"The lines between science and spirituality have become inevitably blurred." (Gerald Penilla)

"If I were an Eastern mystic the last thing in the world that I would want would be a reconciliation with modern science." (Jeremy Bernstein)

In his video "Where Science and Buddhism Meet," Gerald Penilla argues that there are such strong parallels between how physics and Eastern spirituality, including Buddhism, understand reality that the boundaries between them are not as clear as many may suppose. That is, physics and Buddhism are simply two different methodologies that lead to pretty much the same understanding of reality and reinforce each other.

This idea became popular in some circles with the publication of Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics in 1975. Since then, many writers have echoed Capra's thesis that Eastern mysticism and modern physics share a similar worldview and corroborate one another. Gerald Penilla's video follows this tradition.

For instance, according to Penilla, both Eastern spirituality and modern physics agree that the foundation of all reality is a "field of potential from which everything arises." In Eastern spirituality, this field is called such names as 'Tao' and 'Brahman.' In physics, it's called the 'quantum field': An electromagnetic field from which all particles arise not, ultimately, as separate objects but as "different forms of the same system."

Penilla also asserts that the physics concept of quantum entanglement parallels the eastern spiritual concept of oneness or interconnectivity in which all particles and composite objects in the universe exist only in relation to each other and to the whole system that they comprise.

Finally, Penilla argues that both Eastern spirituality and modern physics agree that mind underlies matter. To make his point, he quotes Buddha as saying, "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything," and Max Planck, one of the founders of quantum physics: "All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter." He also quotes the great physicist Werner Heisenberg:, "Reality is defined by the mind that is observing it." Penilla concludes by stating, "Reality does not exist without the mind that is defining it. Without mind, reality exists only as infinite potential. Quantum physicists have now stumbled upon what mystics have been saying for over 2000 years--that reality is a projection of the mind."

Many would take issue with Penilla's assertions and argue against looking for mutually corroborating parallels between modern physics and Eastern spirituality. For instance, philosopher-mystic Ken Wilber argues that physics, by itself, won't lead one to the highest spiritual insights, because physics investigates only the lowest level of reality--the physical level--whereas the great spiritual mystics have achieved deep insights into the dynamic interrelatedness of all levels--the physical, biological, mental, and spiritual levels. So, for example, physicist talk of quantum entanglement in which two subatomic particles instantaneously interact over vast or "nonlocal" distances does not parallel the Buddhist concept of the interconnectivity of all physical, biological, mental, and spiritual reality. Furthermore, he argues that most physicists don't believe that human consciousness creates physical reality but only observes and alters it through its observations, as should be obvious when we consider that the physical universe existed before humans did. Finally, he asks rhetorically, If spiritual concepts are "hitched" to scientific ones, does this mean that the former should be "ditched" when the latter, with their propensity for change, no longer support or even contradict the former?

Although Gerald Penilla may oversimplify the parallels between modern physics and Eastern spirituality and make dubious assertions about the insights we can gain from them, it is nevertheless instructive to explore both science and spirituality so that we can understand better if and how they're related, and we shall do this in future articles.

By Steve Curless

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