https://aeon.co/essays/can-buddhist-phi ... e-big-bang
You can read the rest by following the link above. Overall, it's a great read.There is a story that the Buddha was once addressing his sangha, the monastic community who had gathered around to listen to him preach, when one of his bright young followers posed a series of questions. What, he asked his spiritual leader, is the origin of the Universe? Is the cosmos infinite? Is it eternal, or did it have a beginning?
After the student had finished, he looked up to the Buddha to hear his pearls of wisdom, but the older man was silent. Eventually, the young monk left, disappointed, only to come back the next day with the same queries. Once again, however, the Buddha remained quiet. On the third day, the young man returned and said in frustration: ‘I have asked you these questions twice. If you don’t know the answer, then admit that you don’t know. If you do know but you think I won’t understand, then just say that, but I urge you to try to explain. If, however, you stay silent, then I’m going to leave and not return.’
Finally the Buddha replied, saying gently but firmly that these are simply not issues to which the Buddha speaks. ‘What I address is human suffering and liberation from this suffering,’ he said. ‘Nobody asked you to come here, and you are always free to leave.’
This tale was recounted to me by Abhay Ashtekar, a physicist at Pennsylvania State University who, over the past two decades, has delved deeply into meditative Buddhist philosophy. In tandem, however, he has investigated precisely those puzzles about the origins of the Universe and the nature of time that the Buddha deemed irrelevant. Unlike the Buddha, Ashtekar sees profound resonances between his spiritual quest and his scientific one. Though his theories of the early Universe are not directly based on Buddhist concepts, Ashtekar has inadvertently uncovered some surprising similarities, both in the methods of his scientific and spiritual practice and in some of the answers that they can offer about the nature of physical reality.
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Ashtekar is not alone in connecting modern cosmology with ancient non-Western thinking. There is a long tradition devoted to uncovering parallels between the two. Werner Heisenberg, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, had a meeting on the issue with Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet and philosopher, in 1929. Later, the Austrian physicist Fritjof Capra popularised the connection between modern physics and mysticism through his groundbreaking book, The Tao of Physics (1975).
The discussion has gone on ever since. I partook in 2014, while researching my book, A Big Bang in a Little Room (2017), about experiments on recreating the origins of the Universe in the lab. Not only did I meet with Ashtekar at Penn State but also with his kindred spirit, the cosmologist Andrei Linde, at Stanford University in California. Linde had just returned from giving a series of guest lectures at the University of Hamburg in Germany on the philosophical implications of ‘quantum cosmology’, the discipline that applies the rules governing the micro realm – quantum theory – to the study of how the Universe evolved in its infancy, when it was still growing from a tiny seed.
‘The climate was to ignore religion, so I was, with my strange philosophy, the most religious person around’
In those talks, Linde had pointed to a harmony between cosmology and the ancient Hindu philosophical school Advaita Vedanta, which posits a unity between the eternal cosmos and the self. Specifically, he found resonance between Advaita Vedanta and theories developed by modern physicists to explain why time’s arrow points in one direction, inexorably marching us from cradle to grave. Ashtekar, independently, was challenging the conventional view that our cosmos was born at the Big Bang, replacing it with a model of an eternal universe that once contracted and is now expanding again. He even began to ponder whether it might be possible to construct a scientific model aligned with non-Western philosophies, in which individual human consciousnesses are embedded in a larger communal consciousness that pervades the Universe.
Mentioning spiritual texts in the same breath as physics is not fashionable; the danger is you will come over as both a wannabe guru and a flaky physicist. Linde recalls his reticence before the Hamburg meeting: ‘I was so scared about that, about talking to them about reality, because this is the least understood thing about quantum mechanics and quantum cosmology.’ Born in Moscow when Russia was still in the Soviet Union and religiosity was taboo, Linde had no formal religious upbringing. Today he identifies as an atheist, albeit one who grew up with a taste for big theological questions, voraciously reading both philosophy texts and science fiction for thoughts about the nature of the self and consciousness. ‘The climate was to ignore religion, so I was, with my strange philosophy, the most religious person around,’ Linde says, laughing.