Questions about Common Grounds between Buddhism & Islam

Participant: You have indicated there are many points in common between Buddhism and Islam, but can you also point out some of the big differences that you find, for instance regarding the issue of punishment?

Dr. Berzin: There are two levels of so-called reward and punishment. One is in this lifetime and one is in future lifetimes. In terms of future lifetimes, it’s the mechanism that is different. Both Buddhism and Islam assert that you’re going to experience the consequences of your actions in future lives. And so the point is: do we conceive of it as reward and punishment, which implies, in a sense, somebody that rewards you and somebody that punishes you, or do we conceive of it as just working in a mechanical type of way?

I don’t have the quote with me, but there’s a quote in the Quran which says something like, “And you shall see in the book” – you know, when you die – “you shall see your deeds written in the book; and according to what you see, this is what you’ll experience.” And so, although there are many passages in the Quran which explain that God is the judge and will judge you and reward and punish you, you also have other statements in the Quran that seem to indicate that it is just part of the natural way in which things are.

Now the real difference comes in terms of this lifetime – in terms of punishments and reward, but specifically punishment – and this has to do with the concept of law. Law is a very central issue in, certainly, ancient Judaism and Islam. It has not quite the same central role in Christianity, but it is a very fundamental part of Biblical thinking. These are laws that are given by divine authority, and if you follow them then you’re rewarded; if you disobey them then you are punished. In Buddhism, the issue is not really obedience. In fact, you don’t even have that as one of the monks’ vows as you do in Christianity – a vow of obedience. Rather, you try to develop discriminating awareness to discriminate by yourself what’s beneficial and what’s harmful. And on the basis of that, you would follow ethics; not on the basis of obedience and fear of being punished. So that’s quite a different approach.

Now the question is: is it up to human authority to actually enact a punishment in this lifetime? That really is not so central in Buddhism. But I’m thinking of The Sutra of Golden Light, and in that sutra it speaks about the duties of a king; and it’s very important, it says, for the king to uphold the Dharma, and it actually says to punish those who act against the Dharma and who are destructive in terms of the Dharma – that the king needs to do that in order to protect his subjects. And so you do have that in the sutras, but it doesn’t seem as though it was really put into practice.

It was put into practice much more in China. And in Chinese Buddhism the word Dharma is translated as the word fa, which is the word for law; and so the Chinese saw the Dharma, the teachings, as laws. And this was something that then brings in the role of the emperor and the state in terms of enforcing laws. So the Chinese form of Buddhism takes a different approach to this, and that seems to be closer to what it says in the sutras, at least the Golden Light Sutra – that it’s the duty of the king to protect the subjects by punishing those who are mischievous and harmful.

You even find this in the bodhisattva vows. In the bodhisattva vows it says that it is a breach or a breaking of the bodhisattva vows if you do not discipline somebody who is disruptive to the community. If you just – because they’re your friend, or you’re timid, or something like that – you just let them continue to violate the vows and be disruptive to either the monastic community or the community at large, this is violating your bodhisattva vows because you need to, in a sense, look out for the welfare of everyone.

Now of course they don’t have stoning people to death and things like that in Buddhism. These are the details. And it doesn’t really say how you would discipline others or punish others. But the principle is there. And stoning others, by the way, all of that’s in the Old Testament; the Quran, Sharia didn’t make that up.

Although we can point out common grounds between two religions, it misses the narrative. So, for instance, you can say that an elephant and a mouse both have four legs, and a tail, and eat food, and so on, but that misses really the more descriptive, juicy element of what are the differences between them.

So if you were to ask a follower of Islam what is the essence, what’s the most important thing in your religion, they might say that, well, at the time of death the graves will open and I’ll go to paradise because I followed the fast during Ramadan and I’ve been a good Muslim. And that would give more of a flavor of what is important to Muslims about Islam.
So my question is: this whole discussion of finding a common ground, is it just an exercise in diplomacy or how does it actually work? Can you discuss a little bit of the history of this.

I must say that the two sides have not been very diplomatic toward each other, if we look in the longer view of history – whether it’s Buddhism and Islam, or Buddhism and any other type of view. They debated with each other often. There were debates in terms of which form of Buddhism the Tibetans would adopt. Genghis Khan also had a debate between the Buddhists and the Taoists and the Christians and so on, in terms of what he would follow. And although the texts usually report that the deepest philosophical view is actually the one which won, this is hardly believable. It seems as though they settled it mostly in terms of magical powers and who is the most powerful one.

The Mongols were looking for a strong protector. The Tibetan Buddhists had Mahakala, and so this is what they wanted. It was the protector of the Tanguts, a people in the area called Inner Mongolia who – in the battle against them, Genghis Khan was killed. And so, obviously, the only way that they were able to defeat Genghis Khan was because they had the protector Mahakala, so we have to follow Tibetan Buddhism so we get Mahakala on our side. So we’re not talking about diplomacy between the different religions. We’re looking at, in the dialogue between them, which one is the more powerful one that we can get on our side, on our protector’s side. Same thing in terms of: do the Tibetans adopt Chinese Buddhism or Indian Buddhism. It had an awful lot to do with the politics that were going on at that time.

But in modern times, you do have this religious type of dialogue on a much more open level, particularly when His Holiness the Dalai Lama meets with other religious leaders. I remember one meeting that I attended that was speaking about compassion, and His Holiness was asking each of the representatives of the different religions to explain their approach to compassion. And let me see if I can remember what they said: What he always says, what His Holiness always points out, is that the Muslims say that everything is the creation of God, of Allah; and therefore, if you love Allah, you should love all of Allah’s creations. And the Christians were saying that if you love God, then through your love of God you will love others. And the Jews were saying that through love – they were saying the exact reverse – that through love of others, people and so on, that you come to love God. And His Holiness was saying that in Buddhism the issue of compassion has nothing to do with God; one just loves others and has compassion for others on the basis of everybody wanting to be happy, nobody wanting to be unhappy – everybody equal. So it was merely a presentation of each position without saying this one’s better or that one’s better. Without really comparing it. It was just each person made their presentation and it was left at that.

So I think this is the type of approach that His Holiness is trying to foster, which is merely based on education. That usually fear of others’ religions – or anything about others – is based on ignorance of them. And so if you know their position, and people present their position in a nonaggressive type of way – and, of course, if you have these meetings, if you’re going to participate in these interfaith meetings, it’s usually because you want to foster harmony; you’re not going to be aggressive and attack the others – then this helps to bring about understanding, and that’s the basis for religious harmony; and religious harmony is very helpful for bringing about peace in this world.

That’s a little bit of the history that I know, but traditionally the history hasn’t been very diplomatic at all on either side.

When Muhammad revealed the Quran, obviously he had knowledge of the Bible before that, but is there any evidence that he had knowledge of Buddhism?

That’s very hard to say. There were Indian physicians in Arabia at that time. There’s a long history of trade and commerce between the Arabian Peninsula and India – sea trade, back and forth – and there are records of Indian physicians there. There was also, if I remember correctly, this one document that said there were red-clad ones, those wearing red clothes, which could indicate Buddhist monks being in Arabia at that time. But whether Muhammad himself had knowledge of that, it would be hard to demonstrate.

Were all the historical meetings between Buddhism and Islam fighting?

No, not at all. You had, for instance, in the Abbasid Caliphate – this was the second big Arab empire that ruled the Middle East; it was founded in 750 CE and lasted pretty much up to the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century – and in the early days of this Caliphate they built a new capital, which was called Baghdad. And Baghdad actually is a Sanskrit word. They had architects come from India. Bhaga-dada is the Sanskrit word. Bhaga is a word for higher authority, God, and dada is “given” – “given by God,” in a sense, the Hindu term. And they had a translation bureau. And the Arabs were extremely interested to know about the cultures of the various people that they ruled and had conquered. They were primarily interested in medicine and so they had Sanskrit texts on medicine translated into Arabic. And there’s a list of the texts that they translated, and included in those are several Buddhist sutras. And so they had Buddhist monks from, primarily, Afghanistan (because that was a big center of Buddhism) and Kashmir – that sort of side – come to Baghdad. They translated sutras that dealt with – first of all, pure land sutras because this is talking about what could be construed as a paradise, so Muslims would find that quite interesting. Also a few texts concerning Avalokiteshvara, concerning compassion – some sutras concerning that because, again, that seemed to be something that was more easy for the Muslims to relate to. So that was an indication of a quite peaceful relation with them.

I wrote an e-book which is on my web site, The Historical Interaction between the Buddhist and Islamic Cultures before the Mongol Empire, and in that I try to show that the motive behind the Muslim conquests – the conquests of the people who followed Islam – was not really Islam. It would be like saying that any war in the West was a Christian conquest or something like that. Actually, if you look at it more objectively, these invasions were motivated by what motivates all invasions: the quest for money, for power, for controlling the tax of the Silk Route. This is what they were aiming for. Now you could rouse your soldiers by saying that if you die, you’re going to go to heaven. So with religious things. This is like encouraging your soldiers with extreme patriotism that is done in other countries. But that surely was not the motive of the generals and the people who planned these things.

This is demonstrated by the fact that when they invaded India, they left the poor monasteries alone. They basically just went and destroyed the wealthy ones. They were after the money, the gold that was kept there. So at that time there had been an earthquake, I believe, in Kashmir, and the monasteries there were in very poor condition and the Muslim invaders left them alone. There was nothing to be gained from taking them over. And in the earlier invasions that took place – let’s say in the eighth century and so on; well, the beginning of the eighth century when they took southern Pakistan and so on – as I pointed out, they let the Buddhists and Hindus rebuild their temples, and just taxed the people and charged pilgrims for coming to the temple and seeing the statues. So they were very much motivated by money, as are most people.

[See: The Historical Interaction between the Buddhist and Islamic Cultures before the Mongol Empire]

Was this also the case with Nalanda?

Well, with Nalanda – again, it was a very wealthy place. There were a lot of gold statues. These sorts of things. And there are always fanatic generals, and so you can’t always say that the general policy was the same as the policy of some fanatic generals who went in. Nalanda was certainly ransacked and there was much destruction, but it wasn't completely razed to the ground. According to the records of visits by Tibetan translators, there were still small groups of teachers and students studying there in the decades after the invasion.

But, you have to remember these monastic universities were not only strongholds of money and gold – especially the gold statues – but also people went there because they were like fortresses; so for defense. And so they became places where there were a lot of weapons and stuff like that as well. The invading armies, of course, saw these as places of resistance, and went in and destroyed them.

But also it’s a bit of a myth to think that everything was wiped out in such a short time in India. A lot survived in the very far eastern parts of India – Odisha, and going over into Bengal and Assam – and a lot of these monks moved over into northern Burma and northern Thailand and even as far as Cambodia. So a lot of that stuff survived. And even several centuries later, you still have records of the Tibetans having visits from some Indian pandits and things being translated from Sanskrit, and so on. And some things lasted several centuries longer in southern India. So it wasn’t as black and white as many of the histories portray it.

History is a very strange concept. What is history? And things that are written about history usually have a cultural bias. There’s usually an agenda for the way in which a history is written. So the Muslim histories will write it in terms of everything is for religious purposes; this sort of thing. If you look at the Chinese histories – to demonstrate how fantastic the new dynasty is and how terrible the old dynasty was. And the Tibetan histories, as well, tend to have their own agenda: they make the Bonpos the scapegoats, and “Buddhism is so wonderful,” and so on.

And what we have in the West has been very much shaped by the British. And the British histories of India were written in terms of the British Empire defeating the Muslim Moguls, and they wanted to show how bad the Muslims were compared to how wonderful the British are. And so in their version of the history of what happened in India, they painted the Muslims as being absolute demons.

Each history has its own agenda; its own prejudiced view. So what actually took place, that’s hard to say.

If you compare Buddhism and Islam on the level of what you have to believe, are there huge differences?

Is there a difference? Well, what do you have to believe in Buddhism? The most fundamental thing is the four noble truths. That this is true suffering, this is its cause, it is possible to get rid of it forever, and this is the pathway that will lead to that liberation. And then enlightenment can be added onto that. And that path includes both the method and wisdom side. So understanding of reality in terms of: all conditioned phenomena are impermanent, etc, etc; voidness and non-self. So you have all of that in Buddhism.

Do you have to believe in that? I don’t know. What do you have to believe in? You have to take refuge; that’s the defining characteristic of Buddhism. And refuge (putting this safe direction in life) is not just, you know, having a piece of your hair cut off, and getting a name, and wearing a red string – and now you’re a Buddhist. That doesn’t make you a Buddhist. But rather, on a much deeper level, understanding what Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha means. And this implies, as His Holiness says, from the two truths you understand the four truths, and from the four truths (noble truths) you understand refuge. And so, by understanding the illusory nature of the appearances of conventional truth and the deepest nature of voidness, then you understand what is suffering, the source of suffering, that it’s possible to get out of it, the understanding of voidness will get you out of that. And then you have confidence in the Dharma Jewel, which is the true stoppings and true paths that are on the mental continuum; in full with the Buddhas, and in part with the Sangha. Then your refuge is secure; is stable. That would be the Buddhist thing.

So in Islam what would you have to believe? You have to believe in God, and that Muhammad is the messenger of God, and that there is but one God and no other. So what does that imply?

That brings us to the discussion that we had in this presentation of what is God, and what does it mean to have somebody that reveals the message of God? And we have in Buddhism, if you look at it at face value, it really looks like revelation of – from Nagarjuna getting these texts under the sea, Asanga getting it from heaven from Maitreya, and so on. So are they messengers of the truth? I’d have to say, yes. I don’t think that they’re that different.

And we’ve seen with God – belief in “God is One,” and so on – if you take away the Buddhist objection, in terms of creation by someone who’s not affected by anything, then you find so many things that are in common. So I don’t think it’s that strange.

You have in some forms of Islam, in Shia, the central position of the Imams as representatives and so on. Well, you have the position of the guru in Buddhism.

You have to pray five times a day.

Well, these are customs. From a Buddhist point of view, you need to reaffirm your bodhichitta three times a day, prostrate three times in the morning, prostrate three times at night. There are a whole set of things that, if you really want to follow Buddhism strictly, you have as well. So the details are different, but the fact that you have certain commitments in terms of how you keep this direction in your life – they’re there. Whether you pray five times a day, or you do meditation in the morning and in the evening, or you do four sessions of retreat every day – structurally it’s the same, isn’t it? It’s just the actual way in which it’s done is different. So then that gets back into comparative religion. Are you saying that everybody’s doing the same thing, only slightly differently, and it’s just cultural differences? Or what? How do you present that in a nonjudgmental sort of way? That’s the real issue.

Islam has dietary restrictions. Does Buddhism have any dietary restrictions? Well, it depends on the country, doesn’t it. In Chinese Buddhism, they’re vegetarian. In Southeast Asia and the Tibetans, they’re not vegetarian. Buddhism says no alcohol; Islam says no alcohol.

Conversion. Well, conversion is a big issue here. In theory, Islam does not believe in forceful conversion, if you look at it actually in terms of the Quran; in terms of practice, that might be something different. But in terms of the scriptures, they don’t have that. It’s up to each person to decide. You can’t force somebody to convert. But if you look at the issue of conversion in Buddhism – Come on! If you look historically, the king of a certain place adopted Buddhism and then he made all the subjects Buddhist, and so they were supposed to follow Buddhism. You had these debates at the monasteries in India, and whoever lost would have to adopt the view and the religion of the winner. Is this conversion? What is it? It’s just slightly different methods, isn’t it.

It’s written in the rules of the Muslims that you need to accept God, and you need to accept one truth, and that Mohammad is his messenger. What does Buddhism say?

Buddhism says that unless you understand no truly existent self, unless you understand voidness, there’s no liberation or enlightenment. So you have to believe in this, and this is one – this is the one truth. Structurally it’s the same.

I mean, that’s the point. That there is a common assertion that there are certain beliefs that you have to have in order to attain salvation or liberation or whatever the spiritual goal is. That’s there. And if you look more objectively at what they’re believing in, there are certainly differences, but there are certainly similarities. And, again, what is the point of the whole discussion? The point of the whole discussion is to understand and respect each other.

In one of the suras from the Quran that you quoted, they emphasize tolerance within the bounds of those that are accepted as People of the Book. What is the general attitude toward that among the Muslim population?

I think that we really need to look at it as His Holiness the Dalai Lama always is stating: that in every religion, in every group, there are going to be mischievous people – it’s the term that he uses; troublemakers – and these mischievous people, it’s wrong to say that they represent the entire population; and just because of the trouble that they make, it’s not a fair grounds for condemning the entire population. Are some of the Muslims intolerant of others, especially of other forms of Islam? Yes. Are some of the Christians intolerant of other religions and other forms of Christianity? Yes. You could say the same thing about the Jews. You could say the same thing about the Buddhists, for that matter, and the Hindus. So you find this in all religions; in all groups.

Is there something similar to this tolerance in Buddhism?

What’s another way of translating the word tolerance? It’s patience. And Buddhism certainly teaches patience. Not to get angry with others, even if they have different views from yourself. So it’s implicit there in Buddhism. Are there other things that we find similar in both religions?

One of the laws is not to have other gods.

Right. One of the things in Christianity and Judaism as well is not to have other gods. They have the same thing in Islam. There’s only Allah; there’s the one God. But do we have anything like that in Buddhism? That’s interesting. Buddhism says that – I mean, this is part of the commitments from refuge – that you can take temporary refuge in other deities, but not your ultimate refuge. If you take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, that’s your ultimate refuge; that’s your ultimate direction in life. So, in a sense, it’s putting down the others and saying that Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha is the only way. It doesn’t say it very strongly, but it’s there. So a lot depends on the tone in which these are presented, and that will differ from different teachers, different texts, different periods of time, different cultures.

But I found, in traveling a bit in Islamic countries, that people were very interested in Buddhism. I lectured at Cairo University to a group of students. Three hundred students came to hear a lecture on Buddhism, and they said to me: “Please, we’re starved for information; and tell the outside world that we’re not all terrorists, we’re ordinary people.”

So it’s very important not to marginalize any group.

In Buddhism, you would not be rewarded for killing people of different faiths.

In Islam: if you look at the teachings on jihad, jihad is only in defense of Islam. It’s not sanctioned to kill just anybody because they believe differently; but if there is a threat to Islam, then it is appropriate to try to end that threat.

But, hey, take a look at Buddhism – Tibetan Buddhism – with these protector pujas. What is that all about? Trample the enemies of Buddhism; trample, kill, tear out their eyes. I mean, it’s horrible if you look at the actual words of these protector pujas. And what we’re asking the protectors, all the nasty horrible things we’re asking them to do to our enemies, to those who would threaten Buddhism, who are against our teacher. So it’s there. It’s there. We don’t like to admit that, but it’s there. And some people are really into it – protector pujas – with the drums and the cymbals and the horns.

But I wouldn’t go right to heaven and be rewarded up there.

You would build up a lot of positive merit from getting rid of these enemies of the Dharma. You wouldn’t be met by a thousand virgins in paradise; that’s something else. But everything has its rewards. But certainly not seen as something negative: to send out the protectors to do your dirty work.

This is very often the case with people who adopt Buddhism, coming from a different religion. You only look at the nice parts. You don’t want to look at the parts that are a little bit more questionable. This protector stuff is very questionable, if you really look at it seriously.

Did Buddha himself speak about protectors? 

I don’t think so. I mean, it’s hard to say. If you look in the Kangyur, the translated words of the Buddha, there are very, very few protector texts in there. There’s a little bit about Mahakala; a little bit about Mahadevi, which is basically Kali from Hinduism. So they basically are taking some of these forceful forms from Hinduism and adopting them into Buddhism.

Well, it’s the whole thing. Did Buddha teach the tantras? Did Buddha teach Mahayana, for that matter? This is something which is controversial. And so did Buddha actually teach these things? Well, it’s in the Kangyur, so shouldn’t it be that Buddha taught them? And the argument that Shantideva gives is perfect. He says that any reason you give for refuting our Mahayana sutras, I could use against you to refute your Hinayana ones. Because they weren’t written down at the time of the Buddha either; they were transmitted orally. And any reason for accepting yours as valid, I could use to assert that ours are valid.

So you can use the same thing with tantra. It’s hard to say. Did Buddha actually teach these? I don’t know. Did Buddha actually manifest as Heruka or Kalachakra and from each of the faces teach a different class of tantra, and at the same time appear on Vulture’s Peak and teach the Prajnaparamita Sutras? And hundreds of zillions of gods and beings from different realms filled the audience, and all the Buddha-fields shook, and all the Buddha-fields in every pore of the Buddha’s skin, and all of that. Think of that. And you could ask the same thing about Muhammad.

Did he talk about any virgins?

I doubt that also. So, again, this gets into a whole discussion of what texts are authentic and so on, and what did these people actually say, and were they written down accurately or transmitted accurately. These are very difficult questions; very difficult. So in the end, again, we come down to His Holiness’s criterion: if this set of beliefs and practices makes you a kinder person, more compassionate person, it’s a good religion. What else can you say? It’s hard to prove anything in this area.

Speaking on a philosophical level, is there any way of reconciling the Buddhist approach of voidness and everybody being able to become a Buddha, for example, and the Islamic sense of duality between God being totally transcendent and we being dual, separate from God?

Well, again, it depends on which Islamic theory you want to follow. There’s one in terms of – it’s called fanaa in Arabic – of surrender and annihilation into Allah. Do you actually become Allah? Do you become God? Well, that was a heretical view that you find in some Sufis, but mainstream Islam rejects it very strongly. There still was the individuality.

There are many, many Buddhas. They all have the same understanding, the same omniscient mind, but they’re not identical. They retain their individuality. So, again, what do you mean by nondual? It doesn’t mean that everything is one big soup; an undifferentiated soup. And when you say God is One, whether you say it in a Muslim or any of the Biblical senses – God is One; there’s only one God – well, what does that mean? Again, does it mean there’s only one God? God is One. What does it mean? And, again, you can have many, many, different philosophical views of that, just as you can have many views in terms of voidness.

There’s the two truths; but in some Buddhist theories only the deepest truth is really true, so there’s really only one truth in the end. Some of the Tibetan authors will assert that; Shakya Chokden, for example, in Sakya. And everything is one taste in voidness. That doesn’t mean that everything is identical. And dualism – what do we mean by dualism? That there’s a big wall between the mind and its objects, so that they exist independently of each other? Well, that’s refuted in Buddhism. But is that the dualism that you’re referring to between God and his creations? Well, if God created them, there’s no big wall between them, is there? How could he create something that has no relation to him?

So one can analyze this whole thing more and more deeply, and one finds that many of the issues are the same here.

When did ethics arise in people?

Buddhism has a nice answer for that. It says, speaking of the – this is in abhidharma – the evolution of a world system, it says that in the beginning everybody lived – let’s see if I get it correctly – well, first of all, they didn’t have gross bodies. And then the bodies became a little bit gross. There was some general nectar (or something like that) around that they could just eat; it was free for everybody, not owned by anybody. But then people became a little bit more greedy and they wanted to get more and so, eating this stuff, their bodies became a little bit heavier; more coarse. And, because of that, they developed sexual organs. And then, because of that, desire arose for the opposite sex. And then they started to build houses in order to be able to have sex in private. And then they wanted to have things that belonged to them, so they started hoarding more and more food, and building walls and fields, and things like that. And it was at that point that they needed to have a king to impose ethical laws, so that you had law and order so that the people could live together with each other. So this is the Buddhist explanation of how ethics came about.

Can you come up with a better solution? I don’t know. I mean, you have a bunch of cave people living together and, in order to somehow live in harmony and not kill each other, they had to have some sort of basic ethical laws, didn’t they: Don’t eat your children. Eat the children of other tribes, but don’t eat your own if you want your tribe to survive. I mean, just basic things. That there must have been certain rules. And that would have been established, probably, not so much in consensus – I mean, as the Buddhists say, it was established by a strong leader who came along and said, “Hey, we’ve got to get things in order.” This is how rulership and governments and these sort of things happen. You find that in animals: The strongest gorilla is the head of the pack of gorillas. You have leaders. A queen bee.

Where does compassion come from? When did it arise? Was it always there?

His Holiness answers that very nicely. He says it’s part of biology – in terms of mother taking care of the baby.

In the West you had the Age of Enlightenment, which was the development of science and so on, was there anything like that in Islam?

There was tremendous emphasis on science among, particularly, the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad much earlier than in the West. We’re talking about the end of the eighth, beginning of the ninth century. And you had, what are they called? – the Falsafa sect or something like that. There was a sect in Islam that put a great emphasis on science and philosophy. They were particularly advanced in mathematics. Algebra, after all, is an Arabic word: al-jabr. Astronomy was very well advanced, medicine as well.

For the Age of Enlightenment, enlightenment meant secularization.

It doesn’t have the same meaning as in Buddhism. Enlightenment is a very difficult word. Because in America you can say that – I mean, enlightened really just means modern, you know: President Reagan had an enlightened view of economics, they say. So that doesn’t mean that he was a Buddha; it just meant a very modern, more (supposedly) scientific, rational view. So, enlightened? Now you get into the big problem of how do you translate any of these terms. Enlightenment is not the greatest translation for what they’re talking about in Buddhism. But what are you going to call it? It’s difficult. Nirvana? Well, nirvana is liberation or enlightenment. It’s a term that’s used for both. And these are differentiated in Buddhism, so we need different terms.

So, leaving aside the use of the term "enlightenment," science certainly was very, very much in Islam. And in Buddhism you had the study (you had this in Hinduism as well) of the so-called basic sciences, and this included medicine and astrology/astronomy and arts – music, dance, and grammar, composition, meter – these sorts of things. So none of these systems were against the level of science that they had in those days.

Original Audio from the Seminar