Buddhists have engaged with science since Christian missionaries called them backward. Inspired by Western scholars, who saw in "human Buddhism" a psychology "of incontestable value", 19th century modernisers rebranded Buddhism as a science of the mind. In the latest cross-cultural fusion, Tibetan Buddhist meditators are being studied by scientists in the lab, but scans of their brains have yet to yield major breakthroughs. Insights from practice can't be measured on a screen.
After dropping nuclear bombs on Japan, Americans hungered for its wisdom. The spiritual teachings they lapped up as Zen owed as much to interpreters as to ancient Asian ways. These mystical insights helped dropouts and "squares" to find new meaning. They also fired up debate on transcendent experience. But beguiling suggestions of change in social order petered out. Buddhism quietly endured. It's resurgent today in psychologised mindfulness. Practice might help free our minds, but where that leads is up to us.