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The Science of Life

Bruno De Benedetti, Italy

[From the SGI Quarterly]

Bruno De Benedetti was born into an Italian family of Holocaust survivors in 1946, a time when Europe was slowly recovering from the horrors of World War II. Considering the experiences of his family, it is not surprising that the young De Benedetti had no faith in religion. "I decided to trust only the power of reason," he recalls. That is why, upon entering the University of Turin, he chose to major in "engineering, the science of certainties, and coupled it with chemistry, the science of probabilities." 

Mr. De Benedetti's college days were exciting. He participated in the wave of student unrest which swept campuses worldwide in 1968. As his university days neared an end, Mr. De Benedetti recalls that he considered teaching at his alma mater in order to "try to apply my vision of education." Things fell smoothly into place for him. In addition to his post as an instructor at the University of Turin, he secured a position as an industrial consultant. Mr. De Benedetti says "I was very pleased with myself" at that time; however, "there was something missing, something that could give my life more meaning." 

In 1986, his wife was diagnosed as having cancer. The rational life Mr. De Benedetti had prized and worked so hard to construct was no longer working: "All the certainties of engineering collapsed," he explains. "I was alone and scared, and I wanted to understand why this had happened to me and my family; I wanted to find a way to reverse the situation." 

Around this time, Mr. De Benedetti's wife was introduced to the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin. "The idea of following a religion, one that calls itself 'true Buddhism,' upset me," he admits. But at the end of 1987, his wife's condition took a turn for the worse. "I gave in and started chanting," says Professor De Benedetti, who officially joined SGI-Italy on October 22, 1988. His wife has overcome cancer, and she enjoys good health today. 

Mr. De Benedetti's faith began to deepen, spurred on by what he believed were "lucky coincidences and the need to solve my daily problems." Then, in 1991, he took part in a young men's division meeting in Tokyo. At that meeting, the full force of conviction dawned on him. Mr. De Benedetti says: "I began to understand that my youthful dreams of non-violence and justice had materialized in the great movement of the Soka Gakkai."

Following his return to Italy, one of the first moves he made was to give up some of his professional activities in order to concentrate on teaching in Turin University's engineering department. To his surprise, Professor De Benedetti rediscovered the pleasure of teaching, the contact with young people, and the possibility of introducing his students to Buddhism: "I wanted to establish a more human relationship with them, to strengthen ties to them." Professor De Benedetti says that he makes it a rule sometimes to talk about Buddhism only after his students have finished their exams so that they do not feel obligated to listen to him.

Professor De Benedetti says that his study of chemistry has reinforced his belief that similar principles govern the workings of both the physical world and society. For example, metals, which consist of atoms held together by electrical bonds or forces known as electrons. These electrons are fundamentally equal in nature but can take on different energy levels. This is similar to society in which billions of people, all having essentially the same human nature, interact and are "bound" to each other while maintaining their own individuality. In the case of society, this energy transfer between individuals is driven by life force. To extend the analogy even further, energy transfer between electrons is more probable at higher energy levels. In the world of human affairs, energy transfer between indivdiuals is more probable when an individual has raised his or her life force. 

The Italian professor is also interested in environmental problems. The exploitation of natural resources, he explains, is obviously a direct outcome of "the illusions of our consumer society." This is why he takes particular pleasure in explaining the basic principles of the recycling of metals. He realizes that people must first reform themselves in order to succeed in protecting the world's environment. This concept is embodied in the Buddhist principle of the "three realms of existence" which states that one's environment is determined by the living beings which inhabit it. A positive change in its inhabitants, therefore, positively affects the environment. 

Professor De Benedetti's greatest passion is the future. He was recently appointed Director of Turin University's Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering. He looks forward to his new responsibility as a "test to prove that practicing Buddhism can transform my work environment." 

Professor De Benedetti is living proof that Buddhism and science can augment one another and that their harmonious co-existence can create new values in the lives of individuals who will successfully meet the challenges of the coming century.