Buddhism and Modern Physics

In order to find the right paradigm for our time, we shall now turn to Buddhism. In Buddhism the Pali term ditthi is the closest equivalent of the term paradigm in English. By ditthi we mean "view, belief, dogma, theory, speculation." Sammâditthi or right worldview does not presuppose any dualism between mind and body. Buddhism is a realism in the sense that it accepts the real existence of both mind and external things, including our body. Unlike dualistic philosophies, Buddhism does not take mind and body to be two separate and independent entities. Mind and body are interconnected in their nature. That is to say that a person (puggala) consists of both mental and bodily components called "nâma-rupa." Here, the term "nâma" refers to all mental phenomena whereas the term "rupa" refers to the bodily component of the person. Nâma and rupa taken together constitute a "whole" known as a person. Nâma and rupa (i.e. mind and body) are interconnected according to the law of Dependent Origination.

Both material and mental phenomena are non-substantial (anattâ), i.e. empty of self-reality. Nothing exists in itself, for each existence is conditioned by causes outside itself. All phenomena have nothing substantial in themselves, they are in a state of becoming (bhava), not that of static being. A belief in either absolute being or absolute non-being is considered to be an extreme view. The Buddha says:

Kaccana, "everything exists" is one extreme view. "Nothing exists" is another extreme view. Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata teaches a doctrine by the middle way.

The doctrine of the middle way refered here is the principle of Dependent Origination (Paticcasamuppada) which can be expressed by the following formula:

When this is, that is (Imasmiæ sati idaæ hoti)
This arising, that arises (Imassuppadâ idaæ uppajjati)
When this is not, that is not (Imasmiæ asati idaæ na hoti)
This ceasing, that ceases (Imassa nirodhâ idaæ nirujjhati)

To put it into a modern form:
When A is, B is
A arising, B arises
When A is not, B is not
A ceasing, B ceases

According to the law of Dependent Origination, all phenomena are dependently originated (Paticcasamuppada). Buddhists see the world, not as a collection of isolated objects, but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. The Buddhist worldview, therefore, is holistic because it sees the world as an intgrated whole rather than as a dissociated collection of parts. It recognizes the fundamental inter-dependence of all phenmoena in the world. Everything is dependently originated.

The fundamental interdependence of all things in the world is not only the central characteristic of Buddhism, but is also one of the most important revelations of modern physics. Quantum theory studies the realm of subatomic particles and discovers that electron, proton, and neutron are interconnected, interrelated and integrated parts of the whole. Quantum theory dissolves the solid material objects of classical physics into wavelike patterns of probabilities. These patterns do not represent probabilities of things, but rather probabilities of interconnections.

Subatomic particles are always dependently originated. This can be seen from the way electrons orbit around protons and neutrons. If someone tries to split up the nucleus of an atom by fission, the atomic mass will turn into energy immediately; as we learn from Einstein's equation: E = mc2, in which c represents the speed of light. "E is the energy that is contained in a stationary body; m is its mass. The energy that belongs to the mass m is equal to this mass, multiplied by the square of the enormous speed of light." This equation tells us that the atomic mass is nothing but a form of energy. Even an object at rest has energy stored in its mass. From this it follows that all material objects which come into existence through the interconnection of atomic masses can be viewed as energy fields spreading all over the world. In these energy fields, there is no permanent entity. This is in conformity with the Buddhist view that all things are non-substantial (Sabbe dhamma anatta). When we shift our attention from macroscopic objects to the microscopic world of atoms, we find a complex web of relationships among subatomic particles. As Henry Stapp has pointed out, "An elementary particle is not an independently existing unanalyzable entity. It is, in essence, a set of relationships that reach outward to other things." The following statement made by Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum theory, could be read as a description of the Buddhist principle of Dependent Origination:

The world thus appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole.

What follows from our discussion is that whereas quantum theory confirms the truth of the Buddhist principle of Dependent Origination, Einstein's equation, E = mc2, supports the Buddhist theory of non-substantiality (anatta). Buddhism and modern physics represent a realistic philosophy and a holistic worldview which can be taken as a new paradigm replacing the dualistic philosophy and mechanistic worldview of classical physics. This paradigm shift will enable us to view the world as a whole and to take a holistic approach to development. Such an approach will set a balance between technological and spiritual developments.