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Buddhism and science are considered by various commentators beginning in the twentieth century to be uniquely compatible. While downplaying Buddhism's theological attributes, they assert that Buddhism contains philosophic and psychological teachings that share commonalities with modern scientific and philosophic thought, or they assert that modern Western thinkers were variously influenced by Buddhist concepts. An example of such a claim would be that Buddhism encourages the impartial investigation of Nature (an activity referred to as Dhamma-Vicaya in the Pali Canon) — the principal object of study being oneself. Some popular conceptions of Buddhism connect it to modern theories of evolution, quantum theory, and cosmology, though most scientists see a separation between the religious and metaphysical statements of Buddhism and the methodology of science.[page needed]
Buddhism has been described by some as rational and non-dogmatic, and there is evidence that this has been the case from the earliest period of its history, though some have suggested this aspect is given greater emphasis in modern times and is a minority reinterpretation of the tradition. Historically, Buddhism encompasses so many types of beliefs and practices that most non-sectarian observers think it futile to try to assert any single coherent scriptural or philosophical description. There are many examples throughout the Buddhist world of dogmatism, clericalism and the belief in the supernatural. Nor, with the exception of Tibetan Buddhism, have all but a few schools of Buddhism been open to scientific discoveries. Buddhism is a varied tradition and aspects include fundamentalism, devotional traditions, and supplication to local spirits. Nevertheless, certain commonalities have been cited between scientific investigation and Buddhist thought. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in a speech at the meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, listed a "suspicion of absolutes" and a reliance on causality and empiricism as common philosophical principles shared between Buddhism and science.
During the 1970s, several experimental studies suggested that Buddhist meditation could produce insights into a wide range of psychological states. Interest in the use of meditation as a means of providing insight into mind-states has recently been revived, following the increased availability of such brain-scanning technologies as fMRI and SPECT.
Such studies are enthusiastically encouraged by the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who has long expressed an interest in exploring the connection between Buddhism and science and regularly attends the Mind and Life Institute Conferences.
In 1974 the Kagyu Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa predicted that "Buddhism will come to the West as psychology". This view was apparently regarded with considerable skepticism at the time, but Buddhist concepts have indeed made most in-roads in the psychological sciences. Some modern scientific theories, such as Rogerian psychology, show strong parallels with Buddhist thought. Some of the most interesting work on the relationship between Buddhism and science is being done in the area of comparison between Yogacara theories regarding the store consciousness and modern evolutionary biology, especially DNA. This is because the Yogacara theory of karmic seeds works well in explaining the nature/nurture problem.
William James often drew on Buddhist ideas when framing perceptual concepts, such as his term "stream of consciousness," which is the literal English translation of the Pali vinnana-sota. The "stream of consciousness" is given various names throughout the many languages of Buddhadharma discourse but in English is generally known as "Mindstream". In Varieties of Religious Experience James also promoted the functional value of meditation for modern psychology. He is said to have proclaimed in a course lecture at Harvard, "This is the psychology everybody will be studying twenty-five years from now."
Even if there is a minority movement that fits the bill of naturalized Buddhism in the sense that it dissociates itself from beliefs in supernatural and nonphysical phenomena, it does not follow that it really deserves to call itself Buddhism.
These central teachings aren't empirical; they're normative and soteriological. They're based on value judgments that aren't subject to independent empirical test, and they evaluate the world according to the desired goal of liberation. Although it's unquestionably true that Buddhism possesses a vast and sophisticate philosophical and contemplative literature on the mind. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam also possess sophisticated philosophical and contemplative writings about the mind.
Two of the most common Western conceptions of Buddhism -- that it's atheistic and that it revolves around meditation--are wrong; most Asian Buddhists do believe in gods, though not an omnipotent creator God, and don't meditate.