Materialism refuted

I have noticed that many buddhist sometimes struggle wit materialism and this contributes to their lack of faith. Most western buddhist come from a materialist background and materialism is also the main view in their society. There is this society pressure on them to be materialist and when they become buddhist, they still try to be somehow in line with society.

The way to solve this doubt problems is not by trying to prove rebirth, witch is impossible to do. The way to do it is by refuting materialism, witch is pretty simple. Since materialism is refuted, since idealism and postmodernism do not obey logic, there are no other options to have. The reason to give Buddha a chance is because of the simple reason of everything else been refuted.

So let’s start with refuting materialism:

Problem nr 1: Consciousness. Materialism is easily refuted with this single word: consciousness. It is called “the hard problem” in materialism because nobody was able to solve it in centuries of attempts. The problem is that it can not be solved, it is a thing that is refuting materialism. Trying to solve this is like trying to prove the world was made in 7 days. Good luck with that.

The materialist dogma says that consciousness should come from the way matter is assembled. But if this is true, then it would mean more complex assemblements of matter should be conscious while primitive ones not. But a thing as primitive as an ant, a thing as primitive as a worm with 5 neurons does have consciousness while a supercomputer that can defeat the world champion at chess does not.

The little exercise: There is a little exercise that a person should do in order to remove doubts about materialism. Try to think 15 minutes about how could consciousness possibly arise because of the way matter is assembled. Really take your time to think about this, take at least 15 minutes not 5. Only by really thinking about this can the person understand how impossible such a thing is.

Problem nr 2: Secondary problems. When you have a theory, that theory has implications. If these implications are refuted, the theory is refuted too. Things that refute materialism from this angle are the placebo effect, the observer problem, neuroplasticity, etc. Neuroplasticity in particular completely destroys materialism, that is why it took 10 years to be accepted as a science. You simply can not believe in materialism after discovery of neuroplasticity. It’s like believing the world is flat, made in 7 days etc. and still claiming your theory makes sense. It’s something that simply destroys materialism.

The buddhist deal is this: Things such as craving existing because of feeling, feeling existing because of contact etc. can be easily understood in 5 minutes through logical deduction. But there are things in buddhism such as rebirth and nibbana witch can not be understood in 5 minutes of explanation. They have to be taken for granted at the start. The buddhist deal is this: all other theories can be refuted, but buddhism can not. There are thing that can not be proven from the beginning, but nevertheless they can not be refuted. While all other theories can. So for the simple fact that there is no other thing in this world left un-refuted the person should investigate it.

When discussing buddhist with non-buddhist, do not try to prove things that can never be proven in a 10 minute conversation, such as rebirth. What you need to do is focus on refuting the person theory, witch can easily be done.


Part 2 of the topic - about living in a materialist society.

The problem of high priest:

Despite materialism been refuted from a logical point of view, I know this is not enough because people usually don’t have a problem believing in illogical things. If authority figures and society as a whole believes in a thing, the person will have a lot of pressure put on him to believe in that too.

In societies where materialism is the main view, scientist are regarded as a kind of priest and have supreme authority. Because they are so good at investigating the form aggregate, they are also regarded by the masses as supreme authority in problems that are not about the form aggregate. Same as famous artist opinions on politics and philosophy and held in high regard despite the fact that it is not their field.

All humans are prone to dogmatism and clinging to views. All scientist and priest have different political opinions. Does that mean that a scientist or a priest political opinion is infaliable, that he can not possibly be wrong ?

The problem of chronology:

There are all kind of fades a society can believe in. In a country there might be the christian or the muslim fade been the main view. In another it can be materialism.

Because atheism came after christianity in the west, people think this is the natural development of a society and that this is superior to previous fades. Well, my country is more religious than Iran, with 98,2% christian and just 0,2% irreligious people. The religiosity level increased after the fail of communism, a period in witch religion was reppresed. There are countries around mine (Bulgaria, Russia) that are irreligious and yet Romania is more religious than Iran. In Russia, religiosity levels are also increasing right now thanks to Putin promotion of religion.

The fact that a view is predominant in a society or that is came last does not make that view correct. If a view is refuted by logic, it is a wrong view no matter how many people believe in it.

The problem of smart people been atheist:

In the west, there is even more pressure put on the person because doctors, politicians, etc are mainly atheist. In my country, all doctors, scientist, politicians, milionaires, mobsters etc. are christians. In muslim countries, all these people would be muslim. You will say "how can such people believe in that, don’t they take a moment to think about it ? " - No, they don’t. Just like materialist do not take a moment to think about how it’s refuted at the core by the problem of consciousness. To an ousider, it looks strange how can one believe in a theory destroyed at the core. Based on what does he believe in that theory ?

If you try to tell a person over here, be him a doctor, a rich person, etc. that this whole christianity thing is wrong, you will look stupid to him. Like “omg… sure science is good at some things but how can you not see there is more to it than that ?” - really people will look at you like you’re stupid, like you are seen just half of the picture. People here are not fundamentalist like in US believing the world was made in 7 days but all believe in a god, in good deeds, etc. And in the west I suppose you look stupid too if you contradict materialism. So there is society pressure on the person to go along otherwise he is considered stupid.

Because of this, people feel the need to somehow mix buddhism with materialism not to look stupid to fellow members of society. And I can understand this pressure. But the only way to really become a buddhist and gain any kind of faith is by been a strong logic positivist. Do not focus on society pressures, focus on logic. Materialism is refuted from a logical point of view. You can’t believe in a thing that is refuted. No matter how many people believe that the world was made in 7 days or that consciousness comes from the way matter is assembled - no matter how many believe in this it will not make the idea right from a logical point of view. Have confidence in logic and have only logic as your guide. If you do not have logic as your guide, than who else will you have as your guide to traversing the jungle of views ?

Note: I never had any kind of problem with materialism coming from a country with 0,2% such people. But I have a good understanding of how this pressure works by observing western buddhist. And it can be seen that they have a problem with faith because of this.


Part 3 - some words about faith:

Faith or doubt are opposite underlying tendencies that can be developed. Just as Buddha said, there are things that are a basis for faith and things that are a basis for doubt. For example a person might think "there are so many philosophers in this world, so many ideas, why would Buddha be the one that is right? " - and by attending in this way his doubt tendency will increase. Or he can think “everything else was refuted while Buddha was not” or “What I learned from Buddha until now is correct and nobody else knew it” and in this way faith increases.

In the case of a stream enterer, it is said that he has removed the fetter of doubt in regard to Buddha enlightenment. This is done because of properly understanding the non-existence of a self. (in my opinion, through this method: How is stream entry achieved? )

Imagine a budhman seen a car for the first time in his life. He will think the car is pushed foreward by a mysterious force or a spirit. Only after someone shows him the engine, explains him how it works and the bushman does some thinking - only after that will the bushman understand there is no mysterious force pushing the car. If somebody would come to you today and tell you the car is pushed by a spirit, would you have any doubt or inwards perplexity about it ? It is the same with non-existence of a self. Only after a person understand how the being really works will he understand there is no self.

After the person understands this, theories based on a self will look like people claiming cars are pushed by spirits. And since Buddha was the only one to not believe in a self from all philosophers, the person will have huge confidence in him and would never take another teacher other than the Buddha since nobody else knows this thing about no self existing.

The problem of postmodernism:

We all know that huge faith for things contradicted by logic can be developed. A person might attend in such a way as to develop huge faith in a theory, no matter how strongly refuted the theory is. Faith is a faculty, an underlying tendency and it can be developed for any kind of ideas, no matter how logical or illogical they are.

And there are theories in this world such as postmodernism that promote skepticism. The more skeptic the person, the better. But this only develops the underlying tendency to doubt in the person. The person might end up not believing even in obvious things like the sky been blue. No matter what evidence you present, the person will still remain a skeptic.

Only attitude one can have is logic positivism. It is only through logic that a person can traverse the jungle of views. And after arriving at some certianity from a logical point of view, then the person should develop faith - witch is one of the 5 faculties. A person might logically believe in buddhism but might lack enough faith to really take things seriously as to for example become a monk. So the person needs to develop this faculty. The eternal skepticism ideas of postmodernism are doing exactly the opposite. I mentioned this because I know postmodernism is nr 2 most popular world view in the USA (luckily nowhere else except US) so it’s good to keep in mind it’s going to be detrimental to us on the buddhist path.


To believe ‘jati’ (‘birth’) is ‘physical’ or ‘material’ is probably the pinnacle or supreme ‘materialism’.

Thus, it seems simply linguistically illogical to refer to non-rebirthers as ‘materialistic’.

Ajahn Buddhadasa made this matter very clear in his book called No Religion, when he said:

People language is used by the ordinary people who don’t
understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so
dense that they are blind to everything but material things.

No Religion

In his book ‘Two Kinds of Language’, Ajahn Buddhadasa provide many examples, such as:

The first example is the word “Buddha”. As you know, the word “Buddha” in everyday language refers to the historical Enlightened Being, Gotama Buddha. It refers to a physical man of flesh and bone who was born in India over two thousand years ago, died, and was cremated. This is the meaning of the word “Buddha” in everyday language.

Considered in terms of Dhamma language, however, the word “Buddha” refers to the Truth which the historical Buddha realized and taught, namely the Dhamma itself. The Buddha said:

One who sees the Dhmnma sees the Tathagata. One who sees the Tathagata sees the Dhamma. One who sees not the Dhamma, though grasping at the robe of the Tathagata, cannot be said to have seen the Tathagata.

The above said, the Buddha did not teach Yogacharaism thus did say materiality (rupa) exists.

Thus, even if Ajahn Buddhadasa was completely wrong, Ajahn Buddhadasa cannot be accused of being a “materialist” (where as the Buddha can certainly be called a “materialist” because the Buddha often taught about material things).

I think the primary problem with this thread is attempting to use definitions from Western philosophy to categorise Buddhist thought.


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[quote=“dxm_dxm, post:1, topic:4502”]
The materialist dogma says that consciousness should come from the way matter is assembled. But if this is true, then it would mean more complex assemblements of matter should be conscious while primitive ones not. But a thing as primitive as an ant, a thing as primitive as a worm with 5 neurons does have consciousness while a supercomputer that can defeat the world champion at chess does not.[/quote]
The suttas seem to state the cause & condition of consciousness is mentality-materiality (SN 22.82) and there can be no arising of consciousness without sense organs & aggregates (MN 38; SN 22.53).

Meditation is generally not about “thinking”.

An actual meditation exercise is observing consciousness at the eye, which gives rise to consciousness of forms (objects, sights). Close the eyes and watch the consciousness of forms disappear. This shows without a physical eye, there can be no consciousness of forms.

Then imagine having no physical ears, no physical nose, no physical tongue and no physical body. Nothing could be heard, smelt, tasted & touched.

All that is left is mind-consciousness at the mind. But if there were never any sights, sounds, smells, tastes & touches ever experienced, what exactly would the mind think about to serve as an object mind consciousness?

MN 18 states:

Now, when there is no eye, when there are no forms, when there is no eye-consciousness, it is impossible that one will delineate a delineation of contact.

"When there is no ear…

"When there is no nose…

"When there is no tongue…

"When there is no body…

"When there is no intellect, when there are no ideas, when there is no intellect-consciousness, it is impossible that one will delineate a delineation of contact.



This is actually not correct. Buddhism ultimately teaches there are underlying tendencies (anusaya), which exist regardless of sense contact (refer to AN 7.11; MN 64; MN 148)

The point seems to be non-sequitur. It seems to notbe an argument supporting anything.

This also seems non-sequitur. Society concerns itself with money & scientists are funded to research material things. This has no relevance to the truths of Buddhism.

No atheism in ancient Greece or Rome?

Islam was always more scientific than Christianity.

Most politicians in the West are probably not atheist.

This shows how most people do not understand religion, since Jesus said you can’t love god & money.

In the Kalama Sutta, it is said to not rely on logic.

To me, you are yet to say anything logical to support your position in this long thread. While I respect your personal ideas & personal theories, I have not read any significant positions from the EBTs to support your proposed theory of materialism.

A stream-enterer removes doubt by experiencing the relationship between giving up self-view and peace. There must be the taste of liberation/peace for stream-entry to occur.

As for the non-existence of a self, this seems to contradict the teachings of the Buddha about ‘re-birth’, which state a ‘self’, ‘person’ or ‘being’ (‘satta’) is ‘reborn’. Stock phrase:

When my concentrated mind was thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the passing away and reappearance of beings. With the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate. I understood how beings pass on according to their actions thus: ‘These worthy beings who were ill conducted in body, speech, and mind, revilers of noble ones, wrong in their views, giving effect to wrong view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a state of deprivation, in a bad destination, in perdition, even in hell; but these worthy beings who were well conducted in body, speech, and mind, not revilers of noble ones, right in their views, giving effect to right view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a good destination, even in the heavenly world.’ Thus with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate, and I understood how beings pass on according to their actions.

MN 4

MN 60 seems to make it unambiguously clear that the purpose of the ‘rebirth’ teachings, which include the right view of continued existence (atthikavādo), is to promote the undertaking of the three kinds of skillful action.

That is probably why the ‘tainted right view’ in MN 117 includes the view that there are spontaneously arisen ‘beings’ (‘satta’), which contrasts with the ‘untainted right view’ there are no ‘beings’ to be found (SN 5.10).

If ordinary people believe there is non-existence of a self but without experiencing liberation, those people will have no incentive to do good karma (apart from altruism). This will be a kind of moral nihilism. This is why the stream-enterer MUST taste liberation. Otherwise, a merely intellectual belief in no-self will not lead to wholesome actions.

It will be like Evangelical Christians that believe they are saved by faith alone (therefore they can perform any kind of action).

Thus, MN 60 states:

Now whether or not the word of those good recluses and brahmins is true, let me assume that there is no other world: still this good person is here and now praised by the wise as a virtuous person, one with right view who holds the doctrine of affirmation (atthikavādo). And on the other hand, if there is another world, then this good person has made a lucky throw on both counts: since he is praised by the wise here and now, and since on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. He has rightly accepted and undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in such a way that it extends to both sides and excludes the unwholesome alternative.’

I think getting tangled up in ideas about ‘anatta & rebirth’ might end up getting tangled up in knots, similar to Buddhaghosa who seemed to propose of 12-fold voidness that spins around forever.

This idea of Buddhaghosa seemed different to the suttas, which call Dependent Origination the “wrong path” (SN 12.3). In other words, the more emptiness is realised, the less dependent origination spins. This reality seems to render the idea of a 12-fold voidness as illogical.

At least for me, the ideas you seem to be proposing, namely: (1) there is no self; and (2) there is rebirth of no-self; are obstacles to entering both the mundane path of heavenly wholesomeness & the supramundane path of Nibbana.

Love & craving for ‘rebirth’ results in never experiencing Nibbana and asserting a not-self of kamma results in having less incentive to do good karma.

For me, it is a lose-lose situation rather than the win-win situation described in MN 60, which is called ‘A Safe Bet’.



I agree, Deeele. The Buddha wouldn’t get cornered into whether there was or was not a self. But he went to great lengths to say what the self wasn’t and what you think is the self is, isn’t. Rather than a teaching of “no self” it’s a teaching of “not self” which is dramatically different.

Also, I think that the longer the Buddha taught, the more he went along with the cosmology of his time and culture with it’s deities and rebirth, as it didn’t impede his central theme of liberation.


I think materialism is better than superstition or pseudoscience, in fact materialism is much closer to buddhism than other views

For example materialist will only use perception as source of truth while buddhist use both perception and inference as source of truth

Hmm. Wow. So many things to comment here. Thanks @Ratana for digging this up.

  1. Kalama sutta didn’t say don’t use logic, but don’t use logic alone to decide what to believe in. So this seems to undermine the whole approach of @dxm_dxm. The danger of logic alone is this. Logic depends on axioms and then build arguments based on them. Even if the chain of link of arguments are true and sound, the axioms maybe false, flawed, or additional false/ unjustified assumptions enter into the building argument phase. Logic is great for maths, wonderful for computer science, but terrible as the SOLE judge of which religion/ philosophy to believe in.

  2. @Deeele rebirth and no self are pretty much standard doctrine in Buddhism. Yes, one needs to be careful to make sure that people don’t take the ultimate view of no self to apply to conventional views which underly morality and so forth.

  3. How standard materialist philosophy makes the person cannot believe in rebirth is because of the view: the mind is the software to the brain’s hardware. When the hardware dies, destroyed, the software gets destroyed too, instead of magically transfer /continue/reborn to another body, another hardware. Also, Buddhism teaches the immaterial realms which has no body, mind only. So definitely materialism is incompatible with Buddhism philosophically speaking.

  4. My opinion of the best way to arrive at faith in Buddhism is actually to practise it, then faith arises, not via logical positivism.

  5. And perhaps a better way to refute materialism is to show rebirth evidences, which
    are easily youtube-able, google-able. This has the advantage of using empirical evidences as the final arbiter, which is a standard that science highly values and kalama sutta also imply by “when you know for yourself” or in other words experience. Realistically, people with materialist views will tend to want to not accept facts, even distort facts to retain their world view. It’s not easy to convert people like this, hence, point 4.

Just for extras:

It’s possible to write neural network codes which kinda exhibits neuroplasticity in a sense, and it’s not impossible to imagine even the chips changing shape due to code in some exotic future chips of AI. According to the materialistic worldview, this is entirely possible for internal materialistic causation to change the neurons of the brain.

There’s some theoretical construct which aims to quantify consciousness in everything.
Integrated information theory.

Integrated information theory (IIT ) attempts to explain what [consciousness] is and why it might be associated with certain physical systems. Given any such system, the theory predicts whether that system is conscious, to what degree it is conscious, and what particular experience it is having (see Central identity). According to IIT, a system’s consciousness is determined by its [causal] properties and is therefore an intrinsic, fundamental property of any physical system