What is Science?

Science is the study of the reality of the universe based on observed facts, and systematic research, analysis and experimentation. Science provides the basis of modern technology that improves the living standard of human beings.

The Contribution of Science to Human Beings

One of the main characteristics of science is its great emphasis on facts gathering and systematic research. During the process of investigating what is right and wrong, what is true and false, science has remarkable advancement. Science has broken up the ignorance and stupidity that had been with mankind for thousands of years. Things that were unknown to us have now become necessities in our daily lives, such as lighting, electric fans, televisions, electric kettles, oven, etc. To fly to anywhere in the world, you do not have to rely on mystic and psychic power. You just board a plane and relax. While you are resting, enjoying your meal or engaging in a conversation, the plane flies through the cloud, over the mountains and the oceans. You need no effort to arrive at the destination. Moreover, with the aid of telephone, you can talk to anyone thousands of miles away. Moon is no longer a mystery nowadays with spaceships launched to explore it. Deep seas have become bases for submarines. All these indicate that the continuous advancements of science and technology have benefited our lives tremendously.

The Classification of Sciences

Though the scope of science is very wide, it can be basically classified into three branches:

  1. Natural science - It is the study of the structure and properties of all matters. Based on generally agreed axioms and the methods of deduction and induction, new theories are developed. Examples are astronomy, physics, chemistry, zoology, botany and mineralogy.
  2. Applied science - It is the study of applications on the natural sciences such as applied chemistry, applied mathematics, applied zoology and applied botany.
  3. Social sciences - It is the study of all phenomena in human society. It focuses on human relationship and interactions, attempting to develop patterns of human behavior. Examples are economics, political science, law and sociology.

Natural Science and Buddhism

One of the greatest topics of natural science is the formation and destruction of the world. Though astronomers realize that the Earth, the Sun and other planets in the Solar System will eventually be destroyed, they are unable to say definitely whether the Earth and the other planets and stars will be reborn. This remains to be a mystery in the scientific community.

Over two thousand years ago, the Buddha gave the answer to this problem with his discovery of the Law of Dependent Origination. Though the Earth will one day be destroyed, there is a chance that it will be re-formed. This is because all phenomena (material and spiritual) change continuously in the cycle of manifestation and extinction. What we encounter and see is the summation of all transient phenomena. All matters are interdependent and interact with each other, resulting in numerous and continuous causes and effects. In Buddhism, this interactive law of cause and effect is called the Law of Dependent Origination.

Dependent Origination means conditions. All phenomena, including our Earth, cannot violate this principle: it is formed when the causes and conditions come together, and it becomes extinct when the causes and conditions are apart. Governed by this principle, the world and the Earth have to undergo four stages, namely formation, dwelling, decaying and emptiness, which is a continuous cycle without cessation. From this point of view, the study in natural science is one step behind Buddhism.

Applied Science and Buddhism

With the many modern technologies arising from the research of applied sciences, some people may think that we can totally rely on the versatile scientific knowledge to satisfy the desirous demand of human beings. However, no matter how advanced science is, the desire of human beings is boundless. Moreover, the development of modern technology inclining towards satisfying material desires further aggravates the imbalance of the material culture and the spiritual culture.

With the rapid development of science and technology, people always neglect the value of internal spirit. The richer they are in material sense, the more lonely, anxious and desperate they feel. Prosperity often brings along worries that cannot be expressed in words. Therefore, the Buddha teaches us to give up the seeking of material desires, and instead to build up our spiritual wealth, so that we have no suffering of disappointment.

Social Science and Buddhism

The purposes of social sciences are to improve the morality of the society, to build up a wealthy and strong country, and to promote the worldly peace and harmony. However, in the era when culture is biased towards materialism, the society is overwhelmed with materialistic desires. People are concerned only with their own interests without righteousness. Despite all the defensive and security measures, without building up the spiritual life, there are bound to be conflicts in families, struggles, conspiracy and even murder in society, and wars between different countries fighting for land and power. It is so miserable that many people suffer and die.

Just relying on material civilization cannot solve social problems. We must follow what the Buddha says. Firstly, our mind need to be purified so that we understand to benefit others is benefiting ourselves, to harm others is harming ourselves. We have to control ourselves from excessive desires, then we can love, care for and help each other. Only then can our families be happy, our societies stable and prosperous, and our countries friendly and peaceful, achieving great harmony in our world.