By Hema Senanayake –
In a recent article to CT, Shyamon Jayasinghe quoting Albert Einstein concludes that “none-religious person can be a better moral being.” None-religious persons are known as atheists. There are semi-atheists too. One good thing about atheists is that they protect and will protect the freedom of religion in the world – And none of the religion is capable of doing this. To me the freedom of religion means not only the freedom to believe and practice any faith that does not harm others including the person who practices it, but also the freedom to debate about religious believes.
However my take about religion has a different dimension; it is about “truth” not essentially of making a good moral being. What is true will prevail. Who decides which is true and which is not? Whether we like it or not the modern science and the scientific investigation has already changed the way we live today and would change the way we live in future. Today, globally, the scientific investigation is the predominant way of determining what is true and what is false. For an example the Buddha had rejected the notion of creator God about 2600 years ago, but increasing number of people around the globe awaken to this reality when the scientists began to reject the notion of creator God.
Commenting on Shyamon Jayasinhe’s essay, one of CT’s readers quoted physicist Stephen Hawking for his view on the creator God. Stephan Hawking said “There is no need to have a creator as everything is created by nothing” Obviously Stephen Hawking’s statement must be based on the results of scientific investigation. Recently the CNN telecast a program about Stephen Hawking’s views on the God. Does his observation endorses certain religious beliefs and rejects certain religious beliefs? Whatever the case is, the science will decide the future religious beliefs; the science will take its own course and religions that will mend will survive. This means the standing of religion or even the validity of atheism is not only judged on its ability to make a better moral being, instead the man’s intrinsic quest for “truth” decides what is to believe or what is not.
However, the universe and the human kind came into existence. The Buddha said that “there is a cause for everything that ever has come into existence or will come into existence and must ceases to exist when the cause ceases to be.” This proclamation also insists that there are certain laws in existence which resulted the “cause and effect.” Does the science agree or accept this notion as true? In answering to this question I wish to submit an inspiring quote which I saw in subway cars in New York. Let us call everything around us as nature; the quote says “the book of nature is written in mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word of it; without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth. ― Galileo Galilei”
The inference or the conclusion of the Galileo’s quote is that there are certain natural laws in the universe; those laws can be discovered and explained in mathematics. For an example when something is fallen on earth there is acceleration and the law of acceleration is explained in mathematics. Many such laws including human body have already been explained in science. To a useful extent that your pulse rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, heart, kidney, liver and brain functions are all explained in mathematics or science. That is why science holds its unique place as unbiased body of human knowledge. Yet, many such natural laws are to be discovered by science. Do such discoveries help us to ascertain the truthfulness of the Buddha’s above said view? Have similar views been expressed in any other religion? Perhaps well informed readers of CT could enlighten us on these questions.
Shyamon Jayasinghe further writes “Moral conduct is all about living as good men and women. I believe that the foundation of human goodness is compassion and considerateness toward others. It is opposed to totally selfish behavior. From this core center treated as a reference point specific codes can be constructed. Underlying the requirement of compassion and considerateness lie the ability to empathize with others’ situations. One cannot be truly moral without empathy. Now, it is abundantly clear that all these qualities have no necessary linkage with the metaphysical assertions of religion. In other words, one can follow such a path of humane behavior without any belief in a heaven, a hell or a creator, or even any acceptance of a samsara.” (CT, June 26).
I agree that one can be a good human being without believing in heaven, a hell or a creator, or even any acceptance of a samsara. Yet this does not negate the quest for truth. We want to know the truth in religious beliefs. For an example about 2600 years ago the Buddha said that no two “thoughtlets” arise at the same time. The word “thoughtlet” might need an explanation. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “thoughtlet” as a very small thought. Here, I opted to use the word “thoughtlet” for the Pali word call “Cittakshana.”
A natural law in the universe is that everything originates, then last for a while and ceases to exist. This same law is applicable to the thoughtlet itself; it originates, last for a while then ceases. If you blink an eye that action originates then last for a while and then it ceases. But it happens within a fraction of time. Similarly since a thoughtlet originates and last for a while and ceases, it must have a definitive time. According to Buddhist texts, the time duration of a thoughtlet is one billionth of a blink of an eye. A learned monk opined that the time duration of a thoughtlet could be approximated as one-hundred-thousandth of a second. Immediately after one thoughtlet ceases the next one is sprung up. What we call a “thought” is to be understood as billions of billions of such thoughtlets. But interestingly no two thoughtlets originate at the same time. That is what the Buddha said. This implies that a thought that causes happiness and a thought that causes sadness cannot co-exist.
Similarly, a thought that causes anger cannot co-exist with a thought that causes kindness. If this is true then this is very important insight that can be used to maintain what is known as our mental health. For example when you are sad, you can get rid of it when you originate a thought that associated with happiness or a thought process that associated with patience because no two thoughtlets cannot co-exist. Let us examine this point a little further.
Immaterial of what the mind is and where the mind is, the Buddhist philosophy identifies or explains a few unique features about how the mind works. Our happiness or sadness or any such feeling is generally associated with a thought. If we have a happy thought then we feel happiness. Similarly we feel sadness when we have a thought that creates sadness. This means without a thought we can’t be happy or sad.
So, how do we get happy thoughts? For example if we eat something tasty then we feel happy or if we hear good music we feel happy. This means we grasp an object through our five sensory organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) that make us happy. So, the happiness we feel is originated from an outside object; so gaining or feeling such objects helps to create a thought that makes us happy. We have five sensory organs and according to modern science there are separate areas in the brain to process signals coming from sensory organs.
However, in general terms, thoughts are created with the help of outside objects and with the five sensory organs of our body. But the Buddha says that even though we have five sensory organs and five areas in the brain to precess signals coming from sensory organs only one thoughtlet can arise at one time, not five. How did he know this? Also the Buddha said that another special quality of our mind is that, it by itself can create an imaginative “object” to initiate a thought; if the thought so initiated by the mind itself without any involvement of sensory organs and outside objects, is happy then we feel happiness. If thought is serene then we feel serenity or a happy calmness. (Please note that according to the Buddhist philosophy the real happiness arises from the wisdom of non-attachment to the signals coming through sensory organs, but I do not venture into discuss it in this brief article).
Are these two unique laws of the mind’s function important to us and to cognitive science? I think, yes it is.
As I am not that much familiar with other religions, I am not sure whether we can find any kind of explanation in regard to the natural laws of mind’s function in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or any other religion as was explained by the Buddha.
However by today’s definition the Buddha had never studied cognitive science. So, how he was able to make a unique declaration by saying that two thoughts cannot co-exist. He should have had an unparalleled wisdom. In order to explain his wisdom the hypothesis developed is that the wisdom can be achieved not only through education and being involved in formal research; the wisdom can also be achieved if a person mentally moves through a three step path known as “Ethics, Samadhi and Wisdom.” Is this true? In order to find an answer to this question, many western scientists who are involved in medicine and cognitive science have gathered in the “Mind and Life Institute” of Dalai Lama in India. This gathering took place in January this year. I like their effort because I have a quest for truth apart from being a good morale being.