Question: Why do you say, "No miracles?"

Let's look at what we mean when we say "miracle" (this definition is from the Encarta Encyclopedia): Miracle (Latin mirari, "to wonder at"), an event, apparently transcending human powers and the laws of nature, that is attributed to a special divine intervention or to supernatural forces. The key concept here is "transcending...the laws of nature."

In the old Christian world view, there was Nature, and then there were the realms of existence "above nature," that is, the "super-natural." Nature was always changing, was impermanent, and perishable. The supernatural realms, the Heavens (there was more than one), were imperishable and eternal. In the natural realm, things were controlled by laws of cause and effect (natural law). In the supernatural or Divine sphere, natural law didn't apply. So a miracle is an event in the natural realm which has a supernatural cause and violates the natural laws of cause and effect.

When the Church decided to stop persecuting scientists, it did so because of this division of "spheres of influence." The deal was that stuff having to do with the Divine realm was the Church's area, and stuff going on in the Natural realm was in the area of natural philosophy, or what we would call "science." Since the time of Galileo, in our collective cultural evolution we have tended to focus more and more of our attention on science and Nature, and less and less on theology and the supernatural. But we are still "stuck" with this strange idea of two realms, the Natural and the Supernatural.

This is a problem for us because many people still think of a human being as having a body that exists in the natural world and a soul that exists in the Divine realm. There is a strong cultural pressure to either explain all of our experiences scientifically (including our experiences of God and the supernatural), or to reject those experiences as unreal, imaginary, and "unscientific." Consequently, there has been a long guerilla war going on between science and religion.

The real problem here is this idea of two separate and distinct realms of existence. The radical distinction between the natural and the supernatural realms actually comes from Plato rather than the Bible. Except for scholars, nobody these days understands or cares why we think Heaven and earth are completely different realms. It's just part of how we talk about the world.

In Buddhism, there is only one, natural realm of existence, and all of our experiences (including the religious experiences we label as "supernatural") take place in the realm of cause and effect. To be more precise, all of the realms of existence are thought to be part of a single continuous universe or world. In Buddhism, then, the laws of cause and effect, or karma, are thought to apply to all events, even to those which we are presently unable to explain with our current scientific understanding of natural laws. In other words, "miracles" are simply natural events which we can't explain, and, therefore, are not "miracles" at all.

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