Science and Spirituality

In preparation for my trip to India in about six weeks, I’m currently reading the Dalai Lama’s book – The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. 

I had the good fortune to meet His Holiness about two years ago in Delhi. We shook hands, and he looked into my eyes with that mirthful gleam of his, and I was suddenly incapable of speech. I walked away feeling like I had plugged into an energy stream that was boundless.

I want to quote now from this book – because I think the point His Holiness makes here is very relevant –

There are many people, both scientists and non scientists, who appear to believe that all aspects of reality must and will fall within the scope of science. The assumption is sometimes made that, as society progresses, science will continually reveal the falsehoods of our beliefs – particularly religious beliefs – so that an enlightened secular society can eventually emerge. 

In this view, science is perceived as having disproved many of the claims of religion, such as the existence of God, grace, and the eternal soul. And within this conceptual framework anything that is not proven or affirmed by science is somehow either false or insignificant. 

Such views are effectively philosophical assumptions that reflect their holders’ metaphysical prejudices. 

Science deals with that aspect of reality and human experience that lends itself to a particular method of enquiry susceptible to empirical observation, quantification and measurement, repeatability, and intersubjective verification – more than one person has to be able to say: “Yes, I saw the same thing. I got the same results.”

So legitimate scientific study is limited to the physical world, including the human body, astrological bodies, measurable energy and how structures work. This is effectively the current paradigm of what constitutes science. 

Clearly this paradigm does not and cannot exhaust all aspects of reality, in particular the nature of human existence. 

In addition to the objective world of matter, which science is masterful at exploring, there exists the subjective world of feelings, emotions, thoughts, and the values and spiritual aspirations based on them. 

If we treat this realm as though it had no constitutive role in our understanding of reality, we lose the richness of our own existence, and our understanding cannot be comprehensive. 

Reality, including our own existence, is so much more complex than objective scientific materialism allows. 

Dalai Lama

12 thoughts on “Science and Spirituality

  1. All forms of true Mysticism share a common core — and in these particular quotes, I can see exactly nothing that is not also taught by the Mystical Traditions of both Orthodox Judaism and Catholic Christianity.

    One has to remember — both of these Religions are philosophically informed by the 500 BC Buddhist Mysticism and Philosophy, and they share with Buddhism a belief in the divine nature of the human soul, even though Judaism only came to accept that in its elaboration of its Orthodoxy in post-Christian times.

    This is one of the defining differences between these religions and all forms of paganism, including the materialist paganism of contemporary atheistic philosophy, because just as the Romans and the Greeks denied the divine nature of the soul, so do today’s neo-pagan materialist atheists.

    However, here is also something that I’m worried about, which is to say the ongoing trendy fascination among some Westerners to seek mystical truths in some of the oriental mystical traditions — all true mystics say that a properly mystical understanding must be deeply rooted in one’s own personal and cultural identity, as well as warning against attempting to try and mix the cultural teachings of, say, Western Europe with the mystical/spiritual teachings from somewhere else entirely.

    We have, as a culture, decided to reject and devalue the mystical traditions of the West, leaving us with a void that cries to be filled, thus leading some into contemplation of various Eastern mysticisms. This is also BTW a major cause of the rise of violent Islamist fanaticism, but that’s another subject entirely.

    The Western mysticism is a harder path, which is not founded upon the abnegation of self to an external guiding power such as in one interpretation of Bill’s understanding of his own PGS, but rather it is an affirmation of the individuality as well as of the intellect not as being always in control, but as being receptive to both the desires of the body and the requests of the soul and the limitations of both materiality and of God’s Plan.

    It finds its typically deepest expression in the Catholic Eucharistic Mass and the Contemplation of the Blessed Host, as both meditation upon the wholeness of the spiritual with the physical, but in its higher forms it becomes a uniquely and quintessentially Western intellectual mysticism whereby the active positive consciousness becomes the very locus of one’s active relationship with the Divine rather than being a more passive place of reception for the Divine Will (as in the Eastern traditions).

    Many Mystics teach that the Eastern mystical traditions can only be understood from an Eastern cultural basis, and it is also true that the Western mystical traditions need a Western cultural basis, just as the North American Native mysticism requires a grounding in their own culture.

    The problem, as I see it, in the fascination for the eastern mysticism, is that a void risks being replaced with a misunderstanding — and from ANY mystical perspective, misunderstanding is far worse than any simple absence of knowledge.

    And I am also saddened to see so many Westerners turning their backs upon the deep riches of our own extremely valuable Mystical teachings, no matter how arduous they may sometimes be, in favour of the superficially quicker and easier paths of either the Western materialism or a shallow understanding of some non-native traditions of whichever origin.


  2. My awesome BLACK socks just arrived in the post — hmmmmmm who was it again that quoted the popular Camino saying “only A-Holes walk the Camino in BLACK ?” … 🙂

    yeah well sue me — it’s only thanks to Marie-Dominique and the Sister that my back-pack’s not black too !!!


  3. Julian –

    Okay, I’m with you on your paras 1-3. Para 4, not so much… Considering that “Western” culture has largely been fragmented and in decline (in terms of shared common understandings and codes of conduct) since about 1914, I find the complaint just a tad extreme. As in “How does someone find a proper mystical understanding in their own culture when that culture(s) been swept clean of any sense of the mystical?” (Thus I am in agreement with your para 5.)

    Para 6 I am not comprehending. When the Gospel insists that we “die to self” that seems to be a bit simpler to understand. Maybe it is not in conflict with what you have written but I am a simple guy and maybe missed your point.

    As for the Mass and the Eucharist, I am absolutely a fan though far more appreciative of the old form rather than the Novus Ordo – – but I am thinking we do not wish to bore the casual reader here with a debate. (Books have been written on the topic – pro and con – and they have done nothing to change my being a “dinosaur” in this regard.)

    What I would point out is that the meaning and mystery of both requires faith to comprehend. Mystical ability may heighten the experience for those so gifted but that is it….it is not required. Catholic Christianity is most misunderstood because too many times it has been translated in such a way as to come off as a Gnostic religion – – which it certainly is not.

    Seems to me that you wish to obviate the Scripture “Seek and ye shall find.” as well as “Knock and it shall be opened to you.” as in “Don’t seek” and “Don’t knock”.

    That is not exactly a formula for spiritual progress, is it?



    • Thanks for your comment — though I’m a little confused at your conclusion that I might be advising “Don’t seek” and “Don’t knock” given that I was lamenting the fact that so many fail to do just that with our own Western Spiritual and Religious Traditions… I’m also puzzled as to why you disagree with my para. 4 when the reason you give for that disagreement seems to be a statement of pretty much exactly the same thing ; and though personally I’d trace the roots of this back to the 15th century, I am glad that you too have seen that there was a massive shift in our culture after the 1914-1918 war, rather than just blaming Vatican II for everything.

      I can only agree with you concerning the neo-Gnostic errors of far too many in our times; and as for the New Mass, well, I’m lucky to be spared the abusive renditions of it where I live, and I’d also be liable to systematically attend the TLM were I living in an English-speaking country too BTW — I like both the TLM and the NO, provided that the NO is given reverentially and with the proper focus placed squarely upon God — and I’ve been lucky to be able to attend many very Latinate NO Masses, many of them sung Masses with a Gregorian choir.

      The next time I’ll attend the TLM will be in Lourdes, either at the FSSP Chapel there or at the Upper Basilica (depending if it’s a week-day or Sunday), immediately prior to my departure on foot towards Santiago 🙂


    • Oh, sorry missed a bit — silly, as this is the bit where we’ll be the most on-topic relative to Bill’s OP, so that it’s actually better to keep it separate …

      There are various different practices in the Western Tradition of “dying to the self”, Brendan — but none of them seek to diminish the intellect, but rather to strengthen it. The “self” here, in this particular sense, refers to the propensity to sin, to the animal urges versus the human intellect as well as versus the Soul within, to the World and the Flesh versus the Spirit and God.

      Dying to the self in the Western Tradition is very unlike what the same phrase would mean in the Eastern — even though there are some commonalities of both practice and philosophy. In the East there is far more a passive seeking of a fairly broad abandonment, whereas the Western Traditions seek a more actively conscious action of the higher Spirit and the higher Intellect towards the Divine — though you’re right about one thing ; in my own personal affinity for the intellectual mysticism, I have rather neglected to emphasise that most of the Western Mystical Traditions are indeed much simpler and less intellectually involved, as you gently remind me — it’s not necessary to be a Theresa of Avila or a Thomas Aquinas to practise the Western Mysticism !!! Most of the Western Mystical Traditions are indeed based on Prayer and Penitence and Discipline rather than on the intellect as such, but this is because the intellect is all too often a hindrance to one’s worship rather than being the locus where it occurs, simply because of man’s Original Sin and our propensity towards Error.

      All of the Western Mystical Traditions do seek to strengthen the intellect, but most of them do so in a pretty indirect manner, rather than focussing on the intellectual mysticism as such — and that is precisely why the Virtue of obedience is so important in the Western Tradition. The Discipline of Prayer and the Discipline of Body, centred upon the Eucharist, seek to create strict limits upon the actions of the Christian, so that at first his soul has greater freedom of worship and meditation, at the cost of a superficial frustration of the Flesh and often some anguish of the mind — but this will then free his mind of all the distractions that the self (the Flesh and the World) will seek to entice him into, thereby leaving the Spirit and the Intellect a far greater space of freedom and movement into which they can develop within the proper Worship of God. So that even though this is not the intellectual mysticism that I’ve spoken of, it will nevertheless lead to a proper refinement of the intellect rather than, as in the Eastern Traditions, the notion that it too should be abandoned.

      I hope that is clearer !!


      • Julian –

        Yes, you made your point clearer. Allow me to succinctly clarify mine.

        While we agree in many ways, I took objection to your bent (last two paras of the post) which appeared to dictate that there was a “right” way to seek enlightenment. I took objection because where a person begins is a function of where they are.

        It is far more important to begin the process than to go searching for the “proper” path.

        Start looking for God where one is.Faith tells us that He will lead us into the correct paths.

        It stirs me not that some venture east in their quest. It is a rather common phenomenon to find a new appreciation for “home” after obtaining a perspective from afar.


        Liked by 1 person

        • Brilliant post, Brendan !!

          You may have misinterpreted my intentions, but your principles are sound.

          — I’d love a face to face chat with you !!!


          • Thanks, Julian!

            Meeting up? Could happen should I see someone with a pilgrim cloak on a future Camino. But be forewarned, in person I am extraordinarily dull. Seriously.



  4. Hi Bill

    Always very interesting , your posts. After the one about the spiritual center I bought the Autobiography of a yogi , What  a powerfull book. I have to read it very slowly because at every pages almost they are strong  statments,something to learn about, to think about. 

    I did  not get yet Dalai lama book, I will do it after my Camino.





    > Message du 17/07/14 15:47 > De : “PGS – The Way” > A : > Copie à : > Objet : [New post] Science and Spirituality > >

    Bill Bennett posted: “In preparation for my trip to India in about six weeks, I’m currently reading the Dalai Lama’s book – The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.  I had the good fortune to meet His Holiness about two years ago in Delhi.”


  5. Saw the Dali Llama at Emory University a few years ago. When asked which is the best religion, he replied, “The one that brings you closest to God .” I like that.


    • Hi Peggy – the Dalai Lama makes a lot of sense, doesn’t He. I like that he’s not trying to push one “brand” ahead of another…



Comments are closed.