Donald S. Lopez, Jr.


On his book Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed

Cover Interview of March 12, 2009


Some may see the book as an attack on the claims for the compatibility of Buddhism and Science.  It is not.  Instead, the book derives from the simple conviction that all grand claims have histories, and to understand such a claim, one must understand its history.  To say that Buddhism and Science are compatible, one must specify what one means by “Buddhism” and what one means by “Science.”  I try to catalogue the changing meanings of those two terms over the course of a century and a half.  The meanings have changed over that time, but the same claim has continued to be made.  This fact will cause most readers to conclude that there is much more here than meets the eye, suggesting that the claim for the compatibility of Buddhism and Science is serving some deep cultural need beyond the changing referents of the two terms.  Why is it that we yearn for the teachings of an itinerant mendicant in Iron Age India, even one of such profound insight, to somehow anticipate the formulae of Einstein?

My own view is that the teachings of the Buddha do not and cannot anticipate Einstein, and that much is lost in the claim that they do.  Such a claim requires that significant elements of what Buddhists have believed and practiced over the course of more than two millennia be jettisoned.  The loss of so much that is magical about Buddhism is not simply an aesthetic loss.  It is a domestication of the dharma, a rebuke of the Buddha’s radical critique of the realms of our existence, including the realm ruled by Science.

© 2009 Donald Lopez