Science: One Finger on the Hand of Humanity

Although the Dalai Lama is passionate about science, he believes there are limits to what we can learn from it.

Excerpted from "The Universe in a Single Atom" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama Copyright c 2005 by Dalai Lama. Excerpted by permission of Morgan Road Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

I have spent many years reflecting on the remarkable advances of science. Within the short space of my own lifetime, the impact of science and technology on humanity has been tremendous. Although my own interest in science began with curiosity about a world, foreign to me at that time, governed by technology, it was not very long before the colossal significance of science for humanity as a whole dawned on me--especially after I came into exile in 1959. There is almost no area of human life today that is not touched by the effects of science and technology. Yet are we clear about the place of science in the totality of human life--what exactly it should do and by what it should be governed? This last point is critical because unless the direction of science is guided by a consciously ethical motivation, especially compassion, its effects may fail to bring benefit. They may indeed cause great harm.

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Seeing the tremendous importance of science and recognizing its inevitable dominance in the modern world fundamentally changed my attitude to it from curiosity to a kind of urgent engagement. In Buddhism the highest spiritual ideal is to cultivate compassion for all sentient beings and to work for their welfare to the greatest possible extent. From my earliest childhood I have been conditioned to cherish this ideal and attempt to fulfill it in my every action. So I wanted to understand science because it gave me a new area to explore in my personal quest to understand the nature of reality. I also wanted to learn about it because I recognized in it a compelling way to communicate insights gleaned from my own spiritual tradition. So, for me, the need to engage with this powerful force in our world has become a kind of spiritual injunction as well. The central question--central for the survival and well-being of our world--is how we can make the wonderful developments of science into something that offers altruistic and compassionate service for the needs of humanity and the other sentient beings with whom we share this earth.

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