Japanese Priest Tries to Revive Buddhism by Bringing Techno Music into the Temple: Attend a Psychedelic 23-Minute Service

Many religious leaders would like to liven up their services to attract a younger, hipper flock, but few have the necessary background to pull it off in a truly impressive way. Not so for the Japanese Buddhist priest Gyōsen Asakura, who answered the higher calling after a career as a DJ but evidently never lost his feel for the unstoppable pulse of electronic music. Getting behind his decks and donning his headphones once again, he has begun using sound, light, and the original splendor of Fukui City's Shō-onji temple to hold "techno memorial services." You can see and hear a bit of one such audiovisual spiritual spectacle in the video just above, shot at a memorial service last fall.

"Buddhism may be approaching something of a crisis point in Japan," reports Buddhistdoor's Craig Lewis, "with 27,000 of the country’s 77,000 Buddhist temples forecast to close over the next 25 years, reflecting shrinking populations in small rural communities and a loss of faith in organized religion among the country’s population as a whole."

He also sites an Asahi Shimbun survey that found 434 temples closed over the past decade and 12,065 Japanese Buddhist temples currently without resident monks. Can this temple in a small city, itself known for its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Second World War, do its part to reverse the trend?

Gyōsen Asakura frames his techno memorial services, however incongruous they might at first seem, as in keeping with the traditions of his branch of Pure Land Buddhism. "Originally, golden decorations in the temple are expressions of paradise light," he told THUMP. "However, the light of a traditional temple has not changed its form from 1000 years ago to use candlelight, even after electricity was invented. I felt doubtful about that, and then I thought about expressing paradise with the latest stage lighting such as 3D mapping."

After all, as he said to Japankyo, "people used to use the most advanced technologies available to them at the time in order to ornament temples with gold leaf," so why not harness today's technology to evoke the Buddhist "world of light" as well? And in any case, ecstatic sensory experiences are nothing new in the realm of faith, though ecstatic sensory experiences of Gyōsen Asakura's kind do cost money to put together. And so he, in the way of most religious projects the world over, has asked for donations to fund them, using not a bowl but the crowdfunding site Readyfor. Judging by 383,000 yen (more than $3300 U.S. dollars) he's already raised, quite a few techno-heads have seen the light.

via Electronic Beats

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Take a Break from Your Frantic Day & Let Alan Watts Introduce You to the Calming Ways of Zen

By the end of the 1960s, Alan Watts had become one of the gurus of the counterculture. Though he was not really a Zen Buddhist, he was many a person’s gateway into the religion due to The Way of Zen published in 1958. His was a philosophical and populist approach to Eastern religion, an antecedent to the Eckhart Tolles of our time.

This short film, Now and Zen, was directed by Elda and Irving Hartley, shot in the gardens at their residence, and features Watts encouraging the viewer to go beyond the material world, especially as we understand it through language and our cultural viewpoint. Instead, he says, “This world is a multidimensional network of all kinds of vibrations” which infants understand better than us adults. The film then transitions into a guided sitting meditation of sorts, and ends with the sounds of nature. (Plus, there's ducks.)

“Hence the importance of meditation in zen,” he continues, “which is, from time to time, to stop thinking altogether, and simply be aware of what is. This may be done very, very simply. By becoming aware of the play of light and color upon your eyes. Don’t name anything you see. Just let the light and the shadow, the shape and the color, play with your eyes, and allow the sound to play with your ears.”

Elda Hartley, working with her husband Irving, used this film to launch the Hartley Film Foundation, its mission to produce documentaries on world religions and spirituality. (It still exists as a non-profit). Zen as a subject came first, because Elda had been on a trip to Japan with Alan Watts, and when she proposed the film, he agreed to narrate. She would later make films with Margaret Mead, Joseph Campbell, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and others.

There are several other films on archive.org's Hartley Productions page, and another Watts-narrated one: The Flow of Zen. (Warning: this is the opposite of meditative, and its harsh atonal electronic sounds very far removed from any mediation CD you might have kicking around.)

Better still: Open Culture also has plenty of Alan Watts in the archive.

Finally, as someone who spent many an undergrad night listening to his late-night lectures on KPFK and at the time not understanding a whit, it was edifying to hear Watts say in the above film:

As you listen to my voice, don’t try to make any sense of what I am saying. Just be aware of the tones and your brain will automatically take care of the sense.

I can vouch that he was right about that...eventually. But only after reading many, many books on Buddhism.

Now and Zen and The Flow of Zen will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

How Leo Tolstoy Became a Vegetarian and Jumpstarted the Vegetarian & Humanitarian Movements in the 19th Century

tolstoy rules 2

Leo Tolstoy is remembered as both a towering pinnacle of Russian literature and a fascinating example of Christian anarchism, a mystical version of which the aristocratic author pioneered in the last quarter century of his life. After a dramatic conversion, Tolstoy rejected his social position, the favored vices of his youth, and the dietary habits of his culture, becoming a vocal proponent of vegetarianism in his ascetic quest for the good life. Thousands of his contemporaries found Tolstoy’s example deeply compelling, and several communes formed around his principles, to his dismay. “To speak of ‘Tolstoyism,’” he wrote, “to seek guidance, to inquire about my solution of questions, is a great and gross error.”

“Still,” writes Kelsey Osgood at The New Yorker, “people insisted on seeking guidance from him,” including a young Mahatma Gandhi, who struck up a lively correspondence with the writer and in 1910 founded a community called "Tolstoy Farm" near Johannesburg.

Though uneasy in the role of movement leader, the author of Anna Karenina invited such treatment by publishing dozens of philosophical and theological works, many of them in opposition to a contrary strain of religious and moral ideas developing in the late nineteenth century. Often called “muscular Christianity,” this trend responded to what many Victorians thought of as a crisis of masculinity by emphasizing sports and warrior ideals and railing against the "feminization" of the culture.

Tolstoy might be said to represent a “vegetable Christianity”—seeking harmony with nature and turning away from all forms of violence, including the eating of meat. In “The First Step,” an 1891 essay on diet and ethical commitment, he characterized the prevailing religious attitude toward food:

I remember how, with pride at his originality, an Evangelical preacher, who was attacking monastic asceticism, once said to me "Ours is not a Christianity of fasting and privations, but of beefsteaks." Christianity, or virtue in general—and beefsteaks!

While he confessed himself “not horrified by this association,” it is only because “there is no bad odor, no sound, no monstrosity, to which man cannot become so accustomed that he ceases to remark what would strike a man unaccustomed to it.” The killing and eating of animals, Tolstoy came to believe, is a horror to which—like war and serfdom—his culture had grown far too accustomed. Like many an animal rights activist today, Tolstoy conveyed his horror of meat-eating by describing a slaughterhouse in detail, concluding:

[I]f he be really and seriously seeking to live a good life, the first thing from which he will abstain will always be the use of animal food, because, to say nothing of the excitation of the passions caused by such food, its use is simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to the moral feeling—killing.

[W]e cannot pretend that we do not know this. We are not ostriches, and cannot believe that if we refuse to look at what we do not wish to see, it will not exist.... [Y]oung, kind, undepraved people—especially women and girls—without knowing how it logically follows, feel that virtue is incompatible with beefsteaks, and, as soon as they wish to be good, give up eating flesh.

The idea of vegetarianism of course preceded Tolstoy by hundreds of years of Hindu and Buddhist practice. And its growing popularity in Europe and America preceded him as well. “Tolstoy became an outspoken vegetarian at the age of 50,” writes Sam Pavlenko, “after meeting the positivist and vegetarian William Frey, who, according to Tolstoy’s son Sergei Lvovich, visited the great writer in the autumn of 1885.” Tolstoy’s dietary stance fit in with what Charlotte Alston describes as an “increasingly organized” international vegetarian movement taking shape in the late nineteenth century.

Like Tolstoy in “The First Step,” proponents of vegetarianism argued not only against cruelty to animals, but also against “the brutalization of those who worked in the meat industry, as butchers, slaughtermen, and even shepherds and drovers.” But vegetarianism was only one part of Tolstoy’s religious philosophy, which also included chastity, temperance, the rejection of private property, and “a complete refusal to participate in violence or coercion of any kind.” This marked his dietary practice as distinct from many contemporaries. Tolstoy and his followers “made the link between vegetarianism and a wider humanitarianism explicit."

"How was it possible," Alston summarizes, "to regard the killing of animals for food as evil, but not to condemn the killing of men through war and capital punishment? Not all members of the vegetarian movement agreed.” Some saw “no connection between the questions of war and diet.” Tolstoy’s philosophical argument against all forms of violence was not original to him, but it resonated all over the world with those who saw him as a shining example, including his two daughters and eventually his wife Sophia, who all adopted the practice of vegetarianism. A book of their recipes was published in 1874, and adapted by Pavlenko for his Leo Tolstoy: A Vegetarian’s Tale(See one example here---a family recipe for macaroni and cheese.)

In her study Tolstoy and His Disciples, Alston details the Russian great’s wide influence through not only his diet but the totality of his spiritual practices and unique political and religious views. Interestingly, unlike many animal rights activists of his day and ours, Tolstoy refused to endorse legislation to punish animal cruelty, believing that punishment would only result in the perpetuation of violence. “Non-violence, non-resistance and brotherhood were the principles that lay at the basis of Tolstoyan vegetarianism,” she observes, “and while these principles meant that Tolstoyans cooperated closely with vegetarians, they also kept them in many ways apart.”

via History Buff

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Organized Religion Got You Down? Discover The Church Of Saint John Coltrane

Organized religion got you down? Feel like giving up on it altogether? You are not by any stretch alone. Religiosity is in grave decline in Europe and the U.S., prompting panic in some quarters and satisfaction in others (that young adults, for example, agree more with Karl Marx than with the Bible). The list of reasons for religion’s growing unpopularity is long and rather predictable, and you won’t find a case for the contrary here---unless, that is, it’s for the St. John Coltrane Church. If there’s any religion that deserves an upswing, so to speak, perhaps it’s one based on the genuinely ecstatic, consciousness-expanding music of one of America’s most spiritually-minded jazz composers.

Founded in San Francisco by Bishop Franzo King and his wife Reverend Mother Marina King in 1971 as the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, the small body of worshippers has since become something a little more radical: The Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane Church, whose vibe, writes Aeon, “is a rapturous out-of-your-head-ness, where instead of the choir and the hymn book there is the sinuous, transcendent music of the jazz saint.” We get a powerful immersion in that vibe in the course of the 30-minute documentary, The Church Of Saint Coltrane. (Watch it above, or find it on Aeon's YouTube channel). The church band, with Bishop King himself on the soprano saxophone, gets deep into Coltrane’s music, in funky performances of cuts from Coltrane's groundbreaking 1964 A Love Supreme especially.

That career-defining album of religious music changed the course of Coltrane's career at the very end of his short life. (He died three years later at the age of 40.) He wasn’t always such a mystic. Before he discovered the idiosyncratic God of his recovery from heroin addiction in 1957, he was a rapidly rising star in an increasingly precarious place. After his “spiritual awakening,” as he describes it in the liner notes to A Love Supreme, Coltrane became a musical evangelist. And Bishop King heard the call. King's “sound baptism” took place when he saw Coltrane in 1965 at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, a Pentecostal experience for him. “I am the first son born out of sound,” he says.

Other worshippers identify with Coltrane on a more biographical level. Saxophonist Father Robert Haven is also a former addict and alcoholic, who got sober “under Coltrane’s spell.” At the church, he found both a spiritual and musical home. As the documentary progresses, you’ll see the experiences of non-musician church-members are equally profound, but the common thread, of course, is that they all love Coltrane. That would appear to be the most important criterion for joining the Saint John Coltrane Church, where one can ostensibly come for the music and stay for the music. At least that seems to be the pitch, and it’s quite a compelling one for people who love Coltrane, though Bishop King's services do get preachy at times. But the resident church iconographer tells us that King converted him with one simple phrase, repeated with confidence over and over: “It’s all in the music.”

The Church Of Saint Coltrane will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

For more background on the church, see our 2014 post: The Church of St. John Coltrane, Founded on the Divine Music of A Love Supreme

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Aleister Crowley Reads Occult Poetry in the Only Known Recordings of His Voice (1920)


Image by Jules Jacot Guillarmod, via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, we brought you a rather strange story about the rivalry between poet William Butler Yeats and magician Aleister Crowley. Theirs was a feud over the practices of occult society the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; but it was also—at least for Crowley—over poetry. Crowley envied Yeats’ literary skill; Yeats could not say the same about Crowley. But while he did not necessarily respect his enemy, Yeats feared him, as did nearly everyone else. As Yeats’ biographer wrote a few months after Crowley’s death in 1947, “in the old days men and women lived in terror of his evil eye.”

The press called Crowley “the wickedest man in the world,” a reputation he did more than enough to cultivate, identifying himself as the Anti-Christ and dubbing himself “The Beast 666.” (Crowley may have inspired the “rough beast” of Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”) Crowley did not achieve the literary recognition he desired, but he continued to write prolifically after Yeats and others ejected him from the Golden Dawn in 1900: poetry, fiction, criticism, and manuals of sex magic, ritual, and symbolism---some penned during famed mountaineering expeditions.

Throughout his life Crowley was variously a mountaineer, chess prodigy, scholar, painter, yogi, and founder of a religion he called Thelema. He was also a heroin addict and by many accounts an extremely abusive cult leader. However one comes down on Crowley’s legacy, his influence on the occult and the counterculture is undeniable. To delve into the history of either is to meet him, the mysterious, bizarre, bald figure whose theories inspired everyone from L. Ron Hubbard and Anton LaVey to Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne.

Without Crowley, it’s hard to imagine much of the dark weirdness of the sixties and its resulting flood of cults and esoteric art. For some occult historians, the Age of Aquarius really began sixty years earlier, in what Crowley called the “Aeon of Horus.” For many others, Crowley’s influence is inexplicable, his books incoherent, and his presence in polite conversation offensive. These are understandable attitudes. If you’re a Crowley enthusiast, however, or simply curious about this legendary occultist, you have here a rare opportunity to hear the man himself intone his poems and incantations.

“Although this recording has previously been available as a ‘Bootleg,’” say the CD liner notes from which this audio comes, “this is its first official release and to the label’s knowledge, contains the only known recording of Crowley.” Recorded circa 1920 on a wax cylinder, the audio has been digitally enhanced, although “surface noise may be evident.” Indeed, it is difficult to make out what Crowley is saying much of the time, but that’s not only to do with the recording quality, but with his cryptic language. The first five tracks comprise “The Call of the First Aethyr” and “The Call of the Second Aethyr.” Other titles include “La Gitana,” “The Pentagram,” “The Poet,” “Hymn to the American People,” and “Excerpts from the Gnostic Mass.” (Find a complete tracklist at Allmusic.)

It’s unclear under what circumstances Crowley made these recordings or why, but like many of his books, they combine occult liturgy, mythology, and his own literary utterances. Love him, hate him, or remain indifferent, there’s no getting around it: Aleister Crowley had a tremendous influence on the 20th century and beyond, even if only a very few people have made serious attempts to understand what he was up to with all that sex magic, blood sacrifice, and wickedly bawdy verse.

Aleister Crowley The Great Beast Speaks 1920 - 1936 is available on Spotify. If you need to download Spotify's software, get it here. It will be added to our list, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Aleister Crowley & William Butler Yeats Get into an Occult Battle, Pitting White Magic Against Black Magic (1900)


Aleister Crowley---English magician and founder of the religion of Thelema---has been admired as a powerful theorist and practitioner of what he called “Magick,” and reviled as a spoiled, abusive buffoon. Falling somewhere between those two camps, we find the opinion of Crowley’s bitter rival, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who once passionately wrote that the study of magic was “the most important pursuit of my life….. The mystical life is the center of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.”

Crowley would surely say the same, but his magic was of a much darker, more obsessive variety, and his success as a poet insignificant next to Yeats. “Crowley was jealous,” argues the blog Rune Soup, “He was never able to speak the language of poetic symbol with the confidence of a native speaker in the way Yeats definitely could.” In a 1948 Partisan Review essay, literary critic and Yeats biographer Richard Ellmann tells the story differently, drily reporting on the conflict as its participants saw it—as a genuine war between competing forms of practical magic.

Having been ejected from the occult Theosophical society for his magical experiments, writes Jamie James at Lapham’s Quarterly, Yeats joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, “an even more exotic cult, which claimed direct descent from the hermetic tradition of the Renaissance and into remote antiquity.” At various times, the order included writers Arthur Machen and Bram Stoker, Yeats’ beloved Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, and famous magicians Arthur Edward Waite and Crowley. (Just below, see a page from Yeats’ Golden Dawn journal. See several more here.)


“When Crowley showed a tendency to use his occult powers for evil rather than for good,” Ellmann writes, “the adepts of the order, Yeats among them, decided not to allow him to be initiated into the inner circle; they feared that he would profane the mysteries and unleash powerful magic forces against humanity.” Crowley's ouster lead to a confrontation in 1900 that might make you think—depending on your frame of reference—of the warring magicians on South Park or of Susanna Clark’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, or both. "Crowley refused to accept their decision," writes Ullmann, and after some astral attacks on Yeats,

.… in Highlander’s tartan, with a black Crusader’s cross on his breast… Crowley arrived at the Golden Dawn temple in London. Making the sign of the pentacle inverted and shouting menaces at the adepts, Crowley climbed the stairs. But Yeats and two other white magicians came resolutely forward to meet him, ready to protect the holy place at any cost. When Crowley came within range the forces of good struck out with their feet and kicked him downstairs.

This almost slapstick vanquishing became known as “the Battle of Blythe Road” and has been immortalized in a publication of that very name, with accounts from Crowley, Yeats, and Golden Dawn adepts William Westcott, Florence Farr and others. But the war was not won, Ellmann notes, and Crowley went looking for converts---or victims---in London, while Yeats attempted to stop him with “the requisite spells and exorcisms.” One such spell supposedly sent a vampire that “bit and tore at his flesh” as it lay beside Crowley all night. Despite Yeats' supernatural interventions, one of Crowley’s targets, a young painter named Althea Gyles, was “finally forced to give way entirely to his baleful fascination.”


Ellmann’s both humorous and unsettling narrative shows us Crowley-as-predator, a characterization the wealthy Englishman had apparently earned, as “responsible governments excluded him from one country after another lest he bring to bear upon their inhabitants his hostile psychic ray.” [Brenda Maddox at The Guardian gives a slightly different account of the Battle, in which “Yeats, with a bouncer, saw him off the premises, called in the police and ended up (victorious) in court.” ] Yeats and the other members’ distaste for Crowley surely had something to do with his predatory behavior. But the rivalry was also indeed a poetic one, albeit extremely one-sided.

As Crowley biographer Lawrence Sutin writes, “the earnestness of the young Crowley could not compensate, in Yeats’ mind, for the technical difficulties and rhetorical excesses of his verse.” Yeats' opinion “infuriated Crowley,” who indulged in the magic of projection, writing “What hurt him [Yeats] was the knowledge of his own incomparable inferiority.” Crowley's remarks are both “ridiculous,” Sutin comments, and apply “far more convincingly to Crowley himself.” Nevertheless, Crowley’s “Magick," continued to make Yeats uneasy, and he may have invoked Crowley in his famous line about the “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem in 1919's “The Second Coming.”

While the magical battle between them might provoke more laughter than curiosity about their different brands of magic, Sutin notes a crucial difference that distinguishes the two men: “whereas Crowley placed himself in the services of the Antichrist ‘the savage God’ of the new cycle, Yeats’s fidelity was to ‘the old king,’ to ‘that unfashionable gyre.’” The gyre, so central an image in “The Second Coming,” stands for Yeats’ theory of time and history, and it belongs to an old mysticism and folklore that for him were synonymous with poetry.

Crowley viewed the occult as a source of personal power---his revelations filled books devoted to explaining the philosophy of Thelema (“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will); ” Yeats was certainly more of an “organization man… in his occult activities,” writes Maddox, and sought to practice magic as a holistic activity, fully integrated into his social, political, and aesthetic life. His “public philosophy,” as he called it, writes James, “propounds an extraordinarily convoluted system that aims to integrate the human personality with the cosmos.”

To understand Crowley’s magical thinking, we can probably skip his poetry and attempt as best we can to the decipher his several arcane, technical books full of invented terms and symbols. To understand Yeats, as much as that's possible, we need to read his poetry, the purest expression of his mystical system and symbolic thought.

via Metafilter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Carl Sagan & the Dalai Lama Meet in 1991 and Discuss When Science Can Answer Big Questions Better Than Religion


Images via Wikimedia Commons

In a 1997 essay in Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould (in)famously called the realms of religion and science “Nonoverlapping Magisteria”—a phrase that acknowledges both endeavors as equally powerful and important to human life. His theory entails “respectful discourse” and “constant input from both magisteria toward the common goal of wisdom.” Many partisans then and now have found the idea hopelessly naïve or misguided, and Gould did describe a rather specifically enlightened example of the position: a person seeking “a more spiritual view of nature” who also acknowledges “the factuality of evolution and other phenomena.” An educated skeptic, with mystical and poetic sensibilities.

The majority of religious believers do not fit this description. But some do. So too did Carl Sagan, to whom Gould dedicated his essay in a postscript. Sagan “shared my concern for fruitful cooperation between the different but vital realms of science and religion.” However, like Gould, Sagan gave the scientific method the override, and strenuously advocated that we all do likewise or become easily duped by charlatans or by our own flawed perceptions. Sagan acknowledged the cosmos as a great mystery---one he wanted to understand, not worship. And he spoke of the natural world with the kind of lyrical awe and reverence often reserved for the supernatural.

Sagan, in fact, organized and attended the meeting at the Vatican that occasioned Gould’s essay. He also found himself, in the early 1990s, connecting deeply with another world religious leader, the Dalai Lama. The exiled Tibetan Buddhist and the astrophysicist first met in Ithaca in 1991, sitting down for the discussion recorded in the video above. Unfortunately, the production quality renders this recording nearly unwatchable. Their conversion is audible but they both disappear into a pixelated blue blur. That said, the conversation merits preservation in any form (you can also read a transcript of their talk here).

Sagan puts to the Dalai Lama the question he asked every major religious leader he met with: “What happens if the doctrine of a religion—Buddhism let’s say—is contradicted by some finding, some discovery—in science, let’s say—what does a believer in Buddhism do in that case?” The answer below came very much as a surprise to Sagan, who later said the Dalai Lama “replied as no traditionalist or fundamentalist religious leaders do.”

DL: ‘For Buddhists that is not a problem. The Buddha himself made clear that the important thing is your own investigation. You should know the reality, no matter what the scripture says. In case you find a contradiction—opposite of the scriptures’ explanation—you should rely on that finding, rather than scripture.’

CS: ‘So, that is very much like science?’

DL: ‘Yes, that's right. So I think that the basic Buddhist concept is that at the beginning it is worthwhile or better to remain skeptical. Then carry out experiments through external means as well as internal means. If through investigation things become clear and convincing, then it is time to accept or believe. If, through science, there is proof that after death there is no continuity of human mind, of life, then—theoretically speaking—Buddhists will have to accept that.’

Of course, many Buddhists may not find this surprising at all. The principles the Dalai Lama outlines are clearly outlined in the Kalama Sutta, a supposed discourse of the Buddha in which he issues a “Charter of Free Inquiry” as one interpretation has it. It is indeed a unique feature in world religions, though the Dalai Lama did add—“mischievously,” said Sagan—that “it will be hard to disprove reincarnation!” In such areas where a proposition cannot be falsified, religion and science may agree to disagree—civilly or otherwise---or change the subject. In the course of their acquaintance, Sagan and the Dalai Lama disagreed on very little.

When it comes to Buddhism, the Dalai Lama points out that the conversation between science and religion is hardly one-sided: “Some scientists also show a genuine and keen interest in Buddhist explanations…. One thing is quite clear: As far as mental sciences are concerned, Buddhism is very highly advanced.” The interest researchers and neuroscientists have shown in Buddhist psychology and meditative therapy has only increased in the past twenty-five years, such that entire departments devoted to mindfulness meditation have sprung up at venerable universities and respected medical schools.

And since Sagan’s death in 1996, the Dalai Lama has continued to reflect on the convergences between scientific discovery and Buddhism in his books and talks. And Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan has carried on Sagan’s legacy, sharing the awe and wonder of science with a popular audience through film, print, and television. In 2007, Druyan appeared at Cornell to talk about the affinities between Sagan and the Dalai Lama during their first and subsequent meetings. You can see her talk in full here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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