In SACRED WORLD by Jacob Aremark4 Comments

Spirituality versus science / Spirituality isn’t rocket science

In the West, we have a very strong tradition for doing science. In fact, the tradition has been so firmly established as our fundamental worldview, that it is often overlooked as being exactly that: One of many possible worldviews. But the scientific way of thinking wasn’t always around. Greek philosophers like Aristotle (384-322 BC.) did some of the basic groundwork, but it really wasn’t until the time of philosopher-scientists like Francis Bacon (1561-1626) that what became known as empirical science, later to turn into physics and chemistry was founded. When the 18th century French Enlightenment conclusively rejected religion as the basis for human life, Bacon’s empirical way of looking at things took its place.

These days, the avant-garde of western thinking is slowly starting to realize that that just might have been a wrong move: Scientific terminology and scientific thinking doesn’t cut it, and we desperately need something else, or at least something more. Getting rid of dogmatic religion, in the Judaeo-Christian sense of the word, might have been the right thing to do, but we still need something, that recognizes man’s spiritual dimension. We need spirituality, if we want to fully understand the so-called human experience.

Many of the eastern spiritual disciplines, like for example Buddhism, seem to offer an alternative option. Buddhism is very scientific and empirical in the sense that you aren’t asked to go on blind faith. Like the credo of Francis Bacon, the credo of the Buddha seems to have been don’t take my word for it, go check it out for yourself. And being westerners, raised on scientific scepticism, we like the idea of not having to believe something up front. If I had to guess, I’d say that that this is exactly why most modern, New Age, western spirituality is modelled not on our homegrown Judeo-Christian ideals, but on seemingly foreign, imported worldviews like Buddhism, Advaita-Vedanta etc.

This is all very well, and very intelligent. The problem occurs, when we have to formulate the new, western, spiritual terminology. We obviously don’t want to re-use traditional Judeo-Christian terminology like sin, Holy Spirit, absolution, confession, communion, God etc., because these terms are all to tainted historically. And we can’t very well use the original eastern terminology, since it is in a foreign, and, for most people, inaccessible languages like Sanskrit or Tibetan. So we start inventing new meanings for terms we are already very familiar with; terms that are already socially accepted as high-end terms when it comes to truth, knowledge etc., which are the scientific terms. In short: We use scientific terms to describe the new spiritual paradigm, because big, scientific words are trustworthy and make people listen. Just like any good shampoo, skin lotion or detergent commercial has to mention liposomes, enzymes, amino acids, B5 extra care formula+ and what have you in order to sell the product.

Flower of Life

What this means is that all of a sudden, you have the paradox of a spiritual community rejecting the scientific worldview yet using scientific terminology like, for example, energy, frequency, vibration, quantum physics, etc. to describe their own world view.

Mending the gap

Some go even further in trying to mend the gap between science and eastern spirituality, thereby also lending scientific credibility to spiritual terminology of course, by saying that, for example, Prana is really just energy or, the soul is just vibration or, the theories in quantum physics are just like the theories of advaita-vedanta.

As well meaning and full of good intentions as this may all be, what this mending really does is make everything less clear. Of course, deep down everything is just like everything, and spirituality is just like science, and I am just like you etc. But just like all these things are alike, they are also different. And if we don’t really know how they are different, saying that they are the same is just a poor excuse for not wanting to exercise our much needed discriminatory muscle.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not against spirituality. I am very much for it. But what I am against is spirituality unwarily bending its knee to science, because in my opinion spirituality can stand on its own. And I believe that in the long run, we will realize that science can never form the basis for human life, because science is essentially meaningless. Science only tells you, what is there and how to make it bigger and faster, it doesn’t and can never tell you why it’s there or what you should to do with it.
Peace out!

About the Author
Jacob Aremark

Jacob Aremark


Born as a human being in 1977. Jacob is an avid student of both Buddhism, yoga and martial arts. He holds an MA in philosophy and works primarily as a ManuVision body-therapist. He also frequently lectures on topics such as creativity, body language, yoga philosophy and other mind-body oriented themes. For more articles and more about Jacob, visit his homepage.

Photo by DashaDee, Russia. Flower of life by Karin Henseler, Germany.

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  1. Science is mostly wanting confirmation by observing the world of senses, even conventional mind/brain is considered the sixth sense in Buddhism.
    All movements in mind (thought, feelings, sensation in mind-body stream must be settled or brought to a stillness and unification to step out of the habitual mindstream and achieve cessation (nirodha) and liberation of conditioned consciousness to the non-dual unconditioned deathless and realization of emptiness. http://tiny.cc/Middleway

  2. Well, I would also view my simple brief layman’s explanation in the field of Science & Spiritualism…in the sense that Science is the study of external world & matters and their applications. Here, when I understand matter it should even constitutes every human physical organs, length, time, micro-organisms, and everything that we can observe through our grosser 5 – sensorial experiences. Whereas Spiritualism is to do with more our own inner world of emotions / consciousness, sometimes even deeper into the subtle-most nature of our consciousness.
    However, to point out a little more understanding in the sense that Buddhism & Science has a deeper co-relation apart from understanding like – interdependency, relativity, emptiness, impermanence, theory of multiplicity of Big-bang (here Buddhist term as Beginning-less period of samsaric existence) is that, Buddha has gone a step further by understanding that, “he had not discovered a new religion / new theory / new dogma but himself understood & awakened from the slumber of his own ignorance”. Which means that – “The 4 – Noble Truth” & “The 4 – Great Seals” of Buddhism are timeless, immemorial & Universal – affecting all sentient beings equally in the whole universe, irrespective of where they are (for e.g – like grosser level of suffering which we can see – Birth, Sickness, Ageing & Death /Decay universally affects all creatures).
    Similarly, all the new & greatest discoveries of every field of Sciences as we talk of in the pages of history – but in true sense are not at all a new discoveries. They are in true sense simply relative & interdependent and merely designated. All these what we call external matters (elements, substances & compounds, etc.) are already available in the world system since beginning-less times and the dicoverers / engineers / medical scientists / Space scientists / Atro-physicist / Psychologist, etc. have simply manipulated them through their brilliant and sharp intelligence.
    As we are also aware like for eg- time is also universal, the Solar time practiced by the western & scientific world & the Lunar time practiced in the eastern Buddhist world are also similar & accurate in terms of rotation & revolution and the seasonal changes of the earth.
    In fact, if my above explanations are mis-interpreted as a wrong view, then as an ignorant layman I humbly accept my mistakes and would accept clearer explanations.
    Thank U.

  3. As a Buddhist Nagkpa I can tell you that science, especially Quantum physics is quiet in accordance to what Buddha taught. We Buddhists Openly embrace science especially physics and neurology and find for the most part science concurs with our understanding of what The Buddha and other accomplished teachers have taught. The Dalai Lama himself has commissioned science research related to Buddhist doctrine. For modern westerners The Big Bang and subsequent evolutionary processes is the new creation myth of 21st century. Don’t forget that Buddha Sakyimuni taught about the atomic level and 7 other subatomc levels almost 50 years before the Greeks even coined the term Atomic. Of course Buddha did not use the term Atomic.

    1. Jacob AremArk

      Dear Carl,
      Thank you for your comment.
      I wrote the article, and thus I would like to comment a bit on what you say.
      Of course you are right in pointing out, that there are similarities between Buddhism and modern science. What I would like to ask, is why that is relevant? I mean, imagine it wasn’t so. Would that make Buddhism wrong? Would it make science wrong? I don’t think so. So does the fact that the two doctrines seem alike at this particular point in space/time make any of them more right? I don’t think so either.
      As to doing scientific research related to buddhist doctrine, I don’t really understand that. I mean sure, you can do science relating to brainwaves in meditation and such. But in my opinion, the buddhist doctrine of, say, emptiness couldn’t be proven nor disproven by science. (Nor could the doctrine of the non-existence of the self, the 4 noble truths, the 6 paramitas and a lot of the other stuff that seems to be at the core of buddhist doctrine.)

      But “science” is mainstream culture – the currently accepted worldview – and if you want what you do to be accepted there, you need some kind of scientific backing. And that’s the same wether you’re promoting shampoo, mindfulness (R) or buddhism…

      Btw. I am also a buddhist, and if it is in any way unclear, I would just like to say that I also openly embrace science (not especially physics and neurology).

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