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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
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally Aug. 17 2002
Finally, a real scientist and a real Buddhist philosopher present a fair, balanced, and realistic dialogue on the correspondence between the modern scientific and Buddhist cosmologies. Watch out, Fritjof Capra and Wes Nisker, we're coming to getcha! Reality breaks through with a vengeance...
Hopefully, this book will set a new standard for writing on the subject of Eastern religions and the "new science." No longer will solipsistic arm-waving be allowed - only sincere and open communication, from the heart, between truly informed scientific and spiritual perspectives.
I find this book refreshing, hard-nosed, unafraid, and therefore liberating from our current fuzzy literature in this area. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Matthieu and Trinh.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book April 29 2009
Was totally what I was expecting from this book. I've shared this book with 3 friends already and they've loved it. It's enlightening and will show you what Buddhism knew thousands of years ago that western science is discovering now.

5 stars - Recommended
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By Ronald W. Maron TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Whew !!! If you want to purchase a book that will require you to read it a number of times because of its complex content, this is it! A scientist who became a Buddist Monk and a Buddist who became an astrophysicist have an open and recorded conversation about the meaning (if any) of life, the illusive definiton of consciousness, the origin of the universe and in what direction is man evolving are the main topics of this discussion. While, at first glance, this appears to be predictively as successful as mixing water with oil, the results are surprisingly enlightening. The Buddist mantra that has been with us for over 2500 years is proving to be scientifically verifyable through quantum mechanics and relativity. And conversely, the last decades which have led to the uncertainty principles of the science of physics are proven out in through the contemplative exercizes of Buddism. East has truly met West and are in at least partial agreement with one another in most of major questions of existence that have been with us throughout the ages.
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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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