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Book: The Universe in a Single Atom, by the Dalai Lama

Book Review:The Universe in a Single Atom
by the Dalai Lama

Several blog posters and readers had mentioned this book a while back, and that served as a reminder to me that I’d never actually read this one. I know I’ve read excerpts, but never gone through the whole thing. So it was time to get with it and read the book.

For this one, I chose to go with the audiobook version, read by Richard Gere. I’ve seen interviews with the Dalai Lama talking with scientists in the past, and he always seemed pretty well informed. This book showed me that he’s really on top of modern scientific thought.

The introduction and first chapter were basically biographical, as the Dalai Lama explains his early scientific education (or lack thereof) and his growing realization that science was a necessity for future survival. He explains that when modern science contradicts something that traditional Buddhism has stated, he is not afraid to adjust his old ways of thinking to accept the scientific viewpoint.

There is a lot of discussion, especially in the early chapters, about quantum physics. There’s a lot of technical explanation here, and this section is a little hard to follow at times, but suffice it to say, the Dalai Lama ties quantum physics in with Buddhist teachings; we are all one, and there is no single self. It’s complicated stuff, but it all makes sense metaphysically.

In the chapter on the Big Bang and Evolution, he quickly comes to the conclusion that Buddhist (and other religions) need to revise their thinking when it comes to creation myths.

I do have to admit that the book does drag in some places and gets a little technical in others. If your complete knowledge of Buddhism is from The Daily Buddhism, then I suspect this book may be confusing in places; he discussed dozens of ancient Buddhist teachers with crazy-long names and concepts that we haven’t covered here yet. On the other hand if you want to stretch a little or have more advanced knowledge, this book doesn’t contain anything too painful.

I think the book is useful primarily to show how well Buddhism meshes with modern scientific thought, and perhaps more importantly, shows how Buddhism is willing to bend when things don’t mesh so well.

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