Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Universe in a Single Atom by The Dalai Lama XIV

In this book, the Dalai Lama expresses a strong interest in bringing spiritual concepts into the realm of modernity, and is clearly aimed at the general reader with no Buddhist background.  There is a little bit of biographical information about his growing up in exile, where he developed a fascination with the mechanics of technological objects, and science in general.  Throughout the course of his studies, he began to see connections between his two interests of science and Buddhism.  

The book is a good comparison of selected scientific concepts and Buddhist thought, outlining where they share similarities and differences, and how the two disciplines can enhance each other.  Each chapter outlines a scientific concept, then the Dalai Lama takes us through the Buddhist thought that can compared or contrasted with it.

This book had been chosen by our in-library nonfiction book club, as they had an ongoing interest in spirituality and how it fits into modern life.  They came from a variety of backgrounds, and all found the book fairly interesting.  Seeing how Buddhist thought can be linked and compared to certain scientific principles allows the reader to consider their own thoughts and traditions, and develop their own ideas of how science should fit into human life.

The frequent references to Buddhist thinkers and disciplines can be a little bewildering to those unfamiliar with these figures/concepts.  I particularly enjoyed listening to this book on audio CD, as read by actor Richard Gere.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What point(s) do you think the Dalai Lama is trying to make with this book?
  2. What can Science learn from spiritual disciplines (and vice versa)?
  3. Should science be “constrained” by ethical or political ideas?
  4. How important is the subjective world (i.e. feelings, emotions, thoughts and all their attendant spiritual aspirations) to human life?
  5. The Buddhist traditions speak of the theory of Emptiness – everything is connected – nothing has an independent existence.  Do you agree with this idea?
  6. The Dalai Lama asks this question: “What is the relationship between the cosmos and the beings that have evolved within it?”  How important is this question to you? 
  7. How compatible is science with the Buddhist goal of alleviating suffering and the quest for happiness?
  8. To what extent does science consider the role of altruism and compassion in the way nature functions?
  9. Does science pay enough attention to sentience? – ethics, spirituality, overcoming suffering etc.
  10. Does meditation have value outside the Buddhist tradition?  Can we learn about ourselves using meditative techniques as the Dalai Lama suggests?
  11. One of his final questions is – “what should we do with our new knowledge?” 

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