Buddhism and the Age of Science

by U Chan Htoon | 1967 | 18,986 words

Wheel Publication, 1967 Address to the sixteenth IARF conference Buddhism – the religion of the age of science...


The two lectures which are here reprinted were delivered by the Hon"ble Justice U Chan Htoon when he was invited to represent Buddhism at two religious Conferences in the United States: The Sixteenth Congress of the International Association for Religious Freedom, held at Chicago, and the Conference on Religion in the Age of Science, held at Star Island, New Hampshire, U.S.A., in August 1958.

The Sixteenth Congress of the International Association for the Religious Free, which was convened by the University of Chicago, August 9-13, 1958, was attended by distinguished representatives of the five great religions of the world, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Ism and Judaism, and its purpose was “explore various ways in which the basic needs of men and the problems of the present day world can be met by the ethical and spiritual teachings of the great world religions, with special emphasis on the importance of mutual understanding, sympathy, appreciation and active co operation among various religions”. Over one thousand delegates from many parts of America, Canada, England and Western Europe were present besides those taking active part in the conference. The address on Buddhism was delivered by U Chan Htoon on August 12th.

The meeting at which the second of the addresses was given the Fifth Summer Conference sponsored by the Institute for Religion in the Age of Science. It was attended by over two hundred delegates from various parts of the United States and Canada. The principal addresses were delivered by a number of eminent scientists and religious leaders, that by U Chan Htoon on Buddhism being given on August 22nd.

In preparing these addresses the chief purpose kept in mind was to show the unique role that Buddhism plays in the dramatic present day conflict between scientific thought and established religious beliefs, a conflict which impinges upon every aspect of modern life. For this it was necessary to sketch in outline the fundamentals or Buddhist doctrine and, in the second lecture at least, to lay particular emphasis on those features of Buddhism which distinguish it from the theistic creeds. In order to do this systematically it was thought best to construct the second lecture on a dual pattern with the first section devoted to a very brief account of the general principles of Buddhist thought. The second section deals specifically and the seriatim with the questions concerning religion and the scientific outlook which had been framed by the sponsors of the Conference to form the basis of its deliberation. From this factual and deliberately literal approach to the problems thus posed, Buddhism emerges sometimes as a mediator between the religious and scientific oppositions and sometimes as offering solutions quite different from those proposed by either side. It also becomes apparent that many of the problems themselves are, from the Buddhist standpoint, wrongly stated. They prefer issues which arise only as a result of contemplating life from a wrong position. In the totality of its contact with both the spiritual and mundane world Buddhism is something more than a via media; it teaches values that belong to a transcending principle, one in which the seeming conflicts between the science and religion melt away before the vision of an all comprehensive truth.

In seeking answers to those questions, which have become of tremendous importance to us at this crucial point of history when perhaps the whole future of mankind hangs on the choice between the ethical values of religion and the contingent and variable expedients of materialism, the sponsors of the Conference showed themselves acutely, even painfully aware of the failure of traditional religious beliefs to meet the challenge. It is hoped that by offering, in the form of these lectures, a very brief statement of the Buddhist world view, the background of Buddhist thought and the concept of life and the nature and destiny of man that Buddhism holds, and bringing this to bear upon the problems with which modern knowledge has confronted us, a desire may stimulated among thinking men to make further study of the Dhamma.

The Anagarika P. Sugatananda

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