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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Buddhist Answers

June 14, 2009

Kuensel Online

Bhutan's Daily News site

14 June, 2009


The world has progressed in terms of scientific knowledge, but there are still wars and strife. What does Buddhism have to
say about this?


Yes, I think many people believed that science would be the saviour of humanity. We worshipped scientific facts, and
believed that technological advancements would shield us from the sufferings. This was perhaps the biggest myth of the last
century. That is not to say that science has not offered benefits. It has - definitely. Through medical advancements, life
expectancy has doubled since the beginning of the 19th century, and life has become easier. While these are admirable
achievements, the root causes of war and strife still remain beyond the realm of science.


Why is this? Well, the cause of war, strife as well as personal suffering lie within our own minds. As the Dalai Lama has
said, “Peace starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.” When
individuals harbour anger towards colleagues or neighbours how could international peace be achieved? It is like expecting
healthy plants to grow from polluted soil.


The only way to develop inner peace is through experiencing reality, and science cannot help in this respect. In fact, many
scientific developments actually mask reality and so increase our anxiety. This is perhaps the reason that suicide rates
are often the highest in countries with advanced economies.


As an example of how ignorance leads to suffering, consider a man who encounters a wild animal. Seeing what he believes to
be a threat, he panics. As he looks closer, he realizes that ‘the creature’ is only the shadow of a branch caught in the
moonlight. He relaxes. The animal did not transform into a shadow. It was never a wild animal. The cause of the man’s
anxiety was a mistaken view. Peace arose through correct view.


How does this scenario play out in our lives? Well, mistaking a shadow for a wild animal represents our basic ignorance of
reality. When we do not recognize that things are impermanent we form unrealistic attachments. Consequently, we suffer when
things change or become old and die.


Without recognizing this truth, even pleasant situations are imbued with pain. Instead of enjoying a moment with a loved
one, for example, we worry about prolonging it. We are like a child who helplessly tries to hold sand in his hand. In this
respect, our lives are dictated by hope and fear, and we are no different from the man who mistakes the shadow for a wild


Likewise, we suffer when our action is rooted in the mistaken view of a separate self and other. We view the world as if
from a fortress, and so even compassion is tainted with the desire to gain something - if only a sense of personal
satisfaction. Only when we recognize that our connection to the world is no different to the relationship between the heart
and the physical body does our altruistic action flow naturally. This is like recognizing that the wild animal is just a
shadow. We relax.


Finally, not understanding that things have no inherent existence causes frustration and disappointment. In reality,
everything with characteristics has no more substance than a rainbow or mirage. While this might sound complicated, in
reality it is not.


Let’s examine a piece of paper. It is made of wood that came from a tree. In turn, the tree developed from a seed that
interacted with soil, moisture and heat. The paper is merely a combination of elements, and there is nothing inherently
called paper. All things exist in the same way. If we recognize this truth, then it is perfectly acceptable to follow a
rainbow or to play with a mirage. Suffering arises when we try to grasp and hold these things believing they truly exist.
Again, like the man in the forest, a mistaken view results in pain.


So, if science cannot create the conditions for inner wellbeing, should we reject it? No. Science offers benefits for
mankind. At the same time, however, we should not consider science as the saviour of the world. The best solution is to use
scientific developments, but view them with the eyes of wisdom. In this way, we remain in our environment and use its
benefits, but are free from the suffering caused by attachment and expectations.

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