Is Buddhism consistent with Science?

Rebirth memories are doubted as it’s believed that the mind can create them. There was a very good documentary of soul. Or reincarnation on YouTube. Suddenly I can’t find it. YouTube has a history of hiding the truth. In that documentary kids are documented like is the case most times. One of them remembered he crashed with a plane in war in the water. He had a lot details with parents help and his they went to the sea where it might have happened in the hope he let go of his former life. Very emotional.

A few dreams happened since I went 10 days silent meditation. And many are obviously not the mind invention. They are nothing as compared what I experienced in this life. Monks in the dreams didn’t have the color robes of the modern time. Nor yellow nor orange. Nor red.

All my dreams they had colors like I nerver seen perfected in modern times. Is that dark brown from natural source color. Darker than what Thai forest tradition even has.

One dream I’m arguing with Elder monks and I went after that in forest to meditate. And hit my head at one tree. That’s how the dream end. But that one seem that I couldn’t be sure if it’s me because I see my whole body. I couldn’t concentrate on face. But I see many monks with me. And that person I said was me was a monk also.

I had a dream that I got one without meditating connected to my ex wife. I was picking fruits as layperson at a tree. And monks wearing again dark brown robe. Passed in front me. So I went to them and gave fruits. After that. I went walking to what I felt was my ex wife. when I arrived at her she is a house that I never saw in this life. She had a bucket with the same fruits. I was picking. But many more. I felt I told her that the monks are passing in front our house. And I saw her stand and bow down in their direction.

I went Sri Lanka but never truly see people act like that from far. Never seen it in a movie etc. that action was new to my current life.

I have another where I was see a farmer and a monk. But the angle makes me wonder who I am supposed to be. But the farmer gave fruit to the monk. From the cart that he had the fruits that he harvested.

I’m not sure if it’s the same dream but I have one that I see a monk in distance away behind him. And he went in a kuti just next the sandy road in a forest.

I have a few more

I just say in hope that faith enters through someone. I know I have after seeing these memories.

But the most recent one. Again happens after I go sleep after I did meditation. But that one don’t see my body. It’s as if I’m really living in the body. So I couldn’t see if I was a layperson or monk. But I assume layperson staying at monastery. I was going to give food to what looks like the head monk. And I saw he finished eating. And was talking to the monks at his left side infront him. Laughing. I turned around and I found myself in front the the washing bowl for bowls. I see myself having something that looks like ancient food container. It didn’t look like plastic. But I felt I was sad looking in the water with rest of food. I felt tears

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Thank you so much Bhante for your reply!

I see that those ideas that contradict science are not core to the Dhamma, so a non-literal interpretation of those passages would be enough to restore consistency; however, I wonder what justification we would have to do so.

For example, let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Buddha claimed the Earth to be flat. Since it contradicts an enormous amount of scientific evidence and ins’t core to Buddhism, we can make some alternative interpretation. However, the justification for the Buddha’s knowledge of cosmology was his memories of past lives, and if we shouldn’t interpret his cosmology literally, why should we interpret his memories of past lives literally? Rebirth and karma would be threatened, and this way of interpreting the suttas would make us fall in some form of secular Buddhism.

Another thing that makes me a bit confused is why the Buddha would mention something that isn’t core to Buddhism. As he said in the Sīsapāvana sutta:

So too, bhikkhus, the things I have directly known but have not taught you are numerous, while the things I have taught you are few. And why, bhikkhus, have I not taught those many things? Because they are unbeneficial, they do not belong to the fundamentals of the spiritual life, they do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. That is why I have not taught them.

So, if those beliefs aren’t central, why were they taught?

Thank you so much Bhante for your explanations!

I see that some ideas shouldn’t be interpreted literally if we are going to trust science. I wonder though what justifications we can use to have non-literal interpretations of particular suttas and not others. As I said in my reply to Khemarato.bhikkhu,

Now I see that we can’t be fundamentalists, but then how can we know what suttas should be interpreted literally and what ones should not? If we take the approach of interpreting non-literally anything that we find impossible, we would end up justifying practically any approach, even one of secular Buddhists.

Another point: the people who listened to the Buddha’s explanations the first time were likely to have believed in a straightforward interpretation, and I believe that the Buddha wouldn’t tell someone something if he believed that they would understand something else.

Finally, there’s the matter of numbers in the Pali Canon. I know that people at that time didn’t have numbers as we have nowadays, and some very precise values seem very repetitive throughout the suttas. For instance, they’re usually more like 500, not 479. I don’t know how they used to count at that time, and it’s probably that large numbers were too infrequent to be used, so it’s also possible that large amounts were mentioned as a form of emphasis. About small numbers, some of them could be used as a form of symbology or numerology. Therefore, I believe that this could solve much of the seeming contradictions between Buddhism and science without giving up Buddha’s insights. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the usage of numbers in the Pali Canon. Do you know how this subject has been discussed?

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Falsifiability is the existence of the logical possibility that a theory can be wrong. Think about it, we can’t prove that humans don’t exist, but that doesn’t mean humans are beyond the scope of science.

My theory that “all bachelors are unmarried men” is not falsifiable, there is no possibility of finding a counter-example.

There’s nothing stopping us from creating falsifiable theories about karma, rebirth, devas, and psychic powers, and pursuing them scientifically.

Actually, you probably could not have an academic career doing this, because these ideas are not fashionable right now. They could be in the future though.

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Hi! Thank you!

I totally agree that science is changing all the time. I maintain, though, that it changes in a way that improves the accuracy of previous predictions and increases the scope of what can be predicted. I mean that it isn’t a random change (which would mean that the science of any time would be equally unreliable), but rather it is a consistent change towards better and more precise conclusions. Besides that, some scientific theories have accumulated so much evidence that we really can’t expect them to change, like evolution and the shape of the Earth.

What’s regarded as a human being is indeed open to discussion, and I realized I don’t even remember if the Buddha calls those beings “humans” or just by their status, like “king.”

Thank you for showing me this essay. It’s interesting to see how Buddhism agrees with modern science.

Thank you for the article! I wonder how Tibetan Buddhism conciliates modern science and their suttas, though. What may be the justifications that they use not to interpret the suttas about the shape of the Earth literally? In other words, how can they differentiate a literal sutta from a non-literal sutta?

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

If it is wrong, abandon it.
Buddhist can do this because natural science is not the core teaching of buddhism. (Unlike other religion which draw authority from explaining natural world and creation)

Buddhism is about suffering and end of suffering. Science still cant solve that, so Buddhism is still relevant.

Also, most of the belief about natural world came from commentary text. They can just admit the author was wrong. The sutra rarely mention about natural world, and if it did, it can be interpreted creatively to fit modern science.


Numbers, many others here suspect that they are not used in exact forms due to as you said rounded up numbers. More of an estimate, like if we scan a large crowd, we estimate it to be 1000 people or 2000 people. We don’t say 1245 people.

I don’t see that it’s non literal. The creative mapping there takes the sutta as literal as can be.

Science now uses jargons which are invented as people explore new concepts, new phenomenon, new hypothesis and theories. We cannot expect the Buddha to define all these jargons to the people of ancient India. So the creative mapping is to map the language the Buddha used to the jargons of current science.

The underlying assumption here is that Buddha knows what he is talking about, but the limitations of the scientific knowledge of that time makes it very hard for him to teach science to his audience in a manner that we have now with all our jargons and concepts.

This includes atoms, subatomic particles, molecules, cells, etc, very basic stuffs which if one has not gone through our basic modern education, one might not know, but can roughly pick up via conversation with others.

There’s no such opportunity in ancient India. Perhaps the Buddha was talking about the literal first person experience of the taste of those food and described the food as with those taste. Our current science has no way of personally knowing what it is like for a nucleus to feel what electrons taste like when a free electron is captured in to become more neutral and more like an atom.

Of course, I am forced to go for panpsychism to make the sutta fit. Whereas I don’t really buy into panpsychism.

As to secular Buddhism creative mapping comparison … Since there exist already the rebirth evidences, I do not see the need to creatively map concepts of rebirth. The various other realms are very clearly not just states of minds of humans. So creatively mapping devas as some exotic being, but not homo sapience respect the literalness of the sutta. The exotic being can be totally magical, outside of the realm of current physics or, as i mapped it, either: aliens, beings from higher dimension, beings from parallel universe, advanced intelligence, dark matter beings, or simulated universe beings/programmers.

None of those concepts are really easy for Buddha to tell to his ancient audience.

It’s then an exploration of which possibilities allows for the most natural explainations of all the characteristics of devas. One can also still place a bet on totally magical beings which trivially have the most easy fit of characteristics. I am leaning more towards this as it’s harder and harder to creatively map so many characteristics of devas literally.


Heh! Well maybe. But, you know, doctors used to recommend smoking, right? Now they do the opposite. Science!

But there are major dogmas of science that are overturned. Since you mention evolution, my current favourite science dogma that is taking a hammering is that the acquisition of mutations should be random across the genome. This appears to be wrong. It challenges a fundamental assumption in biology and suggests that mutation rate and natural selection are not two distinct evolutionary forces. Wow!

So what shape is the earth? Does it’s shape change over time? At some point, if we are to believe the scientists (which I do to a certain extent), it was a nebulous cloud of dust? As the Zen guys ask. What was your original face before your parents were born? :wink:

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Something that I’m struggling to understand is why the Buddha would talk about something that was unknown at his time. He was very strict about teaching only what was relevant to awakening, and the details in the Agganna Sutta seem too precise and odd to have any relevancy. Buddhist cosmology does help to see everything as impermanent, but most of the details in this sutta are not relevant to this point.

Another thing is that mapping seems to always lead things behind; I feel that it sounds pretty much like, “let’s find some way to read this that doesn’t contradict my previous ideas. If I don’t find such way, it’s because I didn’t find it yet.”

An even worse problem is that we can’t ever know whether or not the mapping is correct. Even if we believe that the sutta is reliable, what justifies us to think the Buddha was really referring to those scientific terms of our interpretation? If we aren’t going to interpret the sutta literally, then better we have an interpretation that is justified on the base of the own Pali Canon. However, the Buddha never said that his words contained a meaning that would be understood only by later generations, for example. To be honest, I’d rather bet those guys knew more about what the Buddha was talking about than we do nowadays because of cultural differences, corruption of some texts, and distortions of how the Dhamma has been taught.

I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to regard the sutta as telling just a myth. Of course, the problem then would be to know what suttas we should regard as a myth and what ones we shouldn’t.

For that issue, may I suggest these criteria below:

I have heard that at one time the Blessed One was staying at Vesali, in the Peaked Roof Hall in the Great Forest.

Then Mahapajapati Gotami went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, stood to one side. As she was standing there she said to him: “It would be good, lord, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma in brief such that, having heard the Dhamma from the Blessed One, I might dwell alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute.”

“Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher’s instruction.’

“As for the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’”

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Mahapajapati Gotami delighted at his words.


Mendicants, who would ever think or believe that this earth and Sineru, king of mountains, will burn and crumble and be no more, except for one who has seen the truth?

Buddha was not afraid of saying unbelievable things, just asking people who has not seen the truth to rely on faith on him. And for those who has seen the truth to verify that faith.

Here’s more speculation. The Buddha has past life recollection. Including to previous universe cycles. He might had been a cosmologist in the past he might already lived through the period where suns go red giant, maybe as a deva. So knowing that future generations will develop these sciences again he might very well speak for the benefit of this generation which has the science to understand the Buddha’s claims.


Yes, maybe myth. It may be possible the Buddha also used certain narratives which he found good enough, as it were, to get the idea across. Like in study. One first learns a simple modle of the atom. But, ripe enough, when one has a solid base of understanding one learns more complex model of atoms. Maybe Buddha knew that things were more complex than he said but for the sake of understanding and to get the idea accross he used a certain simplyfied narrative. Maybe :blush:

Sometimes i think those stories about a rebirth consciousness that flies over from somewhere (paralowa) and links/connects with the furtilezed egg, may also be an imagine which might be good enough to get the idea across But must this all be taken literally? I am not so sure about that.

Regarding DN27 and evolution:

I have read that in a certain part of human embryo stage there are gill-like structures. Can’t you say that our body represents the total evolution of life on earth and not only the evolution from human to apes?

I know that baby’s sometimes also are born with a tail. I once read the longest one was 30 cm.
Also tailbone we still have. It is seen as a rudimentary structure. Also things like chickenskin would be that. It reminds of periods in which we had a hide and not, like now, a little bit hair.

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I like it a lot. I think these are good criteria. Thanks for reminding me of this sutta!

I agree that he would say very impressive things that could be unbelievable to some people. The fact that Earth is gonna be destroyed was certainly a very powerful image to convey to monks about impermanence. I wonder, though, why he would talk about unknown things that don’t convey anything relevant to the spiritual path, like atoms or the origin of genders. If we try to do creative mapping in these suttas, the meaning isn’t conducive to dispassion anymore… actually, the literal reading wasn’t conducive either, so, even though we restored consistency, we didn’t obtain usefulness.

If he said something only for the sake of the future generations understand, wouldn’t he mention it instead of expecting us to speculate and luckily find the correct meaning? The Buddha also said that he taught “the Dhamma without making any distinction between secret and public teachings. The Realized One doesn’t have the closed fist of a teacher when it comes to the teachings.” (DN 16). If he had taught something that was incomprehensible to his contemporaries, he would at least have told why he was telling that to begin with, namely, for the sake of the future generations.

I don’t think it’s useless. It can generate faith, for us who no longer find it so unbelievable.

Also, DN27 has moral lessons of not being vain. It’s the vanity of the beautiful ones which causes the nice food to disappear. It’s possible to do an elaborate science fiction theme on how the inequality in society causes civilization to collapse and the beings there to evolve/devolve into something else to seek other types of food.

Anyway, one other use for saying almost unbelievable things is to give a lesson not to speculate about the world:

“Nevertheless, bhikkhus, what that man saw was actually real, not unreal. Once in the past, the devas and the asuras were arrayed for battle. In that battle, the devas won and the asuras were defeated. In their defeat, the asuras were frightened and entered the asura city through the lotus stalk, to the bewilderment of the devas.

“Therefore, bhikkhus, do not reflect about the world, thinking: ‘The world is eternal’ or ‘The world is not eternal’; or ‘The world is finite’ or ‘The world is infinite’; or ‘The soul and the body are the same’ or ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another’; or ‘The Tathagata exists after death,’ or ‘The Tathagata does not exist after death,’ or ‘The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death,’ or ‘The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’ For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, this reflection is unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and does not lead to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

SN 56.41: Lokacintāsutta—Bhikkhu Bodhi (

Origin of genders can dispel the attachment to gender as identity since it’s also dependently arisen and not always there.

The Buddha did say out of compassion to future generations sometimes. SN 16.5: Jiṇṇasutta—Bhikkhu Bodhi ( Anyway, it might not be in his interest to simply project all possible futures. He just left clues. Was it a secret? Nope, he declared them. It’s not Buddha’s fault when the larger society of non-Buddhists would be able to believe it or not.

The Buddha indeed normally wouldn’t just say anything about physics (the 10 unanswered questions), just that when it’s useful, suitable, able to help people let go, then he says it.

Buddha was also wary not to say unbelievable things too often.

Formerly, I too saw that being, but I did not speak of it. For if I had spoken of it others would not have believed me, which would be for their lasting harm and suffering.

SN 19.1: Aṭṭhisutta—Bhikkhu Sujato (


I think you dispelled my remaining doubts in this reply. Thank you Bhante!

You might like this

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Thank you! I’m going to listen to them.

Disclaimer : this thread is NOT a discussion of whether science works, so I hope it doesn’t start to be about science rather than about the Pali Canon.

Actually, this might be a good entry way. Currently there are a few prevailing philosophies within the philosophy of science. That is to say, among scientists and philosophers of science, there are disagreements over what constitutes “real” science and what constitutes pseudoscience or non-science.

Now, the average benchwork or labwork scientist isn’t losing sleep over these discussions and if you aim to be a scientist, you generally aren’t encouraged to read about Popper, Dewey, etc. But there is quite a bit of diversity among these views. What’s great about this infographic is that the realism vs. anti-realism matter is also relevant to buddhism, and we see similar types of debates.


Personally, I’ve found those philosophies in the anti/non-realist camp a lot more interesting, like instrumentalism, because many of them are less concerned with whether science arrives at some universal truth or not, but rather the pragmatic applications of science for the individual and society.