by Li Jianmin
WUXI, Jiangsu, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Sakyamuni's followers carried out a rare face-to-face dialogue with science workers in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi Sunday in hope to converge their wisdom and jointly build a harmonious society.
The dialogue was conducted as a seminar of the Second World Buddhist Forum that gathered more than 1,700 Buddhist monks, scholars and celebrities from around the world.
The three-hour seminar attracted an audience of almost 200 and late-comers had to stand in the aisle of a small meeting room in the gigantic Buddha Palace on Mt. Lingshan.
It is acknowledged by both Buddhists and experts of social sciences that Buddha is a human being, but not a god, and everybody's destiny is in his own hand, not in Buddha's.
It is also a consensus that Buddhism does not worship superstition, or the enemy of science. On the contrary, it opposes superstition and stresses "cause and effect". In addition, Buddhism contains many thoughts of dialectics, and most importantly, it has supported science and technological development all along.
"In my view, Buddhism is a religion of atheism and it is very rational," Dr. Jiang Jinsong, associate professor of the Institute for Science, Technology and Society with the prestigious Tsinghua University, told Xinhua at the forum.
"In many respects, Buddhism shares common features with scientific spirit," he said. "Take for instance, Buddha also opposes worshiping authority blindly or accepting a theory without thinking."
Buddhism was introduced into ancient China from India more than2,000 years ago. Currently, about 100 million people on the Chinese mainland, or one out of 13, are Buddhism followers.
A basic fact is that Buddhism has never fought against science in history. Moreover, quite a few monks in Chinese history are scientists or technicians themselves, such as Master Yi Xing (673-727) during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) who was a notable astronomer, mathematician, and mechanical engineer. He made two astronomical celestial globes along with a government official and was the first to measure the length of meridian in the world.
Today, like lay men, Buddhist monks in almost all temples are also enjoying conveniences brought by science and technology -- communicating "this world" via cell phones and promoting their doctrines via computers and Internet.
"Master Xue Zang (a famous monk in the Tang Dynasty) spent 17 years traveling tens of thousands of miles to India to seek Buddhist scriptures. But now, I just need to click a computer mouse to read sutras," said Master Man Sheng from Taiwan's Fo Guang Shan Monastery at the forum.
"I myself encourage monks to learn science," Master Xue Cheng, vice president and secretary-general of the Buddhist Association of China, told Xinhua.
"But on the other hand, the fast development of science and technology lets the people pay -- the natural environment has witnessed damages due to overuse of natural resources and excessive discharge of wastes, the social environment made up of different races has witnessed hatred and even wars due to contests for resources," he said.
"So science and technology alone cannot ensure a happy life for the mankind, who still need to possess moral ethics and values, and Buddhism can play a certain role in this regard," he added.
Zhu Qingshi, a well-known chemist and academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Xinhua that he treats Buddhism as a knowledge, but not a religion.
"It is a profound knowledge and is the cream of the human culture and wisdom," said Zhu, also former president of the University of Science and Technology of China.
"If you think Buddhism only means burning incense and praying, then you are going far away from its real spirit," he said.
He cited an abstruse example to show there is connection between science and Buddhism -- the string theory in physics and the theory of origin in Buddhism, both trying to explain the question of "what is the real nature of the material world."
Zhu added that science and Buddhism can meet in three fields: physics, brain science and psychology.
In addition, Master Bei Ji, vice president of the Buddhist Association of Taiyun in northern China, ethics is another field on which Buddhism and science can converge.
Buddhists and scholars said it is the first time for China to host such an international, high-level and face-to-face dialogue between Buddhism and science, or religion between science, therefore the dialogue is not supposed to solve all issues instantly.
"But the significance is that it shows both Buddhism and science can contribute to building a harmonious society and a harmonious world at large," Jiang said.
China has been committed to building a harmonious society in the country and pushing for building a harmonious world over recent years, and it has been rallying all positive forces to attain the goal, including seeking wisdom and inspiration from its profound traditional culture.
"Buddhism is part of the traditional Chinese culture and treasure of the Chinese nation. So why can't we use it?" Jiang said.
Probably because the dialogue between Buddhism and science was carried out within the framework of a Buddhist forum, therefore, few people from the science circle came to attend the dialogue Sunday.
But Zhu still has confidence, saying that dialogue between religion and science is not a "new thing" in the western nations.
"This dialogue in China is just like a seed, which will sprout so long as it is sown," he said. (Shi Yonghong and Gui Tao contributed to this report.)