Buddhist Analysis and Science

Its become quite common to see Buddhists trying to justify Buddhist teachings according to modern science. You will hear for example that the 4 elements represent the forces of physics, or represent the different phases of matter (solid, liquid, gas, plasma etc). I think though this is a mistake. I think firstly its a mistake because science works on the basis of constantly changing and updating its theories. What is considered to be “true” today will turn out to be false tomorrow, or not quite as it is and modified. From a Buddhist perspective, and particularly from a CT point of view, The Dhamma isn’t like this. The Dhamma isn’t a hypothesis, or a theory supported by evidence. Its a fundamental law which is known to be certain via the knowledge of a fully awakened Buddha. Its not open to being modified based on new data, or ditched entirely if a better theory comes along. Its rather how things really are. Furthermore, if we take the Buddhist analysis of matter, we see that when Buddhism (and once again, particularly CT) speaks of matter they don’t have in mind what modern science does when it talks of matter and the like. In modern science matter is a substance (atoms, chemicals, forces etc). These substances posses characteristics, and persist through time undergoing changes and modifications but never losing what they are throughout time. In CT however rūpa isn’t like that. The rūpa-kalāpas are momentary, they are empty of substance due to their impermanence and so they do not persist through time undergoing changes and modifications. They also don’t possess characteristics, since they are the characteristics. The earth element, for example, has no shape or dimensions and is insubstantial. Ledi Sayadaw talks about this here:

The earth element (paṭhavī-dhātu), in the ultimate sense, is the
mere property of hardness. By earth is not meant any substance—
not even a hundred-thousandth part of an atom. It lacks shape,
mass, form, core, or solidity. Therefore, this element exists in very
clear spring water or river water; in all forms of light, including
sunlight, moonlight, and even the lustre of gems; in all sounds,
including the vibrant sounds of gongs or pagoda bells; in moving
air, from the softest breeze to a gale ; and in smells, good or bad,
that spread near and far…If you want to contemplate the earth element as an ultimate reality in Mount Meru or in this great earth, you concentrate only
on the property of hardness, which lacks substance. As you
concentrate only on its function (giving support to all forms of
materiality,) it will be seen as a reflection in a mirror on the surface
of clear water, without the obstruction of the tiniest substance, not
even an atom.

If there remains the faintest idea of substance or form or solid
mass, even as much as an atom, your view is not on the ultimate truth
of earth. It is not free from the conventionally accepted concept of
form. This conventional truth stands in the way of understanding the
true characteristics—arising and vanishing—of materiality

01VD-Main.book (bps.lk)

As we can see this is nothing like the scientific conception of matter. Its a totally different anaylsis. Buddhists then are falling into a trap, IMO, when they appeal to science both in the sense of making the Dhamma into another theory and in the sense of not understanding how its analysis is different to the scientific one. It doesn’t need to be justified by science at all.

As has been explained in connection with the earth element, here, too, when one clearly comprehends cohesion as the ultimate truth of the water element, one will realize that no substance, solidity, mass, or form truly exists, even in Mount Meru or in the Great Earth; and that, apart from the cohesion that characterizes all materiality, one’s concepts about shape or form or colour, of clouds, the sun, the moon, or trees, for example, are as insubstantial and illusive as the reflected images of shapes and colours in a mirror or on the surface of clear water. When such clear comprehension of cohesion is gained in respect of Mount Meru or the Great Earth, there will be no difficulty in realizing this fact in living beings as well, be they men, devas, or brahmās. In fact, what is necessary is comprehending this element in living beings. We begin with Mount Meru and the Great Earth simply to emphasize the falsity or deception in concept, form, shape, and colour in the greatest masses of material phenomena, so that it will be more readily seen in respect to lesser materiality, such as living beings

Ledi Sayadaw

01VD-Main.book (bps.lk)


it is interesting that many people ignore of forget what are the Science foundaments on the nature Reality:

-Matter is something with a Mass
-Mass is the quantity of Matter
-Energy is the work of Matter

Science is rooted in a loop. It is a shared frame to work in where nobody knows the root, although precisely this ignorance becomes useful to produce more knowledge of the grasped Reality

Sometimes using a comparative with Science is useful because this is a cultural issue, and quite people can understand better a Dhamma issue with a comparative using Science.

However, it happens because there is a materialist mind-programming from our childhood. We grow believing the Reality is a solid thing, with its foundaments already explained. And to start to digest that the Reality is delusion it is not easy for many people.

Also in our culture there is quite people who don’t wish to leave their mind-programming. However, when they realize that something is missing in their heart or in their human nature, then they feel curiosity for the Dhamma as a tool to repair some unknown spiritual malfunction. Although they try to do that without intention to leave their own pre-conceived ideas and that mind-programming for a delusion of Reality.

Maybe that people only are doing a first contact with Dhamma in this present rebirth. And in some next rebirth they will deepen in the Dhamma teaching. Who knows.


There is another sense Science, since it assumes substances, always operates at the level of conventional reality. As such using science to justify CT teachings won’t work, since CT teaches actual reality. Science operates in a world that ultimately doesn’t exist, and so dhammic principles can’t be justified by it.


:slight_smile: :pray:


I agree in all. That’s the final issue.

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