Today is the 135th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s birth. He is, as they like to say in show business, a man who needs no introduction. It’s thought that Einstein was generally sympathetic to Buddhism, and you may be familiar with this popular quote attributed to him:
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. If there is any religion that could respond to the needs of modern science, it would be Buddhism.”
However, as far as I know, these words cannot be traced to a legitimate source, suggesting that it is probably not a genuine Einstein quote.
There are conflicting views about Einstein’s position on religion and spirituality. For instance, another quote attributed to him, “God does not play dice with the universe,” is used to bolster the notion that Einstein believed in a personal God, or at the very least a creator god. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Atheists like to claim him as one of them, but he quite often described himself as agnostic. On one occasion, he said he was a believer in “Spinoza’s God.” Spinoza maintained that God is the only substance of the universe: God is the universe, is nature, is everything. But I feel Einstein thought of God as a metaphor, and perhaps Spinoza did as well, I am not an expert in his philosophy.
In a speech he gave in Berlin during the 1920’s, Einstein said,
The most beautiful and deepest that man can experience is the feeling of the mysterious. It is the foundation of religion as well as of all deeper striving of art and science.
Who never experienced that seems to me if not a dead person but then a blind person.
To feel that behind the experience of things there is something hidden and unreachable for our spirit, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirect and as a weak reflection, that is religiousness.
In this sense, I am religious. It is sufficient for me to have a presentiment in amazement of these mysteries, and to try with humility to comprehend intellectually a weak reflection of this sublime structure of being.”
It does seem that late in life, according to a recently discovered 1954 letter, Einstein had concluded that God was an expression of human weakness and that religion was childish.
Now, when I think of Albert Einstein these subjects do not usually come to mind, but rather his theory of relativity (e=mc2), and of course, Bob Dylan’s take on the great physicist in “Desolation Row”:
Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row