Can we prove Buddhism?

Jul 8, 2020

In the world we’ve got “science” and “religion” — they seem to be the two main approaches. We all accept that if it’s science it can be proved. Einstein tells us about relativity, for example. But the moment we hear about reincarnation, let’s say, we know it fits in the “religion” category and we assume that it can’t be proved, therefore all you can do is “believe” in it.

These assumptions are pretty deep, aren’t they.

So, naturally, when we hear about Buddhism we put it in the religion category. 

One scientist asked me at a teaching one time, “Who revealed the teachings to the Buddha?” A logical question if you assume that Buddhism is religion, can’t be proved, and therefore has to be believed in.

And why do we think about religion like this? Because that’s exactly how all the major religions that are based on the concept of a creator talk. There is a being called God from whom everything comes. He’s the source of the universe itself — all the beings, all the mountains and stars, everything. He made all the laws — “God’s law” we say — he runs everything, he knows everything, he has a plan. Our job as a Christian or Muslim is not to check up on what God says and then prove it to be true ourselves — that’d be considered the worst sin of pride! — but we necessarily need to believe him, have faith in it all. 

Nothing wrong with that. I admire anyone who can live their life like that. They don’t know themselves why things happen, but God has a plan, and that’s good enough. So you have faith. 

But that’s not the Buddhist approach. It’s fundamentally different. But because Buddhism is religion — ask any Tibetan and they will say, “Of course I’m religious” — we assume it’s the same as Christianity, for example. For sure there are many similarities, but there are the fundamental differences. People say, Buddhism is a philosophy. Well, yes it is. But so is Christianity for that matter. When it’s science or religion, they’re both presentations of how thing exist.

What are the differences between creator religions and Buddhism?

When I answered that scientist’s question, he was shocked. I said, “Would you ask Einstein who revealed the teachings to him?” Of course not! Because we know perfectly well that Einstein used his intelligence, he observed the way the world exists, all the natural laws, he came up with his findings, he proved them, then he presented them to the world. And basically he said, “Here’s what I have found to be true. Here are my findings. If you want to also experience the truth of relativity then go through the same steps that I did, verify things each step of the way, and you will prove it for yourself.”

We know that Einstein didn’t have a vision of relativity, he didn’t have a dream, it wasn’t revealed to him by someone on high. And he certainly wasn’t asking us to believe in relativity!

Buddha is not a creator, there is no such concept in Buddhism. So, where did he get all the information from? Well, he’s exactly the same as Einstein: he used his own mind, he observed the universe and, crucially, he observed his own mind and the minds of others. Everything that Buddhism asserts is exactly what the Buddha — and anyone who becomes a buddha; it’s the natural potential of all of us — just naturally has seen and thus proved to be true. 

Such as: the non-physicality of the mind, how it’s beginningless and endless; the natural law of karma within which all beings and the universe itself just naturally run, which asserts that every millisecond of the experiences of every being is the fruit of their past actions and every millisecond of what they think and do and say will, just naturally, produce their future experiences; that all ego and fears and anger and attachment and the rest are the source of our suffering and that we can utterly rid the mind of them; and that we can develop omniscience and infinite compassion for all being and become a buddha; and that we will continue to manifest our mind in countless bodies throughout the universe for the sake of suffering sentient beings.

All of this, everything that Buddhism says — and we need to check carefully because there’s a lot of nonsense published! — is necessarily coming from the direct experience of the enlightened beings, their own observation. Just like Einstein and his relativity.

Of course, if we assume the mind is the brain, then this is all nonsense. But the Buddhas’s view of the mind is not that. It’s not physical, as I said, and it has far more subtle levels of cognition than the neuroscientists and psychologists assert. This has been established by the Indians well before Buddha. They’re the ones who developed the amazing psychological skill called single-pointed concentration more than 3,000 years ago. When you achieve this — and people like you and me are accomplishing this skill right now, not just some mystical Tibetan up in the mountains somewhere — you just naturally achieve clairvoyance: you can see the minds of others, see past and future lives. If you work hard on it you can achieve it in a few years — but to do that you need very specific conditions to access the subtle level of your mind.

We commonly say, “I have no proof of anything. I have no personal experience that would make me believe that reincarnation is true.” Of course we haven’t, because we haven’t done the work yet. That’s exactly like saying, “I have no personal experience that would make me believe that relativity is true.” If you haven’t studied it, you’re right. But all the information is right there for us to study! It’s up to us.

Ninety-nine percent of us have never studied math and physics and thus have never proved it, but because someone who is reputable has presented it, we say, “Oh, it’s science. It’s been proved so it must be true.” Yes, it’s been proved by some people and for them they know it’s true, they’ve proved it, and therefore they can use that knowledge. But is it true for the ninety-nine percent of us? No, of course not!

It’s exactly the same with Buddha. It’s the same approach. But because we have these deep assumptions that “religion” can’t be proved — and rightly so if you’re a Christian — we assume Buddhism can’t be proved either.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says: if you can prove that Buddha is wrong, then you must reject him. And how would you do that? By engaging in the path as laid out by all the previous people who have become buddhas. Just like you would with Einstein. You go one step at a time. 

With Einstein’s findings you need to start by learning math. Each step of the way, you prove it to yourself. You keep going, one step at a time, all the while taking as your working hypothesis the reality of relativity. Eventually you’ll come to the same conclusion as Einstein and prove relativity to yourself. Or you’ll prove him to be wrong. Only two options.

Same with Buddha.

We actually merely believe in most things — we’re so lazy when we say they’re true because someone else has proved them! Botany only becomes true for you when you learn it. 

Proving relativity can help us understand the physical world: wonderful. But it doesn’t help us transform ourselves into a happy, wise, compassionate person.

The essence of all the Buddhist path, from A to Z, is to remove the delusions from the mind because they cause us to live in fantasy lands and thus to suffer. When we’ve accomplished Buddhahood we’re finally in touch with reality. That’s what brings happiness, stops suffering, and causes us to help others.

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