We live in an unnecessarily divided world. A world where religions are pitted against one another, where people fight over real or perceived differences. A world where technology allows us to shout and scream in a digital whirlpool. A world where philosophy seems archaic or even tangential. Much of the strife in our world comes from a lack of trust across, and perhaps a loss of faith within, humanity. How can we better unite these seemingly lost and disparate parts? How can we better reconnect to ourselves?
First, what is a connection? A connection is that which unites rather than divides. Connections can be made between similarities and relationships. Humans are connection seeking beings. We seek out connections through identities and communities and create our own. An individual’s life is defined by those connections. However, the most elemental connection is between the individual and the world. This means the way we perceive, experience, and understand the world defines the rest of our lives.
In a way, we are talking about the discipline, the method, by which we define our lives. This is also to say that the way we seek truth defines truth for ourselves and our world, in every era, is defined by that truth. Our method of inquiry defines how we see ourselves.
These methods of inquiry include science, religion, and philosophy. They are all concerned with seeking out the truth—whatever that truth may be—and as we discover truths about our universe, we discover further insights into ourselves. The only differences of these methods are in means, not in ends.
For example, as Eastern scholar Eknath Easwaran wrote in his translation of the Dhammapada (a collection of the Buddha’s sayings) about early Buddhist monks and Indian ascetics:
These men and women turned inward for the same reason that scientists and adventurers turn outward: not to run from life but to master it. The went into the forests of the Ganges to find God as a poet turns to poetry or a musician to music, because they loved life so intensely that nothing would do but to grasp it at the heart. They yearned to know: to know what the human being is, what life is, what death means and whether it can be conquered. (page 16)
The shared end of science, religion, and philosophy is to search for and share the truth. Science looks for truth in an objective world and it examines things like material, facts, and measurements. It is undeniable that these examinations have yielded tremendous fruits. However, it is possible that things like life, happiness, and love are invisible to microscopes and the other tools of science. It is necessary, therefore, to examine them through other methods of inquiry.
Religious leaders like the Dalai Lama and the Pope have called for better dialogue between religion and science. The Dalai Lama expresses this in his book The Universe in a Single Atom where he explains that different methods can offer different but equally important insights into our lives. In this case, consciousness:
I believe it is possible for Buddhism and modern science to engage in collaborative research in the understanding of consciousness while leaving aside the philosophical question of whether consciousness is ultimately physical. By bringing together these two modes of inquiry, both disciplines may be enriched. Such collaborative study will contribute not only to greater human understanding but also to a better understanding of the dynamics of the human mind and its relation to suffering. This is a precious gateway into the alleviation of suffering, which I believe to be our principal task on this earth. (page 137)
This is to say that the objective (Scientific) and subjective (Religious or Philosophical) disciplines can inform rather than subvert one another. This is not a new idea. During the Middle-Ages, a period often lampooned as too religious, the preferred method of education taught both the available scientific knowledge and the religious and philosophical understandings of the day. Of the philosophical, a three-part program called the trivium which consisted of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Of the scientific, a four-part program called the quadrivium which consisted of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. The names of these programs translated respectively as the “Three Ways” and the “Four Ways”. To study both means to, in the vernacular, meet at the crossroads. It is a subtle insight, and an often ignored one in a world full of majors and specialization, that you need to understand both science and the philosophy in order to see the world clearly.
This is not and should not be antithetical to our modern world. When they ignore humanity–and philosophy and religion– the sciences grow cold and inhuman. When religion and philosophy ignore science, they grow detached and easily abused. It is imperative that when we study, or when we teach others, we study and teach from every perspective. It is only through many disciplines that we can gain a more thorough understanding of the whole world.