Thursday, February 9, 2012

Einstein and Buddhism

I've been working on a paper for the upcoming Wesleyan Theological Society meeting on science and the religions of the world.  I've run into a problem that is typical of the research process:  tracking down a juicy quote.

It's always dangerous to let too much of your argument rest on quotations of others (lest it degenerates to mere appeal to authority), but sometimes just the right quotation will bolster a point.  One of the points I'm making is that throughout the twentieth century, there developed a certain fascination with Buddhism as the more fruitful religious conversation partner with science.  In this regard, there is a provocative quote attributed to Einstein that pops up all over the place (even in peer reviewed works):
The religion of the future will be cosmic religion.  It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology.  Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity.  Buddhism answers this description. . . If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.
The only problem with this is that Einstein probably never said it.  Rarely is there a citation for it, and when you do find a citation it is just some other secondary literature attributing the quote to him. The closest I've been able to find (after several hours of searching) is this from a piece he wrote for the New York Times Magazine in 1930 (tracked down for me by the good folks at the Bowen Library):
Indications of this cosmic religious sense can be found even on earlier levels of development--for example, in the Psalms of David and in the Prophets.  The cosmic element is much stronger in Buddhism, as, in particular, Schopenhauer's magnificent essays have shown us.
Still pretty good, but not quite the enthusiastic endorsement of the apocryphal version.  Perhaps more on this later if it turns out that I've begun another blogging phase.

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