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The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet [Hardcover]

Matthieu Ricard , Trinh Xuan Thuan
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 4 2001
Matthieu Ricard trained as a molecular biologist, working in the lab of a Nobel prize—winning scientist, but when he read some Buddhist philosophy, he became drawn to Buddhism. Eventually he left his life in science to study with Tibetan teachers, and he is now a Buddhist monk and translator for the Dalai Lama, living in the Shechen monastery near Kathmandu in Nepal. Trinh Thuan was born into a Buddhist family in Vietnam but became intrigued by the explosion of discoveries in astronomy during the 1960s. He made his way to the prestigious California Institute of Technology to study with some of the biggest names in the field and is now an acclaimed astrophysicist and specialist on how the galaxies formed.

When Matthieu Ricard and Trinh Thuan met at an academic conference in the summer of 1997, they began discussing the many remarkable connections between the teachings of Buddhism and the findings of recent science. That conversation grew into an astonishing correspondence exploring a series of fascinating questions. Did the universe have a beginning? Or is our universe one in a series of infinite universes with no end and no beginning? Is the concept of a beginning of time fundamentally flawed? Might our perception of time in fact be an illusion, a phenomenon created in our brains that has no ultimate reality? Is the stunning fine-tuning of the universe, which has produced just the right conditions for life to evolve, a sign that a “principle of creation” is at work in our world? If such a principle of creation undergirds the workings of the universe, what does that tell us about whether or not there is a divine Creator? How does the radical interpretation of reality offered by quantum physics conform to and yet differ from the Buddhist conception of reality? What is consciousness and how did it evolve? Can consciousness exist apart from a brain generating it?

The stimulating journey of discovery the authors traveled in their discussions is re-created beautifully in The Quantum and the Lotus, written in the style of a lively dialogue between friends. Both the fundamental teachings of Buddhism and the discoveries of contemporary science are introduced with great clarity, and the reader will be profoundly impressed by the many correspondences between the two streams of thought and revelation. Through the course of their dialogue, the authors reach a remarkable meeting of minds, ultimately offering a vital new understanding of the many ways in which science and Buddhism confirm and complement each other and of the ways in which, as Matthieu Ricard writes, “knowledge of our spirits and knowledge of the world are mutually enlightening and empowering.”

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The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet explores questions such as how did the universe come into being and what is the meaning of human life against the blackness of infinity? Religion and science have many answers to these and similar questions, answers that sometimes meet but more often diverge.

In this book-length conversation, French Buddhist monk Ricard and Vietnamese-born astrophysicist Trinh explore how Buddhism and modern science address life's big questions. Among the matters they touch on, sometimes fleetingly and sometimes in depth, are the illusory nature of phenomena, the guiding intelligence of nature, and the search for the mechanisms that drive planets and humans alike. Both authors, each conversant in the other's medium, argue against reductionist views of nature. And both provide plenty of data that support Albert Einstein's declaration that "if there is any religion that could correspond to the needs of modern science, it would be Buddhism".

Hard-nosed sceptics will perhaps find Ricard and Trinh's reconciliation arguable. Still, the record of their conversation makes both for fascinating reading and for a useful overview of scientific reasoning and spiritual inquiry. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

This transcribed and expanded dialogue between Buddhist monk Ricard and astrophysicist Thuan claims few original insights but provides a good general introduction to science-and-religion issues representing two notably different Buddhist perspectives. At its best, the book is animated by contrasts. Thuan, a Vietnamese-American trained at CalTech, identifies with Buddhist ethics and spirituality, but his worldview often reflects Western science and philosophy. Ricard, a French biologist who emigrated in the 1970s to become a disciple of Khyents‚ Rinpoche, speaks from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Although Thuan and Ricard find common ground on many ethical matters and agree in a general way about the "interconnectedness of phenomena," they also run into genuine disagreements about cosmic origins, the nature of consciousness and the orderliness of the universe all areas where traditional Buddhist beliefs are in tension with scientific theories or their implications as commonly understood in the West. To the authors' credit, they avoid superficial reconciliation of these differences, although Ricard, who renounces "dogmatism" but consistently defends orthodoxy, sometimes claims to "refute" opposing viewpoints a little too neatly. The conversational format also limits the precision and depth of the authors' positions and at times becomes unnecessarily repetitive. Philosophical dialogue is an ancient but exquisitely difficult art, and even the most engaging verbal exchange may occasionally appear banal or rambling in print, especially when the same points of debate arise time and again.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The mystery of the wonderful journey of Human-kind is here secretly unravelled through the power of Mind-kinds of two brilliant scientist,Trinh Xuan Thuan and philosopher, Matthieu Ricard. An astonishing dialog that brings us closer to the crossroads of the 2500 years old Wisdom of buddhism and a younger but strongly established network of Science. Matthieu Ricard acts in this fake fighting, full of sharp remarks, to put on our still unconscious self-screen an image of what could be called Wisdom. Producing counter-arguments that provoke a tension, worthwhile to find our way, Trinh Xuan Thuan proves the western intellect has enough material to compete and some ideas of high calibra. In the end, the question is left for us to decide if these two worlds can accmodate a common ground. This should not be a problem, given the Quest is the same: what is Wisdom?
A book highly recommended for those who want to broaden their mind. Don't worry, apparently it has no boudaries...
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Format:Hardcover
The nature of the relationship, and the compatibility, between the scientific and religous outlook continues to fascinate scientists, religious people, and philosophers. Most of the many books on this subject deal with religion in general terms or concentrate on Western theistic religions (primarily Christianity and Judaism.)
This book is a fascinating discussion of Buddhism and science told through articulate and intelligent exchanges between Ricard and Thuan. Ricard earned a PhD in chemistry in France before leaving a promising career to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Thuan is a Vietnamese who became enamored of at an early age and is a world-renowned astrophysicist and writer.
The most important sections of this book are the introduction, which sets the problem, and the conclusion. Science does not satisfy the spiritual needs of man -- his need to end suffering, understand himself, and the nature of his world -- to find meaning. How is it possible to find religious meaning in a world where science seems to be the only source of knowledge?
In his introduction, Ricard argues that science and Buddhism approach reality in different ways. He finds Buddhism non-dogmatic, willing to accept scientific findings and based on an introspection into the human condition with Buddha as a guide. Thuan agrees that human beings need spirituality as well as science.
There are fifteen chapters discussing with impressing erudition specific scientific issues and how Buddhists might view them. We get discussions of the "big bang" theory of quantum mechanics, the nature of time, computers and thought, and the nature of consciousness, among other topics. For a book cast in the form of a discussion, the references are copious.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The science of enlightenment. Dec 28 2001
Format:Hardcover
"If there is any religion that could respond to the needs of modern science," Einstein said, "it would be Buddhism" (p. 282). Drawn from their extraordinary dialogues, Matthieu Ricard and Trinh Thuan explore Buddhist teachings and modern science in THE QUANTUM AND THE LOTUS. "Buddhism is basically a science of enlightenment," Ricard writes in the Introduction to this book. Before becoming a Buddhist monk and translator for the Dalai Lama, Ricard trained as a moleculor biologist and worked with a Nobel prize-winning scientist. Thuan, a Vietnamese Buddhist, became an acclaimed astrophysicist after studying at the California Institute of Technology. "Buddhism contends that if we want to grasp the true nature of reality, we must engage much more fully with the philosophical conundrums that quatum physics has revealed" (p. 113). This is the basic premise of THE QUANTUM AND THE LOTUS.
The Buddha discouraged blind faith. In fact, he said, "Investigate the validity of my teachings as you would examine the purity of gold, rubbing it against a stone, hammering it, melting it. Do not accept my words simply out of respect for me. Accept them when you see that they are true" (p. 10). In their compelling dialogues, Ricard and Thuan explore life's big questions. Why are we alive? Why do we die? Why do we suffer? How did the universe begin? Is there an all-knowing Creator responsible for the remarkable harmony and precision of the universe? Is the phenomena of the universe interdependent and nonseparable? Why is the science of elementary particles important to everyday life? Why should the impermanence of phenomena incite us to live life differently? What is consciousness and where does it come from?
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book has helped me see the big picture Sept. 14 2002
Format:Hardcover
First of all, this is a unique book that helps you really understand buddhism especially if you are familiar with modern day physics.
Robert Thurman, the Tibetan Schoolar said that Buddhism is "an education system", not a religion. Then the steps that one takes reading this book are like clear concise course work. The authors explain modern quatum mechanics and shows how the notion of
"inherent emptiness" is reflected in a scientific theory that has been rigorously tested.
What I learned from this book is a new way of looking at reality.
This reality is a non-material , non -linear reality that somehow coincides with modern scientific test results. We begin to see how the discipline and rigour with which science is held up to applies just as well to Buddhist thought processes. So that is the beauty of the book. Buddhism is not about faith, the practice is about finding what works through learning and practical experience.
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