Buddha Dhamma: Non-Perceivability and Self-Consistency

1. Many people try to analyze and interpret Buddha Dhamma in terms of what is readily perceivable through our six senses.

  • The Buddha said his Dhamma “had never been known to the world”. But many people try to explain the core teachings of the Buddha using conventional concepts. This has happened ever since Nagarjuana and other forefathers of “Mahayana Buddhism” tried to explain Nibbana in terms of various concepts such as “sunnata” or “emptiness”; see, “Saddharma Pundarika Sutra (Lotus Sutra) – A Focused Analysis” and “What is Sunyata or Sunnata (Emptiness)?“.
  • The same thing happened to “Theravada Buddhism” too. Buddhaghosa, like Nagarjuana and others, was not even a Sotapanna and a Vedic brahmin before converting to “Buddhism” molded and twisted Buddha Dhamma to fit his Vedic concepts; see, “Theravada: Problems with Current Interpretations of Key Concepts“. Buddha’s anapana bhavana was replaced by the Vedic pranayama breath meditation, for example.
  • It is quite possible that Buddhaghosa, Nagarjuna, and others did not intentionally try to distort Buddha Dhamma, but just described Buddha Dhamma as they understood it with their background in vedic concepts. Even today, when people write books explaining what “Buddhism” is, they are also explaining it in terms of their own mundane frames of reference. 
  • This is why, when you look at most of the books written today about Buddha Dhamma, it seems that there is not much difference between Buddha Dhamma and any other religion.  They all teach “how to live a moral life”. There is very little discussion, if at all, on the foundational concepts such anicca, dukkha, anatta, paticca samuppada, Anapanasati, Satipattana, and whatever discussed is mostly incorrect.
  • I think this single fact is the biggest obstacle for most people in embarking on the “correct Path” or even to get an idea of what real Buddha Dhamma is.
  • We really need to contemplate what the Buddha meant by when he said, “my Dhamma has never been known to the world before”. It is not something one can grasp within the “conventional framework”, what is readily perceivable to a normal human with a defiled mind.

2. First let me clarify what I mean by “perceivable” or “comprehensible” to us as normal humans. Our six senses can “detect” only a tiny sliver of the “world”.

  • At a base level, science today can account for only 4 percent of the mass of our universe; see, “The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality”, by Richard Panek (2011).
  • There are many, many things that have not been “discovered” by science (or philosophy) yet, and basically nothing significant about the MIND has been discovered yet.
  • Therefore, trying to gauge the validity of Buddha Dhamma using only the known facts from science is like a blind man trying to figure out what an elephant looks like by  touching a leg  of the elephant; see, “How do we Decide which View is Wrong View (Ditthi)?“.
  • A frog living in a well does not know anything about the wider world. Similarly, a normal human, including all the scientists, face the problem of trying to figure out the “reality” by only using data available through our limited six senses. Thus it is impossible for a scientific theory to be ever “complete” as proven by the mathematician Kurt Gödel; see, “Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem“.

3. Most people think and believe that the only way to confirm what the Buddha taught is to see whether those teachings are compatible with science. However, it is not any different from believing that one can get an idea of what an elephant looks like by asking a blind man who has touched the leg of an elephant. OR asking a frog what the world outside the well looks like.

  • This may sound ridiculous to many, but let us think back a few hundred years. Just 400 years ago, “science” believed in the geocentric model of the universe, i.e., that the Earth was at the universe and that the stars were embedded in a celestial sphere far above; see:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geocentric_model
  • Not only science, but all other major religions tried to attune their religions to this model at that time, and most religions still adhere to those concepts; see the same Wikipedia article above.

4. But 2500 years ago, the Buddha clearly described our Solar system as a “Chakkawata” or “Chakrawata“, a planetary system. Not only that, he also said there are uncountable such systems in the universe and that it is a waste of time trying to find all the details about it.

  • Through the years, and especially since the beginning of the 20th century, science has “re-discovered” some aspects of the Buddha’s wider world, including the existence of billions of galaxies EACH OF WHICH contains billions of planetary systems like our Solar system.
  • But someone living in the 19th century was likely to ridicule the idea of innumerable world systems (cakkawata) and could have said, “where is the evidence from science?”. That aspect of Buddha Dhamma was not amenable to “science” at that time.
  • Just like that many aspects of Buddha Dhamma are not amenable to science at the current time. But with time, more and more will be shown to be correct as science advances.

5.  If one is going to wait for the full confirmation of  Buddha Dhamma by science, one is as foolish as that person who lived five hundred years ago, and embraced the geocentric model and dismissed Buddha Dhamma as “exotic” or “mystical”.

  • We are fortunate to live in a time where science had made impressive progress and has confirmed many aspects of the Buddha’s world view.
  • Just as the invention of the telescope led to the discovery of a much bigger cosmos, the discovery of the microscope (and its sophisticated versions) led to a previously unknown “microscopic world” teeming with innumerable microscopic living beings. There are billions of such beings in a single human body; see, “There are as many creatures on your body as there are people on Earth!“.

6. Science can accept only those phenomena that can be observed and measured with scientific instruments. Such scientific instruments are basically “extensions” for our six senses; see, “Expanding “Consciousness” by Using Technology“.

  • For example, while we cannot see the moons of the Jupiter with our naked eyes, we can see them with telescopes. While we cannot see those microscopic creatures in our bodies with our naked eyes, we can see them with sophisticated microscopes. These are just two examples of many.
  • When the Buddha said there are innumerable beings in this world, people looked around and laughed. The Mahayanists are still under the impression that one could wait to attain the Buddhahood itself (not merely Nibbana) until “everyone” (presumably including all those billions of microscopic creatures on one’s body) is ready to attain the Buddhahood!
  • This is just the tip of the iceberg. While science has confirmed that there are uncountable planetary systems, it has not been able to find life on a single other planetary system yet. When that happens, the “wait for the Buddhahood” for the Mahayanists will become much longer.
  • Similarly, the job of any “Creator” who looks after each and every being (even if just humans), will also become unbearably burdensome, since there are uncountable world systems with human beings as well.
  • I am not trying to make fun at the expense of others, but merely trying to get the point across that, for those who can think for themselves, it is time to get rid of all such nonsensical beliefs and wrong views; these are all ditthis.
  • Getting rid of such wrong views comes way before starting any fruitful meditation. Purification through “correct views” comes before “purification through formal meditation”. Samma ditthi  or “correct views of this world” comes first in eightfold Path.

7. By the time I cover enough of Abhidhamma material it will become more clear, but I want to point out another significant issue. In Abhidhamma, it is described in detail how all types of energies in the universe are “stored” in orbital motions (“bramana” in Pali or Sinhala).

  • For example, planetary systems are planets orbiting stars. Those planetary systems combine to make galaxies and those galaxies also undergo circular motion in shape of disks. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrograde_and_prograde_motion#Formation_of_celestial_systems
  • Scientists discovered that atoms are basically electrons orbiting the tiny nucleus made out of protons and neutrons.
  • But the Buddha taught all this and more 2500 years ago (of course not using the same terms): the smallest unit of matter is not an atom but a “suddhashtaka“. It is much smaller than an atom, and is “almost all energy”.
  • This is basically what the scientists are finding out. They recently found evidence for the Higgs boson, which is believed to be the smallest mass unit ever detected.
  • However, a “suddhashtaka” is even smaller. According to Buddha Dhamma, it is the motion of those  “suddhashtaka” in various motion patterns (“bramana“) that give rise to other material units, such as the “kaya dasaka“, “bhava dasaka“, etc. We will get to this later in the Abhidhamma section.

8. When we hear about something that cannot be explained with the CURRENT SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE, we ascribe those to “esoteric” or “mystical”. But while there are many such “made up theories” that are out there without any substance, what is described in Buddha Dhamma can be SHOWN TO BE CONSISTENT with all our knowledge of the world.

  • If we can bring back someone who had died before the 20th century, and tell him that we can “see” an event going on in a distant country in real time, he will not believe it. If we turn on a television and show him the actual event taking place, he will be flabbergasted; he will refuse to believe it saying it is some sort of a magic trick.
  • But now we know that the visuals and sounds of that event can be transformed and transmitted over long distances almost instantaneously, and can retrieve those signals by “tuning a television set” to the correct frequency.
  • Working of kamma vipaka (energy stored) or rebirth taking place at a distant location work the same way. Even though we cannot “see” or perceive, that energy can materialize when the conditions become right; see, “Annantara and Samanantara Paccaya“. It will take some time to really sink in these concepts, but the more you read, the more you will understand.

9. There are two key methods used in science to verify a given scientific theory: They have some basic axioms that appear to be inviolable, AND all other currently accepted scientific theories must be CONSISTENT with that theory.

  • If a currently accepted scientific theory is proven to be inconsistent with a newly discovered phenomenon, then that scientific theory is discarded and a new theory is adopted.
  • No scientific finding up-to-date has shown to be inconsistent with pure Buddha Dhamma as given in the Tipitaka. If anyone can find any such instance, I would appreciate hearing about it.
  • However, there are many things in Buddha Dhamma that have not been confirmed by science. More are being confirmed as new findings emerge.
  • And, Buddha Dhamma is self consistent. Thus my obsession with making sure all my posts are inter-consistent.
  • Therefore, compatibility with “new findings” by science and self-consistency within the foundational concepts, such as tilakkhana, Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, Paticca Samuppada, etc are the two ways to test the validity of Buddha Dhamma. Here “new findings by science” does not necessarily mean the explanations given by science, because scientific explanations can change with time (for example, the geocentric model had to be changed). If science finds evidence for life in outer space, that will be consistent with Buddha Dhamma, but what science proposes as how such life arose may not be the correct one.

10. One needs to contemplate on the implications of these points (and there are many as I will mention in other posts). How can a human being who lived 2500 years ago can come up with such an elaborate way of describing material phenomena that are just beginning to be “re-discovered” by the efforts of thousands of scientists over many generations?

  • It is quite clear that the Buddha was able to transcend all “normal human capabilities” by purifying his mind. Thus Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem does not apply to Buddha Dhamma.
  • Thus his Dhamma may not to “amenable” to the basic frame of reference that we all have as normal human beings. Concepts like rebirth and kamma vipaka may sound mysterious. The only way to see the truth in such concepts is to put them to the standard scientific method as discussed above.

11. The fact remains that the Buddha was able to see those and much more just by purifying his mind. And science has not yet figured out the “power of the human mind”.

  • Even though a human can purify the mind to the level of a Buddha only once in many aeons on the average, it is possible for each of us to purify our minds to enough extent to see many facts about the nature that science is unaware of.
  • When that happens to a certain extent, then it becomes obvious that all these materialistic advances (and any type of sense indulgence that can be brought about by such advances) are insignificant compared to the sense of relief and well-being that one can achieve by purifying one’s mind.

12. For example, while one can enjoy even the best food on Earth only while eating that food, even the jhanic experiences (Ariya or even anariya jhanas) can be long term. One could stay in a jhana for hours and enjoy that sense of relief.

  • The “base level” of “cooling down” or Nibbana or “niveema” or “nivana” that comes at the Sotapanna stage is forever, and cannot be compared to any briefly-lived sense pleasure.
  • If one can get to the fourth jhana, then one could develop abhinna powers to look back at one’s own past rebirths and CONFIRM that the rebirth process is real. At that time one could even “see” many beings in other realms and also confirm their existence.
  • Thus even though none of us will be able to “experience the complete reality” of this world like a Buddha can, with mental effort (purification of the mind), we could verify many aspects of the Buddha’s wider world, and also be able to see what kind of suffering we had gone through in previous lives. Whatever suffering felt by a human under the worst conditions is nothing compared to the suffering encountered in the lowest four realms.
  • And all that start with the correct understanding of Lokottara Samma Ditthi of comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta which is beyond the mundane Samma Ditthi of “how to live a moral life”; see, “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty)“.
  • The uniqueness of Buddha Dhamma is depicted in “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart“, and discussed in “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma“.
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