What Einstein thought about Buddhism

Have you ever wondered what Albert Einstein thought about Buddhism?

There’s a quote allegedly by Einstein about Buddhism being a “cosmic religion” doing the rounds on the web.

The question is:

Is this quote by Einstein?

We’ve done our research and will explain what we believe to be the source.

First, here’s the quote allegedly by Einstein:

“Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.”

“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma 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 as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.” – Albert Einstein

These are interesting words.

Buddhism, like science, is entirely concerned with understanding the world around us. According to the Dalai Lama: “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

But can we attribute these words to Einstein?

Did Albert Einstein say that Buddhism is a “cosmic religion”?

According to Tricycle, the quote about Buddhism being a “cosmic religion” is rarely attributed, but sometimes is attributed to this book:

Albert Einstein, The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press, 1954

The book is subtitled “New Glimpses from His Archives”, so it’s not actually by Einstein. It could be that Einstein is being paraphrased when writing of Buddhism being a “cosmic religion”.

A Google books search of The Human Side reveals this quote:

“What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind.”

This is the only mention of Buddhism (or Buddha), as far as we can find. Therefore, it’s likely that the quote by Einstein on Buddhism being a “cosmic religion” is paraphrased or been attributed incorrectly.

Having said this, it’s still interesting to explore the relationship between the worldview of Buddhism and the worldview of science. It’s this intersection that gives rise to the popularity of the quote about Buddhism being a “cosmic religion”.

Why Buddhism lends itself to a dialogue with science

Among the key aspects of Buddhism, we find insistence that knowledge must be gained through personal experience rather than reliance on the authority of sacred texts or the teachings of avowed masters; because its orientation is empirical rather then theoretical; and because it rejects any conception of absolutes.

In the “Kalama Sutra”, the Buddha advises his audience to think critically when encountering new knowledge:

“Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Rather, when you yourselves know that these things are good; these things are not blamable; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness, then and only then enter into and abide in them.”

Furthermore, Buddhism does not demand blind faith from its adherents. Mere belief runs secondary to knowledge and experience. People do not seek refuge in the Buddha with the hope of being saved. The Buddha offers no such guarantee. Rather, Buddhism helps you find your own path to happiness and freedom.

Indeed, the Buddha himself is described as having emphasized that he isn’t a god and shouldn’t be treated as such. And, in fact, there are no creator deities in Buddhism, nor holy writ, and so forth.

This isn’t true for all of Buddhism, however

While on balance, it seems reasonable that Buddhism be viewed in the West as free of irrationality and superstitious belief.

However, in much of the world, Buddhism still involves daily rituals and belief in special charms. And let’s not forget that there are Buddhist traditions that believe in the notion of “rebirth”, which implies that after someone dies, they will eventually reappear in some other form, with their “karmic attributes” intact.

However, when you remove some of this mumbo-jumbo, it’s clear that Buddhism offers ways of thinking that lend itself to science.

Now that you’ve read about Einstein’s perspective of Buddhism, learn more about Elsa Einstein, his wife.

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Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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