If you’re not there, a lot of things get decided on a subconscious level, on a reactive level, while you’re off someplace else. These are the forces that are shaping your life and yet you’re not watching over them.

So the first thing to do is just to bring yourself into the present moment. And then create a sense of ease and wellbeing in the present moment as well, one that helps you stay there but also gives the mind something to feed on. Ultimately, of course, we want to get the mind to a place where it doesn’t have to feed. But in the meantime it has to feed on something. So you give it something good to feed on: the sense of wellbeing you create simply by breathing in in a way that feels good, breathing out in a way that feels good, so your mind doesn’t go off feeding on things outside: what this person said, what that person did. That kind of stuff is junk food. It may be fun to feed on but it doesn’t give the mind any nourishment. It actually saps your strength. Like fast food: it may taste good for a while, but there’s so much cholesterol in it that over the long term it turns to sludge in your arteries and clogs them up.

(Picture source: www.flickr.com)

The normal things the mind tends to feed on in the course of the day – this person’s actions, that person’s words – are junk food for the mind. You find that when the mind has something really good to feed on, right here in the present moment, it doesn’t want to feed outside. Things can pass right by you. You see other people’s words, their actions, and they just go right past you, in the sense that they don’t come in and wound the mind. You see them clearly—it’s not that you’re oblivious to these things—and you can make good choices on what to do when someone else does something wrong, makes a mistake. But it doesn’t wound the mind, because you haven’t taken it in.

Most of us are like little children: anything that gets near your mouth, you just swallow it right down—rocks, bits of glass. And when they wound you, you go and complain about what other people are doing. Well it’s your fault that you went and swallowed the stuff down.

So if you give the mind something good to feed on—like the comfortable sensation of the breath coming in and going out—the mind has a good place to feed. As it gets a taste of comfort, you begin to notice when it’s not comfortable. Many times that discomfort is associated with unskillful states of mind arising: anger, greed, jealousy, fear. These things will cause a change in the breath. If you’re there with the breath and you’re used to having it comfortable, you notice these changes immediately. They’ll alert you to the fact that something’s gone wrong in the mind. Again, for most of us, we’re off someplace else when these things begin to take a foothold in the mind. By the time we realize it, they’ve taken over. They kill off whatever goodness we may have.

That’s why heedlessness is the path to death. You get careless about what’s happening in the mind, and then all sorts of things can start coming in. But when you’re right there, sensitive to the slightest little unpleasantness in the breath, it’s an alert. It alerts you to when things are happening.

And then what do you do? Another one of the steps we practice here: once the breath is comfortable, you let it spread throughout the body. So you breathe through that uncomfortable breath. Breathe in such a way that it loosens up the tension in the body that goes with the anger, with the fear, or whatever.

(Picture source: www.flickr.com)

You then find yourself in a much better position to act on the situation that got you angry in the first place. You can respond reasonably, wisely, with clarity, because you’re not overwhelmed with a sense that you’ve got to get that tension out of your system—for it’s already dissolved out of your system. What’s left is the awareness that something should be done, but you now have the space to decide: should it be done right now or later? You can see much more clearly what the situation is, what the appropriate response is.

So these basic steps in breath meditation are very important for daily survival of the goodness of the mind: keeping you in touch with decisions being made in the mind, keeping you in touch with the emotions that are threatening to overcome the mind, and giving you tools to deal with them so that you’re in charge.

Even more so, when life comes to an end, the fact that you’ve developed these skills is going to be very helpful. Most people are overwhelmed by the process. The body, which always used to seem to work all right, suddenly starts falling apart. The body, which they identified with, which they’ve invested so much time and energy in, starts falling apart. They feel lost and betrayed. And then where do they go? For people who don’t have any training in meditation, that’s a real killer, not only physically but also mentally.

If you’ve got these skills mastered, you’ve got a better place for the mind to be. You can deal with whatever thoughts come up. And all kinds of thoughts are going to come thronging in to your awareness at that point: this regret, that disappointment, this complaint. There’s going to be a lot of negative stuff. But if you’ve got good solid mindfulness and good clear awareness in the present moment, you can just watch these things come and watch them go. You don’t have to grab onto them.

If you’re really skilled in your meditation, you will have found a place where the present moment opens up into the deathless. Then you’re really safe, no matter what happens - the body falls apart, all kinds of things can happen - but there’s that secure place. Ajaan Fuang once said that when you’re practicing meditation, you’re practicing how to die properly. And these skills that we’re working on when we’re sitting right here, they’re your survival skills, both on a day-to-day level and also when the time comes for the mind to separate from the body, to separate from all its mental events, everything associated with this life. If you do it skillfully, the awareness that’s left will separate out, will have nothing to worry about, either in the present or on into the future.

Find other talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
The Buddha said, "The gift of the Dharma is the highest gift." If you find this beneficial to you, share it with your friends.


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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Monk's Response to An Ex-Buddhist Testimony

(Picture source: www.flickr.com)

Buddhist Venerable wrote about this in response to the following question.
Link: http://www.bdms.org.sg/Questions.html

Question : Dear Bhante,
Recently a past president of the Buddhist society at one of the institutes of higher education converted to Christianity and she has now announced her conversion on the internet. Bhante, what do you say about this? Regards/PK

Dear P K,
People convert from one religion to another for many reasons – some of them sensible, others less so. Some people convert to please their boyfriend or girlfriend, their husband or wife. Others convert because they have a crisis and hope that a new religion might improve things. Some people allow themselves to be literally pushed and pressured into converting. Others convert because they have been impressed by what they think is a miraculous happening. I think that intelligent and mature people make all important decisions in their life this way – in a clear-headed manner, after carefully considering the options, asking questions, examining all the issues involved, being cautious of extravagant claims and of course by not rushing into things. We do this before deciding what career to pursue, what university to attend, before taking on a large financial commitment, when choosing a life-partner or deciding who to vote for, so why shouldn’t we do it before choosing a religion? I have seen the wed site of the person you are referring to and she does not mention why she decided to change her religion.

However, she does say that she was suicidal at one point so we can assume that it was a decision made out, and perhaps as an escape from, confusion, depression and dejection. Perhaps it is important to point out that some students join the Buddhist societies at the institutes of higher education, and even hold office, for social reasons and without necessarily being well-grounded in the Dhamma. I suspect that happened in this case. Maybe the Buddhist societies should try to have more Dhamma education, give their members more psychological and emotional support and focus a little less on ‘fun activities.’

What should our attitude be to those who renounce the Dhamma for another religion? Of course as Buddhists our main concern is that people should be virtuous and happy, not that we ‘win’ converts or ‘outdo’ other religions. Therefore, let us hope that this person has found what she was looking for and that this new step in her spiritual quest leads her to fulfillment, joy and wisdom.

The above question and answer was referring to the following testimony.

From Buddhism to Christianity
(Article source: http://www.everystudent.com.sg/ntu/testimonies/tohaikit)

The former President of the NTU Buddhist Society, Toh Ai Kit received Christ last year. She recounts the story of the amazing change in her life.

Finding life's purpose

Since JC, I was constantly in search of the purpose of life. I felt that life was more than just pure studying. Hence, when I entered university, I joined the Buddhist camps in both NTU and NUS. In a new environment, I felt rather intimidated. But based on the close relationships fostered during the Buddhist camps, I decided to join the society. The mentality I had was that since I was a Buddhist and already made friends there, why not join it? Soon, I became very active in their activities and took up leadership positions in the society.
In Buddhist Society

The major turning point was during my second year. I was cajoled to take up a key leadership position and maybe because of pride or whatever reason, I stood for the elections. But after being elected, I wasn’t happy or excited. Soon, I faced problems such as the loss of identity. I found no meaning and direction in what I was doing. This was worsened by my weak health then. During times when I was really desperate for help, seeking for God’s help came to my mind. However, I had to brush it aside due to the sensitivity of my position in the society. It was difficult to share my problems with others. At times, the accumulation of stress and burdensome problems led to suicidal thoughts. However, whenever that idea crept in, an unknown voice would stop me from thinking about it. (And which is why I’m still able to write this testimony now.)

After my term in office, I felt liberated. At the same time, the idea of going to a church struck me. It was on one unplanned day while waiting for something that I decided to visit a church -- St Andrews Cathedral. I was determined to get into the cathedral despite the drizzle. I decided to read the Bible after doing nothing for 10 minutes. In the end, I stayed in the cathedral for almost an hour. After that, I knew that I had done the right thing and was feeling happy.

Since then, it made me think about what real happiness is. I decided to message my Christian good friend, Shin, who was in UK, to send me those hymns that we sang in secondary school. That significant night when I heard the song “God will make a way”, I cried in front of my computer. I did not know why I cried but I just felt very comforted by it. After sharing with Shin, I asked her to teach me the proper way to pray. And as I was surfing the Christianity websites, I came across one with the sinners’ prayer and I said it on 2 November 2005. That day, I received Christ into my life. =)
Life change

As a new Christian, I am really thankful and touched by the LORD when He spoke and assured me that I was forgiven during one of my church encounters, despite being so negative towards Christians in my earlier university days. Also, the relationship between my brother and I has improved tremendously. I no longer hated him. In fact, he has begun to confide in me about what is happening in his life. It is because of the LORD’s love for me that I can learn to be more appreciative of my family. Thank You God for being so good and not letting me go! =)

Ai Kit went for her first mission trip to Bethany Nursing Home (a local Gen12ii trip) this year.

This is a nice contribution, I want to share my reflections and experiences too!


Read more!

Monday, November 27, 2006

News Article - Buddha on the Brain

Article Source: salon.com.
Ex-monk B. Alan Wallace explains what Buddhism can teach Western scientists, why reincarnation should be taken seriously and what it's like to study meditation with the Dalai Lama.
By Steve Paulson

Nov. 27, 2006 | The debate between science and religion typically gets stuck on the thorny question of God's existence. How do you reconcile an all-powerful God with the mechanistic slog of evolution? Can a rationalist do anything but sneer at the Bible's miracles? But what if another religion -- a nontheistic one -- offered a way out of this impasse? That's the promise that some people hold out for in Buddhism. The Dalai Lama himself is deeply invested in reconciling science and spirituality. He meets regularly with Western scientists, looking for links between Buddhism and the latest research in physics and neuroscience. In his book "The Universe in a Single Atom," he wrote, "If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims."

B. Alan Wallace may be the American Buddhist most committed to finding connections between Buddhism and science. An ex-Buddhist monk who went on to get a doctorate in religious studies at Stanford, he once studied under the Dalai Lama, and has acted as one of the Tibetan leader's translators. Wallace, now president of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, has written and edited many books, often challenging the conventions of modern science. "The sacred object of its reverence, awe and devotion is not God or spiritual enlightenment but the material universe," he writes. He accuses prominent scientists like E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins of practicing "a modern kind of nature religion."

In his new book, "Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge," Wallace takes on the loaded subject of consciousness. He argues that the long tradition of Buddhist meditation, with its rigorous investigation of the mind, has in effect pioneered a science of consciousness, and that it has much to teach Western scientists. "Subjectivity is the central taboo of scientific materialism," he writes. He considers the Buddhist examination of interior mental states far preferable to what he calls the Western "idolatry of the brain." And he says the modern obsession with brain chemistry has created a false sense of well-being: "It is natural then to view psychopharmaceutical and psychotropic drugs as primary sources of happiness and relief from suffering." Wallace also chastises cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists for assuming the mind is merely the product of the physical mechanics of the brain. And he talks openly about ideas that most scientists would consider laughable, including reincarnation and a transcendent consciousness.

In conversation, Wallace is a fast talker who laughs easily and often gets carried away with his enthusiasm. I spoke with him by phone about the Buddhist theory of consciousness, his critique of both science and Christianity, and why he thinks reincarnation should be studied by scientists.

Why do you think Buddhism has an important perspective to add to the science and religion debate?

Buddhism has a lot to add for a number of reasons. Some are simply historical. Especially since the time of Galileo, there has been a sense of unease, if not outright hot war, between religion and science in the West. And Buddhism is coming in as a complete outsider. It's not theistic, as is Christianity. At the same time, it's not just science, as is physics or biology. And there's another reason why Buddhism may bring a fresh perspective. While there's no question that Buddhism has very religious elements to it -- with monks and temples, rituals and prayers -- it does have a broad range of empirical methods for investigating the nature of the mind, for raising hypotheses and putting them to the test.

There's a common assumption that science and religion are entirely separate domains. Science covers the empirical realm of facts and theories about the observable world, while religion deals with ultimate meaning and moral value. But you don't accept that dichotomy, do you?

Not at all. In fact, most religious people don't. This is a notion that's been brought up by Stephen Jay Gould with his whole notion of "non-overlapping magisteria." But it's never been true. All of the great pioneers of the scientific revolution -- Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and on into the 19th century with Gregor Mendel -- they were all Christians. And their whole approach to science was deeply influenced by Christianity. Religion, whether we like it or not, is making many truth claims about the natural world as well as the transcendent world. And now that science is honing in on the nature of the mind and questions of free will, it is definitely invading the turf that used to belong to religion and philosophy.

Many people would acknowledge that Buddhism has some profound insights into the human mind -- why we get depressed, what makes us happy and how we become slaves to our attachments. But what does this have to do with science?

In Buddhism, the very root of suffering and all our mental distress -- what Buddhists call mental afflictions -- is ignorance. The path to liberation, or enlightenment, is knowledge. It's knowing reality as it is. So despite many differences in methodology, both science and Buddhism are after knowledge of the natural world. But what defines the natural world? In modern science, the natural world is often equated with the physical world, and mental phenomena and subjective experiences are regarded as emergent phenomena or simply functions of the brain. But there are many other domains of reality that the physical instruments of science have not yet been able to detect.

But science is as much about method as anything. The scientific method posits hypotheses and theories that can be tested. Is that something Buddhism does as well?

Not in the same way. I wouldn't want to overplay the case that Buddhism has always been a science, with clear hypotheses and complete skepticism. It's too much of a religion, and so there's a lot of vested interest in the Buddhist community not to challenge the statements made by the Buddha and other great patriarchs in the Buddhist tradition. So there are some fundamental differences. At the same time, science is not just science. This very notion that the mind must simply be an emergent property of the brain -- consisting only of physical phenomena and nothing more -- is not a testable hypothesis. Science is based upon a very profound metaphysical foundation. Can you test the statement that there is nothing else going on apart from physical phenomena and their emergent properties? The answer is no.

You're saying we don't know for sure that the physical functions of the brain -- the neural circuits, the electrochemical surges -- are what produce our rich inner lives, what we call the mind?

Cognitive science has plenty of hypotheses that are testable. For instance, is Alzheimer's related to a particular malfunctioning of the brain? More and more, scientists are able to identify the parts and functions of the brain that are necessary to generate specific mental states. So these are scientific issues. But now let's tap into what the philosopher David Chalmers has called "the hard problem" -- the relationship between the physical brain and consciousness. What is it about the brain -- this mass of chemicals and electromagnetic fields -- that enables it to generate any state of subjective experience? If your sole access to the mind is by way of physical phenomena, then you have no way of testing whether all dimensions of the mind are necessarily contingent upon the brain.

But that is certainly the paradigm of the vast majority of neuroscientists and psychologists. The mind is nothing more than the brain, and what happens in the mind is strictly because of the physical mechanics of the brain. I'm sure most of these scientists would say it's absurd to talk about the mind functioning independently of the brain.

Well, when you have no possible means of investigating the mind as it might operate independently of the brain, then to even raise it as an issue is indeed absurd. But there is one avenue of inquiry that's been largely left out or simply repudiated. Right now, you and I have an ability to monitor our own mental states. Can we generate a mental image of an apple? Can we remember our mother's face? Can we recite the opening lines of the Gettysburg Address or some favorite poem? Are these mental images that you generate nothing other than brain states or parts of the brain? At this point, those are not even scientific questions because nobody knows how to tackle them.

You have called for a new field of study, what you call "contemplative science." What would that involve?

Contemplative science must live up to the rigorous standards that neuroscience, cognitive psychology, chemistry and physics have set for us. They've set the bar very high. So I'm a great admirer of the rigor and skepticism of science at its best. But William James, who's one of my intellectual heroes, suggested we have a triadic approach. We should study the mind by way of behavior and brain studies, but, first and foremost, he said, we should study the mind by observing mental phenomena directly. But what he didn't have, and neither did any of his contemporaries, was a rigorous methodology.

Is that what Buddhism offers -- a rigorous methodology?

Yes. I'm not saying we should fuse religion with science. Rather, we should select very specific methodologies from Buddhism and other contemplative traditions where the ability to monitor the mind has been honed over thousands of years -- beginning with the training of attention and then using sophisticated methods for investigating the nature of the mind, feelings and the very nature of consciousness itself during the waking state, the dream state, even during deep sleep. Now, because of the great advances in transportation and communications, we have easy access to the Taoist tradition of China, the Sufi tradition of the Near East, the Buddhist tradition of Tibet and Southeast Asia. I'm convinced this would add much greater depth and breadth to the types of questions that are raised in modern cognitive science.

In science, you have a hypothesis that's tested, and it can be disproved. Does that happen in Buddhism?

On its home turf, frequently not. But I'm also waiting for a neuroscientist to tell me how the hypothesis that mental states are nothing more than neural states will be repudiated. I don't see that as a testable hypothesis. So there's a fair amount of dogma, not in science per se but in the minds of scientists. Likewise, there's plenty of dogma in the minds of Buddhists. But Buddhism at its best -- and we go right back to the teachings of the Buddha himself -- encourages a spirit of skepticism. He said, "Do not take my statements to be true simply out of reverence for me. But rather, put them to the test." Well, if you do that, you should be able to repudiate them as well as confirm them.

Well, let me ask you about that. I know there is a tradition, particularly among advanced contemplatives, that you have your meditative experience, and then you talk about it, you analyze it, and your peers critique it. Does that really happen? When someone comes out of meditation, would someone else say, "Sorry. You didn't do it right"?

Absolutely. You know, Buddhism, like any other tradition, is subject to degeneration. So if you and I headed off to India or Nepal or Tibet, we'd find plenty of Buddhist meditators who are simply going through rote ritual, who are just trying to come up with the right answers at the end of the book. But when Buddhism is really thriving, it's exactly what you described. You go into a three-year retreat, where you are meditating eight to 12 hours a day. You're training the mind. You're investigating the nature of the mind. But you're probably not doing that in entire isolation. You're in consultation with a mentor who's going to review your experience and help you deepen your experience. You'll be questioning your insights. So [your] relationship with your mentor is analogous to working on your Ph.D. with a mentor. If at any point your research becomes flaky or not up to snuff, the mentor is there to say, "No, that's a dead end. This is not good research." This happens frequently in the Buddhist contemplative tradition when it's really robust and healthy.

Has that happened to you? You've meditated for decades. And you were a Buddhist monk for 14 years. Did you have your meditative practice analyzed and critiqued?


I can imagine that might be kind of humiliating.

[Laughs] No. Take the first long retreat I did in 1980. I was a monk at the time. I'd just spent the last 10 years in very rigorous theoretical and practical training in India and in a monastery in Switzerland. And then all I wanted to do was go to the lab -- basically, go into a meditation hut and spend eight, 10, 12 hours a day meditating. Well, I had the tremendously good fortune to have the Dalai Lama as my personal mentor. So he guided me in the meditation. I would meet with him every few weeks. I would discuss the practice and he'd give me feedback. I was living in a little hut in the mountains above Dharamsala, India. I went into a five-month solitary retreat. Somebody brought me food once a week. I was meditating 10 hours a day. I was honing my attention skills. And I would consult with the Dalai Lama. I would consult with other yogis up there on the hill about technique and problems that were arising. They would draw from their decades of experience to help me. And I started to adapt some of these methods for myself as a Westerner who grew up in America and Europe, rather than as a nomad at 14,000 [feet] up on the Tibetan plateau.

Did you have profound mystical experiences? Did you have moments of what might be called enlightenment?

Well, the word "enlightenment" has been used in so many different ways, I won't tread on that mine field. Eighteenth century Europe itself went through an Enlightenment, but I'm not sure that would be an enlightenment in my category. So for me to make any claims about enlightenment would be counterproductive. Did I find any transformation of consciousness? Did I find attention skills honed? Did I experience states of consciousness that I'd never experienced before such sustained meditative training? The answer is yes, yes, yes. But what a mature meditator is even more concerned with than those epiphanies -- those moments of revelation or breakthrough -- is the overall impact on the quality of your life, your way of engaging with other people and dealing with adversity. Is it helpful? Does it give you a clearer sense of reality? If it doesn't, then I say meditation is merely a hobby. If it does, then meditation can be something very central to developing greater mental health and clear engagement with reality itself.

I've heard that your father was a Protestant theologian. It does raise the question of why you became a Buddhist. Why has Buddhism resonated with you in a way that Christianity has not?

Well, it's a personal issue. You're quite right. My father was -- and is -- a Christian theologian. We have a loving and very trusting relationship. The fact that he is a Christian theologian definitely had a profound impact on the course my life has taken. As I was growing up, from the age of 13, I had a very clear sense that I wanted to dedicate my life to science. And so I immersed myself in chemistry, biology, physics and calculus. At the same time, my religious background had made a very deep impact on my life. But what really struck me very painfully -- I would say existentially -- was the profound incompatibility between science and the whole worldview of Christianity, with God being the creator, responding to prayer, and human identity being that of an immortal soul. Basically, everything was God saturated in this Judeo-Christian view. On the other hand, in the scientific worldview I was simply a body, an animal. There was no creator. There was no ethics in nature. It was just Darwin. It was a great big machine. And I looked at these two worldviews and said, "Wow, these are incompatible."

So I basically went AWOL from Western civilization for 14 years. I picked up one book on Buddhism when I was 20. It was like a starving man picking up some fragrance of hot baked bread. So I spent a year studying the Tibetan language in Germany, where I was spending a year abroad. And then I bought myself, literally and metaphorically, a one-way ticket to India. I wanted to go live with Tibetans and explore as deeply as I could this Buddhist worldview. It's not just a religion. It's not theistic. It doesn't posit the existence of God as standing outside of creation, governing it, ruling it, punishing the wicked and rewarding the virtuous. It doesn't have any of that. Nor is it materialistic, flattening my very existence to being an epiphenomenon of my brain.

You've suggested that there might be certain functions of the mind, certain aspects of consciousness, that don't have a material foundation.


Advanced contemplatives in the Buddhist tradition have talked about tapping into something called the "substrate consciousness." What is that?

Just for a clarification of terms, I've demarcated three whole dimensions of consciousness. There's the psyche. It's the human mind -- the functioning of memory, attention, emotions and so forth. The psyche is contingent upon the brain, the nervous system, and our various sensory faculties. It starts sometime at or following conception, certainly during gestation, and it ends at death. So the psyche has pretty clear bookends. This is what cognitive neuroscientists and psychologists study. They don't study anything more. And they quite reasonably assume that that's all there is to it. But as long as you study the mind only by way of brain states and behavior, you're never going to know whether there's any other dimension because of the limitations of your own methodologies. So here's a hypothesis: The psyche does not emerge from the brain. Mental phenomena do not actually emerge from neuronal configurations. Nobody's ever seen that they do.

So your hypothesis is just the reverse from what all the neuroscientists think.

Precisely. The psyche is not emerging from the brain, conditioned by the environment. The human psyche is in fact emerging from an individual continuum of consciousness that is conjoined with the brain during the development of the fetus. It can be very hampered if the brain malfunctions or becomes damaged.

But you're saying there are also two other aspects of consciousness?

Yeah. All I'm presenting here is the Buddhist hypothesis. There's another dimension of consciousness, which is called the substrate consciousness. This is not mystical. It's not transcendent in the sense of being divine. The human psyche is emerging from an ongoing continuum of consciousness -- the substrate consciousness -- which kind of looks like a soul. But in the Buddhist view, it is more like an ongoing vacuum state of consciousness. Or here's a good metaphor: Just as we speak of a stem cell, which is not differentiated until it comes into the liver and becomes a liver cell, or into bone marrow and becomes a bone marrow cell, the substrate consciousness is stem consciousness. And at death, the human psyche dissolves back into this continuum.

So this consciousness is not made of any stuff. It's not matter. Is it just unattached and floating through the universe?

Well, this raises such interesting questions about the nature of matter. In the 19th century, you could think of matter as something good and chunky out there. You could count on it as having location and specific momentum and mass and all of that. Frankly, I think the backdrop of this whole conversation has to be 21st century physics, not 19th century physics. And virtually all of neuroscience and all of psychology is based on 19th century physics, which is about as up-to-date as the horse and buggy.

So not everything in the universe can be reducible to matter, to particles?

According to quantum field theory, string theory and quantum cosmology -- cutting-edge fields of 21st century physics -- matter itself is not reducible to matter. And Richard Feynman, the great Nobel laureate in physics, commented very emphatically, "We don't know what energy is." He said it's not stuff out there that has a specific location. It's more like a mathematical abstraction. So matter has been reduced to formations of space. Energy is configurations of space. Space itself is rather mysterious. And so when I introduce this theme of a substrate consciousness, it's not something ethereal that's opposed to matter. Matter is about as ethereal as anything gets. But could there be this continuum of substrate consciousness that's not contingent upon molecules? From the Buddhist perspective, yes. But again, this frankly sounds like one more system of belief.

I have to say, you could put a religious spin on all of this. What you're describing as substrate consciousness sounds a lot like how people talk about God. There is some kind of divine presence that's outside the material world but somehow intervenes in our material lives.

I think we're jumping the gun there. In the Buddhist perspective, the substrate consciousness is individual. It's not some great collective unconscious like Jung talked about. In the Buddhist view, it's an individual continuum of consciousness that carries on from lifetime to lifetime. That's not God. Beyond that is this whole third dimension, the deepest dimension, called "primordial consciousness." This has certain commonalities with Christian mystical notions of God beyond the trinity. It has a thoroughly and deeply transcendent quality to it. And that's way beyond the pale of scientific inquiry. But when I speak of substrate consciousness, I think it would simply be a mistake to say that's God. If you want to relate this to something in Western religions, you might say it's the immortal soul. Christianity really has nothing to say about the existence of your continuum of consciousness prior to your conception. There's nothing in the Bible that says, where was Steve Paulson 70 years ago? Where did your stream of consciousness, your identity, your soul, come from? But Buddhism has a lot to say about this.

Here in the West, we have on the table three large hypotheses about the nature of human consciousness. One of these looks really good from a scientific perspective. Your consciousness is a product of the brain. Damage the brain and your consciousness evaporates into nothing. Now what's the experiment by which you repudiate that hypothesis? Well, all the mental states you're studying are by way of the brain, so the answer is nada. So it's not scientific and it's not testable, at least not yet. We have another major hypothesis. You die and your soul carries on to heaven or hell in the Protestant tradition. You go there and it's forever. Or in the Roman Catholic tradition, you have another couple of options -- limbo and purgatory. But these are all one-way tickets. You can't say, I didn't like it in purgatory and then come back. My point here is the Christian hypothesis is not testable scientifically. It may be true, but it's not a scientific hypothesis.

Of course, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has reincarnation. Is that testable scientifically?

Well, here's the hypothesis. Your psyche emerged some time while you were in your mother's womb. It's continuing to evolve, and eventually it's going to implode back into the substrate, carry on as a disembodied continuum of consciousness and then reincarnate. There's the theory in a nutshell. Is that one testable? My short answer is yes, I think this is a testable hypothesis, and in principle it really should be able to be repudiated. But we're also looking for positive evidence.

There are two types of studies being done at the University of Virginia. One is by Bruce Greyson. He's got a very good track record of doing rigorous, objective scientific studies of alleged -- I'm choosing my words carefully here -- alleged out-of-body experiences and near-death experiences of patients undergoing surgery. Does it ever happen that a person, while being under general anesthetic, has an out-of-body experience and can actually perceive something, as they hover above, that only the surgeons see? That's an empirically testable question. And Greyson is studying this scientifically.

So basically, the premise here is that consciousness can exist outside the body. I've heard that Greyson has started these tests but so far hasn't come up with any results.

Quite so. As you can imagine, the National Science Foundation is not exactly jumping over itself to fund this type of research. Nor is the NIH [National Institutes of Health]. This is outside the paradigm. They're not interested in providing funding for things that challenge the foundations of materialism. So basically, it's like asking the Catholic Church to pay for research to show that Jesus never lived.

OK, that's one test for out-of-body experiences. What about reincarnation?

Well, lo and behold, at the same university -- they have some chutzpah over there -- the University of Virginia, Ian Stevenson is now retired from the psych department. He's not a Buddhist, he wasn't a Hindu, and he didn't believe in reincarnation. Forty years ago he heard anecdotes of children maintaining that this wasn't their first life and giving detailed accounts of their alleged memories of past life experiences. So he started studying it. On a shoestring budget, he and a team of researchers did this for about 40 years. And about halfway through, he wrote a book called "Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation." He scanned thousands of accounts of children, throwing out most of them because they were either false or the child could have heard about it from parents, relatives, television and so forth. He then selected 20 cases where the accounts given by the child wound up being true when they were subjected to objective corroboration. He couldn't see any way the child could have known this information. But he also said in that book, "I don't believe in reincarnation. But I don't know what else to do with these twenty cases because I can't see any other way to explain them."

And then he did another 20 years of research and wrote another book, "Where Biology and Reincarnation Intersect." It showed the empirical findings of more cases of children giving these very detailed accounts of past life experiences. And usually they were not glorified, like I was Cleopatra or Einstein or somebody spectacular. No, [it was like,] I was a philanderer, and one of the husbands of the wives I had sex with shot me dead because I cuckolded him. So that's not very glamorous, but that was the recollection of one of these children. This is empirical evidence. It should be scrutinized rigorously, but not thrown out dogmatically.

This raises some interesting questions about Buddhism. Is Buddhism a religion or is it something else? Because there are some people in the West who say we should strip Buddhism of any vestiges of the religious or the transcendental. For instance, Stephen Batchelor, in his book "Buddhism Without Beliefs," writes, "The Buddha was not a mystic. His awakening was not a shattering insight into a transcendental truth that revealed to him the mysteries of God. He did not claim to have had an experience that granted him privileged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks." Is Stephen Batchelor right?

[Laughs] I've known Stephen Batchelor for almost 35 years. We were monks together for years, both in India and in Switzerland. To come up with this picture of the Buddha, you have to bring out a carving knife and chop off great sections of the most authentic accounts we have of the Buddha's own teachings. You simply have to ignore and pretend he never said an enormous number of things he did say. I think Stephen, my dear friend, has recast the Buddha in his own image as an English skeptic who was raised in an agnostic background, who really doesn't believe in anything nonphysical.

So we should forget trying to strip Buddhism of its transcendentalism. You haven't quite come out and said it, but you're suggesting we should stop saying Buddhism is not a religion.

Well, we have to be very cautious when we take these Western categories -- religion, science, philosophy -- which are deeply and inextricably embedded in our Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman heritage. But I have to add a footnote to our conversation about reincarnation research. The Buddhists have been looking at this critically and empirically for 2,500 years. They're not waiting with bated breath to see what the people at the University of Virginia come up with. They, unlike psychologists and neuroscientists, have been exploring mental phenomena directly. And they have specific strategies for going into a deep meditative state, directing your attention backward beyond the scope of this lifetime, directing it back to past lifetimes and coming up with memories. So you have a template here.

This could be studied, together with skeptics. Train very advanced contemplatives to tap into this substrate consciousness -- this storehouse of memories from past lives, if it in fact exists -- and do this in conjunction with neuroscientists and psychologists. If I had unlimited funds, I'd say this is one of the most important questions we can ask. Make this a 20-year research project, well funded, with all the skepticism of science. Make sure you have some hardcore atheists involved, but ones who are open-minded and not just knee-jerk dogmatists. And then put it to the test. In 20 years, I think you could come up with something that could repudiate or validate a startling, truly astonishing hypothesis that there is such a substrate consciousness.

-- By Steve Paulson

Read the many comments and letters written in response to the above article.

More on Buddhism & Science:
Interesting Old News - Phenomenon of reincarnation still mystifies modern scientists
Buddhism and Science - Ajahn Brahmavamso

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Researchers: Meditation may increase alertness

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Meditation may increase alertness
(Article source: The Daily Targum
Kevin Gengler/Contributing Writer 11/7/06

A study conducted by University of Kentucky researchers found that meditation might be as effective as sleep in raising a person's level of alertness, and members of the University say they agree with the finding.

According to a report of the study published in The New York Times, meditation might improve alertness and even serve as an equivalent of sleep.

The researchers, led by Prashant Kaul of the University of Kentucky, found that one area in which meditation is more effective than other methods is improving one's reaction time.

The study tested students before and after 40 minutes of meditation, napping or exercising or consuming caffeine.

Patricia Whelan, who teaches a non-credit meditation course at the College Avenue Gym, said she agreed with the study's results.

"Absolutely, I've noticed there's a correlation between meditating and one's level of alertness," she said.

"Meditation allows one to have more control over their thoughts," Whelan said, which leads to increased focus and alertness. "It also helps keep outside stimulants to a minimum, which also helps you stay more focused."

The study also reported that subjects who skipped a night of sleep and then took the test after meditation performed even better than their counterparts who had slept. This suggests meditation could be used as an alternative to sleep.

Rutgers College first-year student Brian Shlosberg said while he hasn't been sleeping any less since he began meditation, he has found it effective in curing mild insomnia. "I fall asleep so much more easily since I began," he said.

Shlosberg also said he experienced a higher level of alertness. "Ever since I began meditating, I have become more alert to otherwise forgettable things," he said.

Shlosberg said he views meditation as a type of medicine, and he believes it will be extremely helpful in his future.

"I feel meditation will cure any and all psychological or social problems I will face in the future," he said.

In addition to increased alertness and focus, Whelan said other benefits of meditation include reduced stress, a lower and more stable blood pressure and a decrease in brain wave patterns.

According to other studies, experienced meditators may be able to intervene before a fight or flight response takes over, and may even be able to redirect anxiety into more constructive or positive feelings. Studies also link meditation to increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with concentration, planning and positive feelings.

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Interesting Old News - Phenomenon of reincarnation still mystifies modern scientists

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Phenomenon of reincarnation still mystifies modern scientists
Clinical death is one of the biggest mysteries that modern science still cannot solve

Some people say they remember their previous lives and can describe what they saw and did when they were having other bodies hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Vladimir Zatovka, head of the reanimation department in the Kaliningrad regional hospital revealed many astonishing facts about life and death when journalists interviewed him several years ago. The experienced doctor believes that clinical death is one of the biggest mysteries that modern science still cannot solve. Indeed, patients who revive after clinical death say they get some mysterious information and learn new things. Journalists were slightly shocked to hear the doctor saying the soul actually exists and lives its individual life.

One of the doctor's patients, Irina Lakoba was in coma for about a month after she seriously suffered in a traffic accident. She recovered from coma and turned out to be quite a different person. Before the accident, the woman worked as an engineer at a large fish company for twenty years. But when she regained consciousness after the coma, the woman said she saw herself being a little girl standing on the bank of some south river and even began speaking some strange language. Experts from the philology department of the Kaliningrad University stated that was one of Swahili dialects. Later, the woman began composing verses in this dialect and even translated them into Russian, English and French, the languages that she had never learnt before the accident.

Shortly before Irina recovered from coma, the doctor talked to her husband. They met in a room two floors above the ward where the patient stayed. But when the woman recovered, she told precisely what both men were talking about during that meeting. What is more, she described things which she could not see and hear when she was in coma. She said she had seen and heard everything because she could walk about the hospital. At that, she said she was watching her body staying in bed and was shocked to see it was old and ugly. She said she was a little healthy girl while walking about the hospital.

This is real reincarnation, the doctor says. Followers of esoteric doctrines, Hinduists and Buddhists never hesitate that there is no death at all; they believe the soul reincarnates endlessly. But people brought up according to the Orthodox traditions and scientific atheism can hardly believe it is so. It was a couple of decades ago that reincarnation was considered a myth, but now it is forming a scientific conception that is winning an increasing number of supporters.

It took American reanimatologist Raymond Moody thirty years within which he wrote several books about the after-life phenomenon before he managed to convince majority of his readers that cardiac arrest and cessation of brain activity do not mean the end. Those patients who revived from the dead told the doctor similar stories about the light they saw at the end of a long tunnel, about dead relatives who came to tell about new life coming and about a better world. Moody and his followers collected thousands of evidence of this sort; all stories told by patients coincide in every particular detail, which means these stories cannot be a forgery.

The conclusions made by Moody give people some hope for immortality; but at the same time they have already won lots of opponents. Famous psychiatrist Stanislav Grof is the most competent critic of Moody's conclusions. He conducted experiments with those patients who revived after clinical death. During the experiment, Stanislav Grof arrived at a conclusion that the tunnel many people see during their clinical death is in fact an impression of a baby going through the long and narrow birth canal. Thus, the bright light they see at the end of the tunnel is in fact an obstetrics ward where babies are delivered. As it turned out, even people who never went through clinical death see the same tunnel when put under hypnosis.

Other opponents to Moody, physician Paul Kurtz, physiologist Jack Kowan and neurobiologist Elizabeth Clark state that the vision of a tunnel is produced with those parts of the dying cerebral cortex that controls vision. This happens because of oxygen deficit in dying cells; as a result, stimulation waves form concentric circles. We can see such circles after we dive and stay under water too long or hang with the head down. The dying consciousness sees the circles as forming a tunnel. Materialist researchers are sure that all the rest are fancies and dreams that people have in an unconscious state.

However, even these experts cannot explain why even patients whose brain no longer functions still see the tunnel, the bright light and dead relatives. Russian neurophysiologist Natalya Bekhtereva wrote about the thought and its origin in her works. She said that human brain is the greatest mystery, and it will take incredibly much time before scientists study it.

The lack of oxygen in tissues and organs is not the reason why people experiencing clinical death see their bodies lifeless on an operating table or in a reanimation ward and hear what doctors or other patients say.

Researcher from Holland Van Lommel studied the phenomenon while working with patients and arrived at a conclusion that dying people see visions at the moment when their central nervous system cuts off. This in its turn proves that consciousness is not a brain function. Doctors verified clinical death of one of Lommel's patients. A tube for mechanical ventilation of lungs was inserted into the patient's larynx. For that, the patient's denture was taken out. In an hour and a half, the man's heart started beating; in a week the patient came to his senses and asked to give him his denture. But doctors could not remember where they put the denture. Then, the patient said he saw where doctors had put the denture, as he was soaring above the body when the doctors were saving his life.

French woman Annel Besier living in Moscow says she can recollect her previous lives. She wrote a book about her previous reincarnations. Annel is sure that it is not necessary to die to experience reincarnation. The author does not remember the exact number of her reincarnations. According to the karma doctrine, each of us has had thousands of reincarnations, and our soul does not always reincarnate into the human body, it may also belong to an animal.

There are many people who remember their previous lives. Muscovite Olga Kuleshova, 37, knows perfectly well that before her birth 37 years ago she was a violinist living in England (she has partially retained the skills although she never learnt to play the violin). Before that, she served in the house of a rich magnate in India. Olga says that 200 years ago she was a concubine of a Turkish sultan and also that in Medieval Italy Michelangelo was her tutor in painting. Indeed, Olga can draw resembling the Michelangelo style and speaks the old Italian language (she says she never learnt the language). May this be true? There is no opportunity to verify this.

Academician with the Russian Academy of Sciences Vlail Kaznacheyev says the reincarnation phenomenon is undoubted, as it has been given much confirmation. However, none of the hypotheses currently existing as concerning the issue can actually explain the phenomenon. Unfortunately, there is no scientific theory of reincarnation.

But is not it better to be unaware of what is going to happen after we die? Nothing, immortality or endless reincarnation? Each of us hopes there is no end to life, but we never think that this eternity may be even worse than death. Academician Kaznacheyev is sure that life we are having now and here is the only undoubted wonder.

Natalia Leskova

(Article source: http://english.pravda.ru/science/19/94/377/15151_reincarnation.html)

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Buddhism and Science - Ajahn Brahmavamso

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You may listen to the audio version of the talk (Or download it here). Written version is as follows.

Based on a talk given by Ajahn Brahmavamso to lay people at the Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre, Nollamara, Western Australia, on 19th of October 2001

Sometime ago, I was invited to the West Perth Observatory as part of the Centenary Federation celebrations in Western Australia. The youth groups of W.A. organised all the events. One of the events they presented was entitled 'Our Place in Space'. The idea was to try and find out whether the future would be one which followed science or one which would follow religion. They wanted to see how those two, so called contradictory approaches to life, would pan out into the future. So they invited representatives from a couple of religions. I represented the Buddhists, and a teacher from a prestigious Christian school represented the Christians. The State Astronomer and a young person from the University of WA, who was about to get a PhD in physics, were also on the panel, representing Astronomy and Physics. What they didn't know was that before I was a monk I was a theoretical physicist. So, I knew what Buddhists know and I also knew what they know. It was a bit unfair, but really good fun. It was good fun talking to the audience about Buddhism, religion and science, and how they come together. There are dangers in religion and science, but they can be used to help people to find a way through their lives in wise, compassionate and effective ways.

The End of the Universe

I started by explaining a few things about Buddhism that many people do not know. Buddhism is so extensive that there are still many things that people in the West don't know about this great religion, especially from the old Scriptures, the suttas. For instance, do you know who the first man in space was? No, it certainly wasn't Yuri Gagarin. It was Venerable Rohitassa! (AN IV, 45)

I think you all know that if you really get your meditation together, it is possible to levitate. One of the stories in the suttas tells the story of a hermit who lived alone in the forest. He developed his meditation and learned how to rise into the air and fly. This particular hermit wasn't just an ordinary levitator, he was one of the best levitators there has ever been. He took levitation to new heights and 'raised the bar', as it were! Because he could go so fast, it was said faster than an arrow, he decided to try and find out where the universe ends. He flew for many, many, many years, and he still could not find the end of the universe. He went beyond the solar systems into deep space using the power of the mind. People often say that's just belief. It's just not real. But later on I'll mention a few facts that show that it probably was real and certainly possible. He went on for many tens of years, and died on the way, never finding an end to the universe.

Being reborn in one of the heavenly realms Venerable Rohitassa came to the Buddha and told him the story of his previous life. That as a hermit, he'd levitated and flew on "for ever and ever and ever", dying on the journey without reaching the end of the cosmos. He was not the first cosmonaut or astronaut, he was the first monkanaut! The Buddha rebuked him, saying that that's not the way to find the end of the universe. Instead, the Buddha emphatically said that the beginning and the end of the universe can only be found by investigating within. This gave the answer to one of the questions that people so often ask of Buddhists: "Who do Buddhists believe created this universe?" A scientist would reword the same question as, "What is the origin of this universe?" The answer is that the beginning and end of the universe are to be found within your own body and mind. You are its creator!

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Remembering Past Lives

Buddhism is founded on meditation, and meditation can reveal many, many things, especially deep memories from the past. Monks, nuns, and ordinary meditators can reach such deep meditations that they can not only levitate, but they can remember previous lives! Many people can actually do this. When you come out of a deep meditation you have incredible energy. Afterwards you won't be able to go to sleep, nor will you be able to go and watch TV, because the mind will be too full of its own joy and happiness. Moreover, the mind is so empowered that you can make suggestions to it, suggestions that you would not normally be able to fulfill. But empowered by deep meditation, you can follow the suggestions. I've actually taught this special meditation to people on meditation retreats, because on meditation retreats some get deep results. People sometimes get memories of when they were babies, and then of being in their mother's womb. If they are lucky they get memories of when they were a very old person, i.e. memories from a past life! One of the important things with those past life memories is that they are very real to the person experiencing them. It's as if you are back there experiencing it. Anyone who has had a memory like that has no doubt in their mind about past lives. It's not a theory any more. Such memories are like remembering where you were this morning when you had breakfast. You have no doubts that that was you this morning, having that breakfast. You didn't imagine it. With the same clarity, or even greater clarity, you remember that that very old person was you, only it wasn't a few hours ago, it was many decades ago. It was a different time, a different body and a different life. Now if people can do that on nine day meditation retreats, imagine what you would do if you were a monk or a nun, who meditates not just for a weekend, or for nine days, but nine years, twenty-nine, thirty-nine, or fifty-nine years. Imagine how much power you could generate in that meditation. Now imagine how much more power you could generate if you were a Buddha with an Enlightened mind.

Now you know what to do to discover for yourself if you've lived before. Meditate. I don't mean just meditating to get rid of stress and make your self calm. I mean really meditate, deeply. Meditate to get your mind into what we call the Jhanas. Those are deep states of absorption, where the body disappears. You don't feel. You can't see. You can't hear. You're absolutely inside the mind. You have no thoughts but you are perfectly aware. You are blissed out. The method, the instructions for the experiment, are very clearly laid down. Even in my little book "The Basic Method of Meditation" all the steps are there. Follow them, and invest the resources necessary for doing that experiment not just one weekend retreat, but many weekend retreats, and sometimes many years of meditating. If you want to follow that 'scientific method', you have to enter into a Jhana. And then, after you emerge from that state, you ask yourself, "What is my earliest memory?" You can keep going back in your mind, and eventually you will remember. You will see for yourself the experience of past lives. Then you know. Yes, it is true! You have had the experience for yourself.

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The Buddha said he did remember past lives, many past lives, many aeons of past lives. He said specifically that he remembered ninety-one aeons. That's ninety big bangs, the time before and the time afterwards, huge spaces of time. That's why the Buddha said there was not just one universe, but many universes. We are not talking about parallel universes as some scientists say. We are talking about sequential universes, with what the Buddha called sanvattati vivattati. This is Pali, meaning the unfolding of the universe and the infolding of it, beginnings and endings.

The suttas even give a measure for the lifetime of a universe. When I was a theoretical physicist, my areas of expertise were the very small and the very large; fundamental particle physics and astrophysics. They were the two aspects that I liked the most, the big and the small. So I knew what was meant by the age of a universe and what a 'big bang' was all about. The age of a universe, the last time I looked in the journals, was somewhere about seventeen thousand million years. In the Buddhist suttas they say that about thirty seven thousand million years is a complete age. When I told that to the state astronomer he said yes, that estimate was in the ball park, it was acceptable. The person who was the convener of the Our Place in Space seminar made a joke about the fact that a hundred or two hundred years ago, Christianity said the universe was about seven thousand years old. That estimate certainly isn't acceptable, the Buddhist one is!

It is remarkable that there was a cosmology in Buddhism twenty-five centuries ago that doesn't conflict with modern physics. Even what astronomers say are galaxies, the Buddha called wheel systems. If any of you have ever seen a galaxy, you will know there are two types of galaxy. First, there is the spiral galaxy. The Milky Way is one of those. Have you seen a spiral galaxy? It is like a wheel! The other type is the globular cluster, which looks like a wheel with a big hub in the middle. 'Wheels' is a very accurate way of describing galaxies. This was explained by someone twenty five centuries ago, when they did not have telescopes! They didn't need them, they could go there themselves!

There is a lot of interesting stuff in the old suttas, even for those of you who like weird stuff. Some times people ask this question, "Do Buddhists believe in extra terrestrial beings, in aliens?" Would an alien landing here upset the very foundation of Buddhism? When I was reading through these old suttas I actually found a reference to aliens! It's only a very small sutta, which said that there are other world systems with other suns, other planets, and other beings on them. That's directly from the Anguttara Nikaya. (AN X, 29)

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The Ghost in the Machine

During the seminar at the West Perth Observatory, one of the audience put their hand up and asked, "Why is it that when I look through a telescope I feel that my religion is challenged?" She was a Catholic. She explained that she felt scared when she looked through a telescope, because what she saw did not agree with what she read in her bible. As a Buddhist you don't need to be afraid. I took that question and turned it back on to the scientists by asking, "What if you looked through the opposite end of the telescope to investigate the one who is looking? I think you scientists would be scared. You would be afraid if you turned the telescope inwards and looked into yourselves, and asked who is looking at all of this?" Part of the problem with science is that it is all 'out there'. It's always a person looking through the telescope, looking at the apparatus, but never reflecting back to see who is actually looking at all this. Who is doing this?

When the discussion was starting to get a bit dull, I decided to stir up the State Astronomer by talking about life. Any scientists here would know that quantum mechanics, or quantum theory, describes the world as composed of wave functions. The wave function specifies the probability of an observable event. However, when life gets involved, when an observation is made, the wave function collapses and reality as we know it occurs. There has to be observation, a life there, to make it happen. The quantum theory needed an observer, a life, to give meaning to the equations. After the quantum revolution in physics, an objective universe, independent of life, became nonsensical.

Another fundamental law of physics is called the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that entropy always increases. In other words, life gets more disordered, even more chaotic. However, recently someone won the Nobel Prize for proving an exception, that when there is a closed system that includes life, entropy decreases! Life gives order to chaos. That disproved the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Because of life we get organisation rather than disorder. The universe is a closed system and it has got life in it. That's why there is organisation.

When I was at university, life was what the physicists called, the 'ghost in the machine'. The 'ghost in the machine' is what messed up all the objective theories. This ghost scared the lab-coats off many a scientist!

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Following Beliefs Blindly

This method that we take as science in the universities, in the labs, and in the hospitals often suffers from the same disease as religion dogmatism. You know what religious dogmatism is like. We have a belief and whether it fits with experience or not, whether it's useful or not, whether it's conducive to people's happiness, harmony, and peace in the world or not, we follow it just because that's our belief. But following beliefs blindly, dogmatically, is just a recipe for violence and suffering.

One of the beautiful things about Buddhism that encouraged me to become a Buddhist when I was young, and which keeps me as a Buddhist now, is that questioning is always encouraged. You do not need to believe. In one of the tales from the ancient texts the Buddha gave a teaching to his chief monk, Venerable Sariputta. After giving the teaching, the Buddha asked his chief monk, "Sariputta, do you believe what I just taught?" Sariputta, without any hesitation, said "No I don't believe it, because I haven't experienced it yet". The Buddha said, "Well done! Well done! Well done!" That is the attitude to encourage in all disciples, either of religion or science. Not to believe, but to keep an open mind until they've had the true experience. This attitude goes against dogmatism, it runs counter to fundamentalism, which one doesn't only see in religion, but which one also sees in science.

'The eminence of a great scientist', the old saying goes, 'is measured by the length of time they obstruct progress in their field'.

The more famous the scientist, the more prominent they are, the more their views are taken to be gospel truth. Their fame stops other people challenging them; it delays the arrival of a better 'truth'. In Buddhism when you find a better truth, use it at once.

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The Problem with Dogmatism

There is an old story, from the time of the Buddha, about two friends who went looking for treasure in a town that had been abandoned. (DN 23.29) First they found some hemp and decided to make two bundles of that hemp and carry it away. They would be able to sell it when they got back home. Soon after they had made these big bundles of hemp they came across some hempen cloth. One of the men said, "What do I need the hemp for? The cloth is better". The other man said, "No this is already well bound up, I've carried it for so long already, I'll keep my load of hemp". Then they found some flax, some flaxen cloth, some cotton, and some cotton cloth, and each time the man carrying the hemp said, "No, the hemp is okay for me", while his friend changed his load for that which was more valuable. Later on they found some silver, and then some gold. Each time one man would always change what he was carrying for something better, but the other man stubbornly kept his bundle of hemp. When they got home the man who carried the gold was very popular with his family. As for the man who carried the hemp, his family was not happy with him at all! Why don't we change our views, our ideas, when we see something better? The reason we don't do that is because of attachment. This is my view. We are comfortable with the old views, even though we know they are wrong. We don't really want to change. Sometimes our self image is bound up with those views. Like the scientist who is bound up with his achievements, bound up with what he's seen so far, he or she resists new ideas.

This is the problem called dogmatism. Sometimes when I talk about levitation, people say levitation doesn't exist, it's just myth. Wait until you see someone levitate! If you saw someone levitate, if the three monks here rose up about two or three feet, wouldn't that be challenging?

Sorry, we can't do that in public. It's against our rules. One of the reasons we can't demonstrate psychic powers in front of people is that if we did, someone would probably record it on a video camera and send it to a television channel. Then everybody, even from overseas, would come to Perth. Not to listen to the Dhamma, not to hear about Buddhism, but just to see the monks do their tricks. Then we would be pressured into giving demonstrations all the time. It would be like a circus, not a temple. The point is that monks are not here to demonstrate tricks.

Even if a monk did perform a miracle, many people would say: "This is just a trick. It's done with special effects. They are not really levitating". If you don't want to believe it, you won't. This is the problem with dogmatism. What you don't want to see, you do not see. When you don't want to believe it, you go into denial. This is why I say that many scientists are in denial about the nature of the mind.

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The Boy with No Brain

This is a well known case that throws a challenge to modern science. It's the case of Professor John Lorber and the student with no brain.[1] Professor Lorber was a neurologist at Sheffield University who held a research chair in paediatrics. He did a lot of research on hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. The student's physician at the university noticed that the youth had a slightly larger than normal head, and so referred him to Professor Lorber, simply out of interest. When they did a brain scan on the student they saw that his cranium was filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid. The student had an IQ of 126, had gained a first-class honours degree in mathematics, and was socially completely normal. And yet the boy had virtually no brain. This is not just a fabrication; research has found other people with no brains. During the first world war, when there was such carnage in the trenches of Europe. Soldiers had their skulls literally blown apart by bullets and shrapnel. It is said that the doctors found that some of the shattered heads of those corpses were empty. There was no brain. The evidence of those doctors was put aside as being too difficult to understand. But Professor Lorber went forward with his findings, and published them, to the great disturbance of the scientific community. Billions of dollars are going into research on the brain. Current views hold that imbalances in the brain are causing your depressions, your lack of intelligence, or your emotional problems. And yet here is evidence that shows you don't need much of a brain to have an excellent mind.

A doctor friend in Sydney discussed this case with me once. He said he'd seen those CT scans, and confirmed that the case was well known in the medical community. He explained that that boy only had what was called a reptilian brain stem. Usually, any baby born with just a reptilian brain stem, without the cortex and the other stuff, will usually die straight away or within a few days after birth. A reptilian brain stem is not capable of maintaining basic bodily functions such as breathing, heart or liver. It's not enough to keep the higher brain functions going. It's not enough for speech, not enough for intelligence, certainly not enough for being an honours student in mathematics. This doctor said, "Ajahn Brahm, you wouldn't believe the problem that this is causing in my field of science. It shatters so much past research. It is challenging so many drug companies that are making billions of dollars in profits". Because dogmatic scientists can't understand how a person with virtually no brain can be intelligent, they are just burying the findings at the back of the filing cabinet, classifying it as an anomaly. But truth just won't go away.

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The Mind and the Brain

As soon as you start to include the mind, this 'ghost in the machine', in the equations, scientists tend to become discomfited. They take refuge in dogma, and say, "No, that cannot exist". I really took the Sate Astronomer to task over such dogmatism in science.

As far as Buddhism is concerned there are six senses. Not just the five senses of science, namely sight, sound, smell, taste and touch but in addition the mind. From the very beginning in Buddhism, mind has been the sixth sense. Twenty-five centuries ago, the sixth sense was well recognised. So this is not changing things to keep up with modern times; this was so from the very beginning. The sixth sense, the mind, is independent of the other five senses. In particular the mind is independent of the brain. If you volunteer to have a brain transplant with me you take my brain and I take your brain I will still be Ajahn Brahm and you will still be you. Want to try it? If it was possible and it happened, you would still be yourself. The mind and the brain are two different things. The mind can make use of the brain but it doesn't have to.

Some of you may have had out of the body experiences. These out of the body experiences have recently been the subject of mainstream scientific research. Out of the body experiences are now a scientific fact! I like to stir people up by saying things like that. Recently I saw that Dr. Sam Parnia, a researcher from the University of Southampton Medical School, has given a paper, stating that consciousness survives death.[2] He said that he did not know how it happens, or why it happens, but, he says, it does happen. His evidence was gathered from people who have had out of the body experiences in his hospital. Dr Parnia, investigated and interviewed many, many patients. The information which they gave him, as a cool headed scientist, said yes, those people were conscious during the time they were dead. What was especially very convincing was that often they could actually describe to the doctor the medical procedures that were done during the time when they were clinically dead. They could describe it as if they were looking at their body from a position above the table. But how that happens Dr. Parnia can't explain. Why it happens he can't explain. But other medical findings also support the above. Finally, their findings replicated the work done earlier by Dr. Raymond A. Moody in the United States.[3]

The evidence proved to those hard nosed doctors that out of body experiences do happen. But how could they happen? If we agree that the mind can be independent of the body, then we have a plausible explanation. The brain doesn't need to be functioning for a mind to exist. The scientific facts are there, the evidence is there, but a lot of scientists don't like to admit those facts. They prefer to close their eyes because of dogmatism.

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Come and See for Yourself

If you had just one person who had been confirmed as medically dead who could describe to the doctors, as soon as they were revived, what had been said, and done during that period of death, wouldn't that be pretty convincing? When I was doing elementary particle physics there was a theory that required for its proof the existence of what was called the 'W' particle. At the cyclotron in Geneva, CERN funded a huge research project, smashing atoms together with an enormous particle accelerator, to try and find one of these 'W' particles. They spent literally hundreds of millions of pounds on this project. They found one, just one 'W' particle. I don't think they have found another since. But once they found one 'W' particle, the researchers involved in that project were given Nobel prizes for physics. They had proved the theory by just finding the one 'W' particle. That's good science. Just one is enough to prove the theory.

When it comes to things we don't like to believe, they call just one experience, one clear factual undeniable experience, an anomaly. Anomaly is a word in science for disconcerting evidence that we can put in the back of a filing cabinet and not look at again, because it's threatens our world view. It undermines what we want to believe. It is threatening to our dogma. However, an essential part of the scientific method is that theories have to be abandoned in favour of the evidence, in respect of the facts. The point is that the evidence for a mind independent of the brain is there. But once we admit that evidence, and follow the scientific method, then many cherished theories, what we call 'sacred cows' will have to be abandoned.

When we see something that challenges any theory, in science or in religion, we should not ignore the evidence. We have to change the theory to fit the facts. That is what we do in Buddhism. All the Dhamma of the Buddha, everything that he taught, if it does not fit the experience, then we should not accept it. We should not accept the Buddha's words in contradiction of experience. That is clearly stated in the kalama Sutta. (AN III, 65) The Buddha said do not believe because it is written in the books, or even if I say it. Don't just believe because it is tradition, or because it sounds right, or because it's comforting to you. Make sure it fits your experience. The existence of mind, independent of the brain, fits experience. The facts are there.

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Sometimes, however, we cannot trust the experts. You cannot trust Ajahn Brahm. You cannot trust the scientific journals. Because people are often biased. Buddhism gives you a scientific method for your practice. Buddhism says, do the experiment and find out for your self if what the Buddha said is true or not. Check out your experience. For example, develop the method to test the truth of past lives, rebirth and reincarnation. Don't just believe it with faith, find out for yourself. The Buddha has given a scientific experiment that you can repeat.

Until you understand the law of kamma, which is part of Buddhism, kamma is just a theory. Do you believe that there is a God 'up there' who decides when you can be happy or unhappy? Or is everything that happens to you just chance? Your happiness and your suffering in life, your joy, your pain and disappointments, are they deserved? Are you responsible or is it someone else's fault? Is it mere chance that we are rich or poor? Is it bad luck when we are sick and die at a young age? Why? You can find the true answer for yourself. You can experience the law of kamma through deep meditation. When the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, the two knowledge's he realized just before his Enlightenment were the knowledge from experience of the truth of rebirth, and the knowledge from experience of the Law of kamma. This was not theory, not just more thinking, not something worked out from discussions around the coffee table this was realization from deep experience of the nature of mind. You too can have that same experience.

All religions in the world except Buddhism maintain the existence of a soul. They affirm a real 'self', an 'essence of all being', a 'person', a 'me'. Buddhism says there is no self! Who is right? What is this 'ghost in the machine'? Is it a soul, is it a being, or is it a process? What is it? When the Buddha said that there is no one in here, he never meant that to be just believed, he meant that to be experienced. The Buddha said, as a scientific fact, that there is no 'self'. But like any scientific fact, it has to be experienced each one for themselves, paccattam veditabbo viññūhi. Many of you chant those Pali words every day. It is basic scientific Buddhism. You have to keep an open mind. You don't believe there is 'no self', you don't believe there is a 'self' both beliefs are dogmatism. Keep an open mind until you complete the experiment. The experiment is the practice of sila, samadhi and pañña, (virtue, meditation and insight). The experiment is Buddhist practice. Do the same experimental procedures that the Buddha did under the Bodhi tree. Repeat it and see if you get the same results. The result is called Enlightenment.

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Men and women have repeated that experiment many times over the centuries. It is in the laboratory of Buddhist practice that the Enlightened Ones, the Arahants, arise. The Arahants are the ones who have done the experiment and found the result. That's why Buddhism always has been the scientific way. It is the way of finding out for your self the truth of Enlightenment.

Buddhism is also the scientific way of discovering the truth about happiness, what most people are interested in. What is happiness? Some students from our local Islamic school came to visit our monastery a short while ago. I performed a little party trick for them, which was also an illuminating way to demonstrate the existence of the mind. I was trying to explain Buddhism, so I asked them:

"Are you happy? Put your hands up if you are happy now".

At first there was no response. Then one person responded and raised their hand.

"Oh! You're all miserable?" I said "Only one person, come on! Are you happy or not?"

More students put there hands up.

"Okay, all those people who put their hands up saying they are happy, with your index finger can you now point to that happiness? Can you give it coordinates in space?" They couldn't locate that happiness.

It's hard to locate happiness, isn't it? Have you ever been depressed? Next time you are depressed, try to point to that feeling with your index finger! You will find that you cannot locate depression, or happiness, in space. You cannot give it coordinates, because these things reside in the mind, not in the body, not in space. The mind is not located in space. That's why after a person dies, if they become a ghost they can appear all over the world immediately. People sometimes ask me, "How can that happen?" How can a person who dies, say in New York, appear immediately in Perth? It is because the mind is not located in space, that's why. This is why you cannot point to happiness, you cannot point to depression, but they are real. Are you imagining the happiness? Do you imagine the depression? It's real. You all know that. But you cannot locate it in three dimensional space. Happiness, depression, and many other real things, all live in mind-space.

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The mind is not in the brain, it's not in the heart. We have seen that you could have no brain but still have a mind. You could take out your heart, and have a bionic heart, or a heart transplant, and you would still be you. This understanding of the mind is why Buddhists have no objection at all to cloning. You want to clone me, go for it! But don't think that if you clone Ajahn Brahm that you'll be able to have one Ajahn Brahm who goes to Singapore this evening, another one who stays in Perth for next Friday night's talk, plus one who can stay in Bodhinyana monastery, one who can go to Sydney, and one who can go to Melbourne. If you clone me, the person who looks like me will be completely different in personality, knowledge, inclination, and everything else. People clone Toyota cars in the same way. They look exactly the same but the performance really depends on the driver inside the car. That's all cloning is, it's just a replicating a body. Sure it looks the same, but is the body all that a person is? Haven't you seen identical twins? Are identical twins the same personality? Have they got the same intelligence? Have they got the identical inclinations? Do they even like the same food? The answer is usually no.

Why do people have this problem about cloning? Clone as much as you want. You are just creating more bodies for streams of consciousness to come into. Those streams of consciousness come from past lives. What's the problem? You would never be able to predict the result. Suppose you took Einstein's brain, extracted some of his DNA, and cloned a new Einstein. He might look the same, but I guarantee he won't be half as clever.

If people want to proceed with stem cell research, which is going to help humanity, then why not? In stem cell research there is no 'being' involved. The 'being' hasn't come in yet. In Buddhism, it is understood that the 'being' descends into the mother's womb at any time from conception until birth. Sometimes it doesn't even go into the womb at all and the foetus is stillborn. The objections to stem cell research are dogmatic, unscientific, and uncompassionate. They're foolish as far as I'm concerned. I think sometimes that I would tear my hair out if I weren't a monk.

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If you want to look at the scientific evidence for rebirth, check out Professor Ian Stevenson. He spent his whole life researching rebirth on a solid scientific basis at the University of Virginia.[4] Chester Carlson, the inventor of xerography, (encouraged by his wife) offered funds for an endowed chair at the University to enabled Professor Stevenson to devote himself full-time to such research. If it weren't for the fact that people do not want to believe in rebirth, Dr. Ian Stevenson would be a world famous scientist now. He even spent a couple of years as a visiting fellow of Magdalene College in Oxford, so you can see that this is not just some weird professor; he has all of the credentials of a respected Western academic.

Dr. Stevenson has over 3000 cases on his files. One interesting example was the very clear case of a man who remembered many details from his past life, with no way of gaining that information from any other source. That person died only a few weeks before he was reborn! Which raises the question, for all those months that the foetus was in the womb, who was it? As far as Buddhism is concerned, the mother kept that foetus going with her own stream of consciousness. But when another stream of consciousness entered, then the foetus became the new person. That is one case where the stream of consciousness entered the mother's womb when the foetus was almost fully developed. That can happen. That was understood by Buddhism twenty five centuries ago. If the stream of consciousness doesn't enter the mother's womb, the child is a stillborn. There is a heap of evidence supporting that.

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Science and Buddhism

When a Buddhist looks through a telescope, they are not scared by what they might find. They are not scared of science. Science is an essential part of Buddhism. If science can disprove rebirth, then Buddhists should give up the idea of rebirth. If science disproves non-self, and shows there is a self, then all Buddhists should abandon non-self. If science proves there is no such thing as kamma, but instead there is a big God up in the sky, then all Buddhists should believe in God. That is, if it's provable science. Buddhism has no sacred cows. However, I encourage you to do those experiments for yourselves. I'll bet you will find out that there is no one 'in there'. You will find out about kamma. You will find out you've been here before, that this is not your first life. If you don't behave yourselves in this life, you'll have another life to come yet. Do you think you are finished with nappies, with school? Do you really want to go through all that again? If not be careful.

So, here is my thinking about science and Buddhism. I think that Buddhism is pure science, a science that doesn't stop 'out there', but also investigates the mind, the 'being', the 'ghost in the machine'. And it doesn't disregard any anomalies. Buddhism takes everything as its data, especially experience, and looks at it scientifically. It is incredibly successful.

One of the reasons why people celebrate science is because of all of its achievements in technology. One of the reasons why Buddhism is growing these days is because of all of its achievements in the 'technology of the mind'. It solves problems. It explains mental difficulties. Buddhism succeeds in solving those inner problems because it has all these strategies, these ancient 'gizmos', which actually work. If you try some of these Buddhist gizmos, you will find out for yourself that they produce the goods, they solve your inner suffering and pain. That is why Buddhism is growing. I think that Buddhism will supplant science!

Thank you very much.

This is a nice contribution, I want to share my reflections and experiences too!


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