Albert Einstein

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Albert Einstein, Ph.D. (1879-1955), the famous German-American physicist, is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential minds in history. Although born into a Jewish family Einstein was a secularist all his life. But while he had little interest in conventional religion he was a deeply spiritual man curious about human nature and destiny. In particular he had a quiet appreciation for Buddhism.

In one of his essays he wrote, "The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a sort of prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginning of cosmic religious feeling already appears in early stages of development – e.g. in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism as we have learned it from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer especially, contain much stronger elements of it."

Later, in his most detailed comments on religion Einstein again referred to the Buddha’s teachings: "The religion of the future will be a 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, in a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description…If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism." (Although, no direct quote has been located to confirm that he ever said this, it may be a paraphrase of other quotes from Einstein that point to no personal god, no self, and his appreciation for Buddhism.)

Albert Einstein described belief in God as ‘childish superstition’ in a letter recently auctioned in London. The father of relativity, whose previously known views on religion have been more ambivalent and fuelled much discussion, made the comments in response to a philosopher in 1954. ‘The word ‘God’ is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this,’ he wrote in the letter written on January the 3rd 1954 to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, The German-language letter was sold by Bloomsbury Auctions in Mayfair after being in a private collection for more than 50 years. In it, the renowned physicist, who declined an invitation to become Israel’s second president, (David Ben Gurian is supposed to have said to his cabinet ‘What will we do if he accepts?’) also rejected the idea that the Jews are God’s chosen people. ‘For me the Jewish religion like all others, is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions’, he wrote. ‘And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people’.

Previously Einstein’s comments on religion - such as:

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind"

- have been the subject of much debate, used notably to back up arguments in favor of belief in God. This letter reflected Einstein’s real thoughts on the subject. The fact that Einstein was an atheist and made that quote about religion and science, shows that he must have had a deep interest in Buddhism.