Home

Life Coaching

Communication Coaching

Coach Bios

 

Library

 

 

 For more information, contact:

   Gary Schouborg, PhD

   (925) 932-1982

   gary@garynini.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schouborg, Gary (2003).

"Buddhism, Science, and Discouragement".

 

 

Buddhism, Science, and Discouragement

 

Like the other great religions, Buddhism arose in a mostly pastoral world that could have been no more than dimly aware of the creative impulses driving our complex technoeconomy. The challenge for contemporary Buddhism is to show how the inner peace of mindfulness is not only compatible with those impulses, but contributes to and is even nourished by them. It would be a mistake to escape into a romanticized pastoral simplicity that surrenders the real benefits that we've gained.

 

Unfortunately, a return to pastoral living is what Wes Nisker implies when he tells us approvingly of Gandhi's belief that optimal human living is in small groups and of the Dalai Lama's closely related belief in the "economics of sufficiency" (Inquiring Mind, Spring 2003). Nisker confesses that he is sometimes discouraged that mankind has made little progress toward Gandhi's and the Dalai Lama's vision. Like a three-month-pregnant woman being disappointed because she has not yet given birth, he may be discouraged because he misunderstands the evolving process.

 

The practical problem is that an economics of sufficiency and small groups cannot sustain the billions of human beings now inhabiting the earth. Nor can it support modern science. Admittedly, if we lived as simply as clams we'd be as happy as clams. But at what cost? Would the fully enlightened have us reduce earth's population so that that a relative few can live in enlightened bliss, sustained by an economics of sufficiency and small groups? How would they justify such a policy when many of us not-so-enlightened are glad to be alive in spite of our contemporary sufferings? Furthermore, some of us are much more curious than clams, and the science that expresses and satisfies our curiosity requires a complex infrastructure of large technoeconomic systems. Unless we are willing to dismiss modern science as an illusion or a spiritually unimportant activity, we must address (rather than withdraw from) the technoeconomic complexity that sustains it.

 

The spiritual problem is that Gandhi's emphasis on small groups contains only the half-truth that unlike large groups they do not require the abstract thinking on which over-sized desires can feed. The Dalai Lama's economics of sufficiency contains only the half-truth that overly identifying with goals that point beyond sufficiency causes unnecessary suffering. The half-truth here is that because of their complexity, large systems and abstract thinking so involve our attention that we easily lose touch with our inner experience. Before we know it, we become frenetic and emotionally hollowed out. We cling. Fortunately, this result is not inevitable.

 

The core spiritual challenge for our Information Age is how to assimilate information without being seduced from a felt sense of the present. It is useful to distinguish three levels of doing so. On the meditative level, we attempt to find our deepest awareness and happiness in a setting where we radically reduce the information to which we usually attend, so that there is little to pull us out of a satisfying present. On this level, our experience of deep fulfillment occurs apart from ordinary life. In contrast, in everyday living we learn to integrate information into a mindful present. We learn to deal with the information of practical, everyday living while not allowing it to pull us out of a deeply satisfying, mindful present. There are two everyday levels, pastoral and urban. On the pastoral level, we create a contained life of restricted information, as in Thoreau's Walden, where our everyday goals do not project deeply enough into the future, our memories deeply enough into the past, that they pull us out of our present awareness. On the urban level, we attempt to find our deepest happiness in fully participating in the contemporary technoeconomy. We try to be open to information in all its complexity without being pulled out of the satisfying present of living whole and mindfully. Buddhism's contemporary challenge is not to withdraw faintheartedly to the pastoral level in order to maintain inner peace, but to demonstrate how we can maintain a mindful present while integrating the information of our complex technoeconomy.

 

[Below is an abridged version.]

Schouborg, Gary (2003).

"Buddhism and Science".

Inquiring Mind, 20(1), 49.

 

Buddhism and Science

 

Like the other great religions, Buddhism arose in a mostly pastoral world that could have been no more than dimly aware of the creative impulses driving our complex technoeconomy. The challenge for contemporary Buddhism is to show how the inner peace of mindfulness is not only compatible with those impulses, but contributes to and is even nourished by them. It would be a mistake to escape into a romanticized pastoral simplicity that surrenders the real benefits that we've gained. Unfortunately, a return to pastoral living is what Wes Nisker implies when he tells us approvingly of Gandhi's belief that optimal human living is in small groups and of the Dalai Lama's closely related belief in the "economics of sufficiency" (Inquiring Mind, Spring 2003).

 

Admittedly, if we lived as simply as clams we'd be as happy as clams. But at what cost? The practical problem is that an economics of sufficiency and small groups cannot sustain the billions of human beings now inhabiting the earth. Nor can it support modern science. Unless we are willing to dismiss modern science as an illusion or a spiritually unimportant activity, we must address (rather than withdraw from) the technoeconomic complexity that sustains it.

 

The spiritual problem is that Gandhi's emphasis on small groups contains only the half-truth that unlike large groups they do not require the abstract thinking on which over-sized desires can feed. The Dalai Lama's economics of sufficiency contains only the half-truth that overly identifying with goals that point beyond sufficiency causes unnecessary suffering. The half-truth here is that because of their complexity, large systems and abstract thinking so involve our attention that we easily lose touch with our inner experience. Before we know it, we become frenetic and emotionally hollowed out. We cling.

 

Buddhism's contemporary challenge is not to withdraw faintheartedly to the pastoral level in order to maintain inner peace, but to demonstrate how we can maintain a mindful present while integrating the information of our complex technoeconomy.