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The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality [Hardcover]

Dalai Lama
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 13 2005
Gallileo, Copernicus, Newton, Niels Bohr, Einstein. Their insights shook our perception of who we are and where we stand in the world and in their wake have left an uneasy co-existence: science vs. religion, faith vs. empirical enquiry. Which is the keeper of truth? Which is the true path to understanding reality?

After forty years of study with some of the greatest scientific minds as well as a lifetime of meditative, spiritual and philosophical study, the Dalai Lama presents a brilliant analysis of why both disciplines must be pursued in order to arrive at a complete picture of the truth. Science shows us ways of interpreting the physical world, while spirituality helps us cope with reality. But the extreme of either is impoverishing. The belief that all is reducible to matter and energy leaves out a huge range of human experience: emotions, yearnings, compassion, culture. At the same time, holding unexamined spiritual beliefs–beliefs that are contradicted by evidence, logic, and experience–can lock us into fundamentalist cages.

Through an examination of Darwinism and karma, quantum mechanics and philosophical insight into the nature of reality, neurobiology and the study of consciousness, the Dalai Lama draws significant parallels between contemplative and scientific examination of reality. “I believe that spirituality and science are complementary but different investigative approaches with the same goal of seeking the truth,” His Holiness writes. “In this, there is much each may learn from the other, and together they may contribute to expanding the horizon of human knowledge and wisdom.”

This breathtakingly personal examination is a tribute to the Dalai Lama’s teachers–both of science and spirituality. The legacy of this book is a vision of the world in which our different approaches to understanding ourselves, our universe and one another can be brought together in the service of humanity.

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From Publishers Weekly

As the Dalai Lama observes in this wise and humble book, dialogue between scientists and those interested in spirituality is important because science is not neutral; it can be used for good or ill, and we must approach scientific inquiry with compassion and empathy. Similarly, a spirituality that ignores science can quickly become a rigid fundamentalism. Sometimes the Dalai Lama discovers similarities between the two fields. For example, Einstein's idea that time is relative dovetails neatly with Buddhist philosophical understandings of time. Still, His Holiness does not accept all scientific thinking as holy writ: though he is intrigued by scientific stories of origins, like the Big Bang theory, Buddhism holds that the universe is "infinite and beginningless." The penultimate chapter brings ethical considerations to bear on technological advancements in genetics. The Dalai Lama gently suggests that although parents who select certain genetic traits for their children may intend to give their children a leg up, they may in fact simply be capitulating to a social pressure that favors, say, boys over girls or tall people over short. He also cautions that we do not know the long-term consequences of genetically modifying our crops. In fact, it is disappointing that the Dalai Lama devotes only 18 pages to these urgent and complex topics. Perhaps this prolific author has a sequel in the works.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Fascinated by science since boyhood, the Dalai Lama, unlike fundamentalists who resist scientific realities, has become convinced that a dialogue between religion and science will advance the wisdom of both disciplines and greatly benefit humankind. He explains why in illuminating explications of how Buddhism and science are both predicated on focused observation, reasoning, and the ability to abandon outmoded ideas in the ongoing search for reality. He compares quantum physics with Buddhist philosophy and reveals how the theory of evolution echoes the Buddhist understanding that all of life is interconnected and in flux, and he writes with deep feeling about the pressing ethical questions raised by advancements in biotechnology. For all the provocative and detailed reasoning found in this soulful and mind-expanding book, what emerges most powerfully is the Dalai Lama's belief that science must embrace Buddhism's mission and work toward increasing compassion and alleviating suffering. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, well intentioned - poorly argued Nov. 9 2010
By Kieran Fox TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Though so well-written and polished that it's impossible these are the words of H.H. himself, I have no reason to suspect the spirit and intention behind the words isn't truly his own. This is a great read, and I think that the Dalai Lama had only the best of intentions in producing this work.

It starts out very endearingly, relating his early life and introduction to science through Heinrich Harrer and eventually many eminent scientists, after he fled Tibet in 1959. These encounters are presented in a very charming and humorous way and the Dalai Lama's humility shines as he makes every effort to take his background in Buddhist philosophy and somehow use it to grasp genetics, cosmology, quantum physics, neuroscience and more. If only every non-scientist took such an active interest!

The problem though, for me, is that this lack of real scientific training becomes evident as the Dalai Lama begins to present his own arguments. There are frequent calls for rational inquiry, comparison of disparate claims mediated by valid evidence, etc., but when it comes down to it he seems incapable of following these principles. As an example, the thorny issue of human cloning comes up, and H.H. mentions his own profound disgust when first becoming aware of the implications - and then goes on to recommend our 'innate sense of disgust' as valid criteria for deciding what's right and wrong, as these extremely complex issues begin to pile up around us. This might even be a good criteria in this particular situation - but then, there are a lot of people who think they feel an 'innate disgust' at Islam, or Christianity, and that doesn't prove it's 'wrong.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dalai Lama on Particle Physics Aug. 4 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Dalai Lama reveals how, in his travels and discussions with scientists, he has discovered that base science is putting proof to things Buddhists have believed for centuries. The interconnectedness of nature, the value of empirical proof, and the incomprehensible vastness of the universe are presented from the context of the Buddhist philosophy. Inspiring and engaging proof that science and spirituality need not be mutually exclusive, nor need they be necessarily in opposition of one another; rather, they can operate in parallel to reveal the whole truth of our human existence.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Dalai Lama clearly has a long-standing and genuine interest in science. He has access to the best minds in science, and hosts an annual conference on science. To his credit, he is humble about his limited understanding, and does not claim to have divine knowledge about what is true science. While he faithfully records what the scientists tell him in the book, it seems that he does not always understand them.

On page 12 he presents a concise summary of his philosophy of science, tied together with dubious logic. Unfortunately it ignores what the scientists told him. As it nicely sums up what is wrong in this otherwise worthwhile book, this review will examine it in detail, rather than evaluate the entire book.

“I have noticed that many people hold an assumption that the scientific view of the world should be the basis for all knowledge and all that is knowable. This is scientific materialism.”

The scientific view of the world is that it is comprehensible. We can explain what we observe by conjecturing rules, and testing to ensure they work. As our knowledge and investigative tools improve, we can observe new things that were unimaginable before. So science is the basis for all that is observable, remembering that there is always much more to be discovered. Ideas are an integral part of the reality that science investigates. Science itself is driven by our creativity, inventing new ideas to explain how the world works. “Scientific Materialism” is misleading if it means that scientific method is excluded from studying our mental processes or philosophy.

“This view upholds a belief in an objective world, independent of the contingency of its observers.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tibetan Book of the Dead April 7 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"The Tibetan book of the Dead"
This is only "full length" copy on the market today. Well written and researched and absolutely astounding in what is revealed. A must have for the spiritual Seeker. John O.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  106 reviews
166 of 173 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wise Human Looks At Scientific Knowledge Dec 13 2005
By Brad4d - Published on
--I'd like to add another five-star vote for this gentle, insightful book. It's a gift for everyone.

--The Dalai Lama has been interested in science since childhood, and has collaborated with some of the best minds in science and psychology for many years. This book gives some perspectives on that collaboration. The author discusses evolution and consciousness, "karma" and causality, how we may improve reliability in knowledge, how we can manage unprovable concepts we believe to be true, how a refined Awareness can be used to help understand our mind and consciousness, a Buddhist perspective on genetic engineering, and above all else, the benefits of combining Wisdom and Compassion. The author notes that scientists, too, can and should add wisdom and compassion to their knowledge, and suggests they not just let their discoveries be managed by political leaders, lawyers, bureaucrats, financiers, or the media (gulp!). The author also warmly introduces us to his educational background and gives marvelous insights into classical Buddhist and Hindu views of issues that still intrigue Western philosophers and scientists. He also discusses why we may encounter a "dual nature" of truth -- for instance, we are innately comfortable with a classical explanation for everyday events even when we know that we encounter a profoundly non-classical reality at the atomic or psychological level. This book makes a superb addition to all the wonderful books on quantum science, cognitive science, and cosmology.

--In my opinion, BY FAR THE MOST VALUABLE GIFT OF THIS BOOK is the irreplaceably valuable perspective of a credibly Wise Human Being. One significant difference between valid science and spirituality is that science focuses on Knowledge while the spiritual approach seeks Wisdom (which includes compassion and ethics). Both should use integrity to seek truth. Because this latter goal is shared, many scientists (including atheists) respect one such as the Dalai Lama and have been more than eager to share their insights with him (I attended a recent medical conference and more than one leading scientist said that amidst all their years of honor and success in highly competitive and intellectually demanding fields, the chance to discuss their views with the Dalai Lama was the high point of their lives). The Dalai Lama does not have a technical degree, he may not have published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and his knowledge of mathematics is not great, but he provides an irreplaceably valuable perspecitve -- a credibly wise, humble, and compassionate human being who embraces, understands, and appreciates scientific knowledge. It's not always an easy read, sometimes you have to suspend your judgment for a few pages, and you won't agree with everything but it's a remarkable book.

--Those interested in spirituality should also find an appreciation of scientific knowledge will enrich their practices and their understanding. For instance, the author gives the best short technical description I have ever read of the Buddhist concept of Shunyata, often unsatisfactorily translated as Emptiness. Shunyata suggests that nothing has a detectable absolutely independent or unqualified existence, so instead of "things" or "ideas," we experience causally-connected interrelationships between essentially transient events. Giving an entity some artificially conceptual permanence is often useful, but is often done at our peril -- we cannot "possess" something we "desire" any more than we can "possess" a cloud or a fogbank (conceptually realizing this may be easy but integrating it into our lives is difficult). So Buddhist awareness, in addition to being a source of profound spiritual insight, can also add a valuable and cogent perspective to our understanding of Reality.

--I hope this review helps you and that you consider looking into this wonderful book.
116 of 125 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review by ex-scientist and current psychological professional Dec 29 2006
By Patrick D. Goonan - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have an extensive background in science including quantum physics at the graduate level. I have also studied world religions for 20 years and I'm currently a coach who uses integral psychology as a model. Integral psychology studies the psyche on every level and draws on the world's wisdom traditions in addition to current psychological, cognitive and neurological research. Given my background, I feel I am in a good postion to give this book a fair and thorough review.

On the plus side, it is obvious that the Dalai Lama is not approaching this topic with an agenda. His genuine humility, sincerity and openness comes through on nearly every page. It is also clear that he is not entrenched in particular religious ideas and openly states that he is willing to abandon them if empirical science proves them "untenable." It is also evident that the Dalai Lama has respect for science, the scientific method and a natural curiosity in this area. He has also more than casually acquainted with numerous famous scientists and has enough scientific background to speak on a variety of intersections between Buddhism and science.

The scope of this book is very broad and touches on many important and relevant questions about the nature of reality, the beginning of the universe, quantum physics, evolution and consciousness. It also addresses ethical issues especially as they relate to genetic research.

For the average layperson, this is an extremely accessible book that does not make a lot of assumptions about Buddhism or scientific knowledge. This is both a strength and a weakness. For people who don't know much about either, it is a great introduction to all of the areas above. For those with more of a background in Buddhism and especially science, it may be a somewhat elementary although thought provoking with respect to the parallels between fundamental ideas in Buddhism and science.

The Dalai Lama offers many good insights on the parallels between emptiness and quantum physics. He makes a good case that Buddhism's notion of emptiness and dependent origination agree with the findings of modern physicists and also goes out of his way to mention other possibilitiess posited by a number of other scientists.

In his origin of the universe discussion, he presents a variety of religious perspectives on creation myths including the dominant ones in Tibetan Buddhism. He is very quick to point out that these obviously need to be revised, but provides insight into deeper layers of meaning within these models. However, it is clear that he is not trying to defend them or find an interpretation that will save them in the face of contradictory facts. This was quite impressive to me and his openness even surprised me.

I agree quite a bit with both a Buddhist perspective on reality, consciousness and methodological approach. As a psychology professional, I feel that Buddhism has much to offer on our exploration of consciousness and quite a bit of pages of this book is dedicated to this area. The Buddhists have in a real sense been performing phenomenological reasearch in this area for over two thousand years and I believe they have many useful insights. The Dalai Lama shares the most important of these insights in a simple and easy to understand manner.

Basically everything in this book can be related back to real life as it is lived in the world. There is a strong emphasis on the interconnectedness of everything and the necessity for compassion and a responsible approach to how we use technology and make ethical decisions with respect to the use of technology and areas of inquiry within science.

I rated this book a 4 overall because it not as comprehensive as I would like to see for more advanced readers. A bit more complexity would have been better for even a lay audience. However, people looking for a provocative, fairly simple read might rate it a 5+. It depends upon what you are looking to get out of it.

I am a great admirer of the Dalai Lama for a variety of reasons and I think this book is worth reading just to familiarize yourself with his thinking and general approach to these types of questions. This is truly an inspirational book offered at a bargain price. You can be comfortable reading it whatever your level of expertise and I believe even seasoned scientists will get some important insights from a thoughtful reading of the ideas presented here as viewed through the lens of Tibetan Buddhism.
52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Book That Really Delivers On Its Title April 10 2006
By Dr. Richard G. Petty - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Many people feel that one of the really important issues facing us all, is whether it is possible to find some middle ground between science and spirituality, or whether they are simply different experiential and philosophical categories that have no business trying to get together.

For over thirty years, the Dalai Lama has been at the forefront of efforts to find a rapprochement between the insights of Buddhism and the discoveries made using the scientific method. His journey has led him to have detailed discussion with some of the finest minds: the late David Bohm, John Eccles and Karl Popper to name just three. This is without doubt the clearest and most accessible of the Dalai Lama's books examining the relationship between contemporary Buddhist thought and Western science.

There are many gems in here, but there are one or two of particular importance. I still hear people translate the term "Karma," as "Fate," or as a law of causality. The author makes it clear that karma means "action," and he clearly differentiates it as the mechanism by which an intentional act will reap certain specific consequences. Karma refers to the intentional acts of sentient beings.

The book is full of such insights. It is an easy read and is both an overview of a number of critical areas in current scientific research and a spiritual interpretation and synthesis. This is not just a book for Buddhists, but for anyone interested in the broader issues of life and the Universe.

Highly recommended.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Convergence Sept. 17 2005
By JSN - Published on
There are many wonders to be explored in the parallels between Buddhism and scientific inquiry into the nature of reality, life and consciousness. As you read this book, your thoughts ride a rocket of insight into the contentious and often disappointing debate between scientific theory and spirituality that seems to be paralyzing our society today. And yet the text never flaunts a particular conceit or takes on the aggressive, often brutal nature of the debate. While the parallels explored are startling and inspiring, most wonderful of all is the critical mind, engaging personality and boundless curiousity of the Dalai Lama himself, as these qualities radiate from the text.

Reflecting on his theme, the Dalai Lama illuminates at least a view if not a way through the contention and confusion. He writes: "There is more to human existence and to reality itself than current science can ever give us access to.... By the same token, spirituality must be tempered by the insights and discoveries of science. If as spiritual practitioners we ignore the discoveries of science, our practice is also impoverished, as this mind-set can lead to fundamentalism."

It is truly revealing that a man at the heart of a very traditional spiritual philosophy and practice can shed the burden of dogmatic thought for an open dialogue and the exciting and affirming human capacity to seek truth. Between science and spirituality, between the knowable and the unknowable, the critical thinking and spiritual insight of the Dalai Lama inspires the belief that open minds and open dialogue are not beyond either our scientific thought or our spiritual belief. This book is one of the most spiritual testaments while coincidentally being a highly accessible exploration of great scientific advances and current research. It is a book I will return to again and again.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly well written, great arguments, and extensive Oct. 13 2005
By Patrick - Published on
Many have written LONG reviews so I will try my best to contain my impulse to break off into rants.


Very well written, great arguments, and very thorough.

The argumentative styling of this book is honest. The reason I choose that specific word is that its so easy to be biased and omit opposing arguments. This book is not written to convince anyone of anything, its merely presents what we know to be 'most likely truths' as well as counter points from different schools of thought and lets the reader make the conclusions. Its not a 'socratic method' of answering a question with a question as much as its a great teachers way of helping you to explore yourself.

This book covers most if not all the bases of modern science and relates it the core teachings of buddhist philosophy. For those that misconstrue buddhism to be a 'hippie religion,' this book should put that view to rest.


-Although the aim is to have a mass amount of people read this book, I am quite certain that an average 'layperson' will drop this book in confusion after about 1 page.

-For those of us that have studied genetics, theories on evolution, physics, einstein's theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, mahayana buddhism, or any theory on consciousness, this book serves as an AMAZING 'tie in' to all these in depth subjects. HOWEVER, for a person that has never really studied any of these topics this book will probably confuse them beyond belief.

Summary: Very well rounded and thorough. Amazingly well written with a high dialect. Filled with fantasic insight and wonderful 'middle ground' for a religion that emphasises the 'middle way.' Its almost poetic justice in that sense.

However this book is not an 'intro' book. This is a book you read AFTER you have an understanding of basic genetics, quantum mechanics, and buddhism.
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