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Reviewed by:
  • Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground
  • Amos Yong
Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground. Edited by B. Alan Wallace. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. 444+ xvi pp.

Increasingly, the world's religious traditions are making their presence felt in the science and religion dialogue that has been dominated for a long time by Christian voices. The essays collected in this volume not only provide an introductory overview of Buddhist engagements with the natural sciences during the last century, but also leave no doubts about ways in which Buddhist perspectives will be crucial to the future of the science-religion conversation. Wallace, founder and director of the Santa Barbara Institute for the Study of Consciousness (<>), has astutely pulled together fifteen quality essays (by sixteen authors) under three headings—"Historical Context" (three essays), "Buddhism and the Cognitive Sciences" (six essays), and "Buddhism and the Physical Sciences" (six essays)—and has added his own introductory essay to the volume as a whole and prefatory summaries to each of the articles.

As in any collection of essays, reviewers find themselves in a catch-22: either mention each author and essay so as not to leave any out, leaving little space to interact critically with any of the material, or single out a handful of essay(ist)s to engage in more detail, risking the impression that there is a hidden agenda at work censoring the others. I have chosen to divide my impressions under four broad categories [End Page 176] within which I hope to mention all of the contributors and their main ideas, even while apologizing up front for focusing on a few more than the rest. My only excuse is that in a book of this much breadth and depth, my limited expertise cannot hope to engage each of the essays to the same degree. Others more competent than I will need to critically interact with the wide range of issues covered in this volume.

My first observation regarding the essays under review is how far the Buddhist relationship with the sciences has come during the last century. The first three essays —by editor Wallace, José Cabezón (a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism with background in physics), and Thupten Jinpa (a scholar-practitioner of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition)—provide both historical overviews of the Buddhist engagement with science and models of the Buddhism-science encounter. While Wallace suggests the way of dialogue and collaboration as best suited to chart a via media between the dogma or ideology of scientistic materialism on the one hand and postmodern relativism on the other, Cabezón observes the history of Buddhist-science relations through three models: that of conflict/ambivalence (where either antagonism reigns or, more often, mutual disregard persists between the two traditions), that of compatibility/identity (where each interprets the other tradition in terms that are culturally and intellectually familiar), and that of complementarity (the idea that Buddhism and the sciences together provide a more complete epistemology for knowing a common subject). The validity of these models is confirmed by Jinpa in his overview of the Tibetan Buddhist case, beginning with the work of Gendūn Chōphel in the 1930s, and continuing in the openness of the present His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama to the findings of modern science.

My second observation relates to how most of the essays in the volume demonstrate the various ways in which Buddhist perspectives can and do inform scientific inquiry on the one hand and even challenge scientific assumptions on the other. Four essays in part 2 exemplify this tendency. His Holiness shows how Buddhists can think about the mind in naturalistic and empirical terms even while remaining committed to cultivating the mind in order to accomplish mental transformation. David Galin (a neurophysiologist) brings early Buddhist views of the self into dialogue with contemporary neuropsychology and psychiatry, and suggests a new model for distinguishing between the perennially difficult concepts of person (a dynamic multileveled system constituted by a network of relations), self (the present organization of the person), and I (the self's point of view). The late Francisco Valera (a cognitive scientist) and Natalie Depraz (a specialist on...


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