When Professor Frank pursues theoretical astrophysics, no matter how abstract, sophisticated, or far-reaching, it is an objective, conceptual analysis of nature. Even if he took a few weeks off from astrophysics and developed a grand unified theory of all the forces in nature so that his graduate students could put the equations on their T-shirts, it would be a conceptual scheme whose objectification would be shown directly by its mathematical formulation. This is not the main aspiration of Buddhism in any of its flavors. In his book How to Practice, the Dalai Lama writes:
To apprehend the “mind vivid, without any constructions, just as it is” or to know the “luminous and knowing nature of the mind unaffected by thought” is an experience of identity between the knower and the known. Alternatively, the empirical subject, what we normally take ourselves to be, becomes so attenuated by the cessation of conceptual thinking that it no longer impedes a direct apprehension of the mind. Such knowledge is neither an objectification nor reification. Such a first-person experience is radically different from scientific knowledge, which must be fully objectifiable and quantifiable.
I love physics and astronomy and have dedicated my life to their research and teaching. However, if the Buddhist tempter Mara asked me to choose between a grand unification scheme and a nonconceptual apprehension of emptiness, I would have no trouble deciding. Nor do I think would Professor Frank.
Professor of Physics and Astronomy
HOW MANY YEARS?
Even the best of scholars slip up occasionally. The Spring 2007 interview with Professor Peter Masefield (“Found in Translation”) was a wonderful insight into the roots of Buddhist scripture and the Pali canon. But he certainly did not mean to say that the mid-nineteenth-century European scholars who discovered Theravada Buddhism came from a culture suffering “a growing disenchantment with religion following the Hundred Years’ War, which was largely fought over religion.” Well, the Hundred Years’ War that ended in 1453 had nothing whatever to do with religion - it was a dynastic catfight between England and France - and anyway, it was a very distant memory by Victorian times. I suppose Dr. Masefield might have been thinking of the Thirty Years’ War that ended in 1648, but by the same token it’s hard to see why that should still be casting a shadow more than two centuries later.
Otherwise, it was a fascinating interview with a true scholar.
Professor of History and Religion
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA
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