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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
67 spring 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly “as a worthy interlocutor of science and hence an appropriate ideology of a mod- ern nation that might one day exist.” The perplexity of Buddhism’s identity is evident here. Lopez at first seems to be wary of the “Buddhism” constructed in the Buddhism-and-science discourse because of its seeming rhetorical purpose. “Scientific Buddhism” is a “weapon,” in his choice of words, which was wielded in self-defense against the West. What Lopez objects to is everything that this stripped-down, demythologized, and rational Buddhism gives up in order to become the favored child of Western prejudices. This becomes clear in the first chapter (“First There Is a Mountain”), where Lopez recounts how the tradi- tional, flat-Earth cosmology of Buddhism has become one of the first casualties of this association. Gendun Chopel chas- tised Tibetans for clinging to traditional cosmology when there was a wealth of empirical evidence that the Earth is round. The Dalai Lama states simply that the Buddha was wrong about the shape of the Earth—but no matter, for this is inconsequential to the Buddha’s central program. “The question then,” Lopez responds, “is which Buddhist doc- trines can be eliminated while allowing Buddhism to remain Buddhism.” Lopez rues the loss of Buddhist cosmology, with its Mount Meru rising loftily at the cen- ter, whereas the Dalai Lama does not. For Lopez, the sacrifice of this mountain is a “slippery slope.” Lopez’s construction of “science” in the remaining chapters captures a rather quirky series of entities. In “Buddhism and the Science of Race,” Lopez takes up the Indo-European thesis that links the Aryans of India with Europeans, and the way European race mythology benefited from the scientific burnish lent by the linguistic research behind the Indo-European thesis. What does this have to do with the discourse on scien- tific Buddhism? It seems that Buddhist apologists like Dharmapala were wont to supplement claims of the superior nature Chopel considered Western science, which he encountered during his trav- els in India between 1934 and 1946, in light of the instincts provided by his Buddhist training, and it is a fascinat- ing thing to behold. The Dalai Lama proves to be more resilient in his Bud- dhist identity than suggested in the first chapter; he’s not quite willing to give the whole raft of Buddhist doctrines away in order to become endeared to science. The nuanced characterization of these two figures offers a wealth of historical perspective that is relevant to current conversations about Buddhism and science. The next chapter (“The Science of Buddhism”) offers yet another oblique reference to science, this time the sci- entific study of ancient languages, par- ticularly Sanskrit, which established the academic study of Buddhism in the West. Although this chapter is the most removed from what Buddhism and sci- ence usually implies, it is where Lopez voices his own perplexities most clearly. His point is that Buddhism has been different things to different people. The academic, text-based version articulated by Orientalist scholars was maligned by Theosophists, who looked upon Bud- dhism as the seat of a deep, personal, and ageless truth. And according to Lopez, those who take a scientific inter- est in Buddhism reduce the wealth and complexity of Buddhist practice into the crude quantifications of rectal ther- mometers and brain scans. Lopez makes sure to offset this scientific reading of Buddhist meditation with his own ver- sion, featuring a detailed catalogue of the images and visualizations entailed by Vajrayogini meditation (“The Meaning of Meditation”). The crowning question is “Who is the Buddha, and who speaks in his name?” Lopez takes the growing interest in the dialogue between Buddhism and sci- ence as an occasion to pose this ques- tion, and as important as the question is, it is posed to the detriment rather than of Buddhism with appeals to the Aryan heritage of the Buddha and his teachings. Dharmapala used the rhetoric of race and Aryanism, which, as Lopez admits, was another “gift” of Western colonial- ism, to argue the case for Buddhism. The huge impact of Western imperialism in Asia and the way it gave rise to race con- sciousness is evident here. What is unclear is whether Lopez believes the conjunction between “sci- entific Buddhism” and the “science of race” is accidental or organic. Beyond the overlap in place and time, the only other obvious link is the reference to science. Lopez is uncharacteristically vague about his history here. He begins the chapter by discussing the widespread reputation of the Buddha as one who rebelled against the caste system, defying the authority of the Brahmins and allowing low-caste members into his community. Lopez con- cludes by invoking a relatively obscure seventh-century Indian Buddhist philoso- pher whose commentary on a commen- tary to Nagarjuna’s Madhyamakashastra states that the Buddha’s dharma should not be taught to low-caste people. Based on this example, Lopez asks if the twen- tieth-century Dharmapala was not giving voice to “something that had been there all along.” Is this “something” a caste version of “scientific” racism within Buddhism? Is the point that “scientific Buddhism” accesses Buddhism’s darker side? The upshot is unclear, and the tacit paralleling of the nineteenth-century European “science of race” with the Indian caste system needs justification. Chapter 3 (“Two Tibetans”) con- tains Lopez’s rich exposition of Gendun Chopel, and, to a lesser extent, the Dalai Lama, as two twentieth-century Tibetans who have actively responded to Western modernity and science. This is where Lopez’s consideration of the Buddhism-and-science conjunction is most on target. The exposition of these two thoughtful figures augments the political interpretation that Lopez offers in his introductory chapter. Gendun Reviews