Revised November 9, 2018; March 13, 2020; September 8, 2021; August 6, 2022
What We Perceive is Limited
1. Many people try to analyze and interpret Buddha Dhamma in terms of mundane concepts. However, there is much about this world we are unaware of, as science has shown in recent years; see below.
- The Buddha said that the world “had never known” his Dhamma. But many people try to explain the Buddha’s core teachings using conventional/mundane concepts. Only a Buddha can truly perceive the true nature of this world with 31 realms; see “Wider Worldview of the Buddha.” A Noble disciple of the Buddha (one who has attained a magga phala) can start perceiving some aspects of the wider world.
- This has happened ever since Nagarjuna, and other forefathers of “Mahāyāna Buddhism” tried to explain Nibbāna in terms of various concepts such as “suññatā” 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 Nagarjuna and others, was not even a Sōtapanna. Before converting to ” Buddhism, ” he was a Vēdic brahmin, ” he edited and twisted Buddha Dhamma to fit his Vēdic concepts; see, “Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga – A Focused Analysis.”
- Buddha’s anapana Bhavana was replaced by the Vēdic prañāyāma breath meditation, for example.
Buddhaghosa and Nagarjuna Were Not Noble Disciples
2. It is quite possible that Buddhaghosa, Nagarjuna, and others did not intentionally distort Buddha Dhamma. They just described Buddha Dhamma as they understood it with their background in vēdic concepts.
- Even today, there are many “scholars” who write books explaining what “Buddhism” is. They also explain it in terms of their mundane frames of reference.
- When you look at most of the books 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 minimal discussion, if at all, on the foundational concepts such as anicca, dukkha, anatta, Paṭicca samuppāda, Anāpāna sati, Satipaṭṭhāna. Whatever is discussed is mostly incorrect.
3. I think that is the biggest obstacle for most people in figuring out the true teachings of the Buddha Dhamma.
- We need to contemplate what the Buddha meant 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. It involves a wider world with 31 realms (we see only the human and animal realms) and a rebirth process and is based on the Laws of Kamma; see, “Essence of Buddhism – In the First Sutta.” Details at “Origin of Life.”
What is Perceivable to an Average Human?
4. 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).
- Many things have not been “discovered” by science (or philosophy) yet. In particular, nothing significant about the MIND has been discovered yet. For example, scientists cannot explain how consciousness can arise in a brain of inert atoms and molecules.
5. 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 (Diṭṭhi)?“.
- A frog living in a well knows nothing about the wider world. Similarly, a normal human, including scientists, faces the problem of figuring out the “reality” by only using data available through our limited six senses. Thus a scientific theory can’t ever be “complete,” as proven by the mathematician Kurt Gödel; see “Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.”
Science Is Still Far Behind the Buddha
6. Most people believe that the only way to confirm what the Buddha taught is to see whether those teachings are compatible with science. That is not different from believing that one can get an idea of what an elephant looks like by asking a blind man who has touched an elephant’s leg 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. That the Earth was in the universe and that the stars were embedded in a celestial sphere far above; see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geocentric_model
- Science and all other major religions tried to attune their religions to this model at that time. Most religions still adhere to those concepts; see the same Wikipedia article above.
7. But 2500 years ago, the Buddha described our Solar system as a “Cakkavāla,” or a planetary system. Not only that, but he also said there are uncountable such systems in the universe. Trying to find such details about the universe is a waste of time.
- 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 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 planetary systems (Cakkavāla) 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 scientific progress will show more to be correct as science advances.
What the Buddha Taught
8. In Abhidhamma, it is described in detail how all types of energies in the universe are “stored” in orbital motions (“bramana” in Pāli or Sinhala); see “31 Realms Associated with the Earth“.
- For example, planetary systems are planets orbiting stars. Those planetary systems combine to make galaxies, and those galaxies also undergo circular motion in the shape of disks. see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrograde_and_prograde_motion#Formation_of_celestial_systems
- Scientists discovered that atoms are electrons orbiting the tiny nucleus made of protons and neutrons.
9. If one is going to wait for the full confirmation of Buddha Dhamma by science, one is as foolish as those 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 has made impressive progress and has confirmed many aspects of the Buddha’s worldview.
- Just as the invention of the telescope led to the discovery of a much bigger cosmos, 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!“.
Scientific Tools Are Still Primitive
10. Science can accept only those phenomena that can be observed and measured with scientific instruments. Such scientific instruments are basically “extensions” of our six senses; see, “Expanding “Consciousness” by Using Technology.”
- For example, while we cannot see the moons of 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.
- People looked around and laughed when the Buddha said there are innumerable beings in this world. The Mahayaṃists are still under the impression that one could wait to attain the Buddhahood itself (not merely Nibbāna) until “everyone” is ready to attain the Buddhahood! However, they did not realize that they needed to include all those billions of microscopic creatures on one’s body in the category of “everyone.”
11. 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 another planetary system yet. When that happens, the “wait for the Buddhahood” for the Mahayānists will become much longer.
- Similarly, the job of any “Creator” who looks after every being (even if just humans) will also become unbearably burdensome. That is because 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 micchā diṭṭhis.
- Getting rid of such wrong views is necessary before starting any fruitful meditation. Purification through “correct views” comes before “purification through formal meditation.” Sammā Diṭṭhi, or “correct views of this world,” comes first in the Eightfold Path.
12. When we hear about something that we cannot explain with the CURRENT SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE, we categorize them as “esoteric” or “mystical.” Of course, many such “made-up theories” are out there without any substance. However, Buddha Dhamma can be SHOWN TO BE CONSISTENT with all our world knowledge.
- If we can bring back someone who died before the 20th century and tell him that we can “see” an event in a distant country in real-time, he will not believe it. If we turn on a television and show him the actual event, he will be flabbergasted; he will refuse to believe it, saying it is 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.
- Kamma vipāka (energy stored) or rebirth at a distant location works similarly. 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 sink in these concepts, but the more you read, the more you will understand.
Self-Consistency Is Critical
13. Two key methods are used in science to verify a given scientific theory. They have some basic axioms that appear to be inviolable. Then all other currently accepted scientific theories must be CONSISTENT with those axioms.
- 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.
- Scientific findings up-to-date are consistent with pure Buddha Dhamma as given in the Tipiṭaka.
- 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.
14. There are two ways to test the validity of the Buddha Dhamma. First is the self-consistency within the foundational concepts, such as Tilakkhana, Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, Paṭicca Samuppāda, etc. Second is the compatibility with “new findings” by science.
- Here “new findings by science” do not necessarily mean the explanations given by science depict the “absolute truth.” That is 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. However, what science proposes about how life arose may not be correct.
Power of a Purified Mind
15. One needs to contemplate 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 come up with such an elaborate way of describing our world? Those are just beginning to be “re-discovered” by the efforts of thousands of scientists over many generations.
- The Buddha could transcend all “normal human capabilities” by purifying his mind. Thus Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem does not apply to Buddha Dhamma; see #5 above.
- Thus his Dhamma may not be “amenable” to the basic frame of reference we all have as normal human beings. Concepts like rebirth and kamma vipāka may sound mysterious. The only way to see the truth in such concepts is to put them to the standard scientific method discussed above.
16. The Buddha could see those and much more just by purifying his mind. And science has not yet figured out the “Power of the Human Mind.”
- Modern science is way behind Buddha Dhamma regarding the mind; see the “Abhidhamma” section.
- A human can purify the mind to the level of a Buddha only once in many eons on average. However, we can purify our minds enough to see many facts about nature that science is unaware of.
- The sense of relief and well-being one can achieve by purifying one’s mind is beyond any sensory pleasure.
Pleasures of “This World” Are Short-Lived
17. For example, one can enjoy even the best food on Earth only while eating that food. How long does that last? Jhānic experiences (Ariya or even anariya jhānās) can last longer.
- However, the “base level” of “cooling down” or Nibbāna or “niveema” or “nivana” that comes at the Sōtapanna stage is forever. There is no comparison to any briefly-lived sensory pleasure or even “jhānic pleasures.”