SuttaCentral

Nirvana - Truth vs Fiction

• Science has no direct enquiry into Nibbana.
However, Science speaks of an underlying Unified Field Theory as a possible end solution to the Universe.

• Buddhism needs a more verifiable approach.
Meditation is an ultimate solver, it needs more visibility by attainments (jhanas).

Do we have an approach on these two fundamentals both within the monastery and outside?
Perhaps the query is relevant to Sangha assuming the Buddha and Dhamma are established strong foundations in the community).

Example?

From what I know, there’s still no agreement on which quantum gravity hypothesis is the right one. I heard of Grand Unified Theory (GUT), which doesn’t include gravity, I heard of M-theory (from super string theory) and loop quantum gravity, but unified field theory is not a term for any specific theory. All of these above by the way has not yet been verified by experiments, so it’s up in the air.

And when science, more specifically, a lot of physicist still adhere to the philosophy of reductionism, materalism, doesn’t acknowledge the mind as a fundamental thing with its own laws (like kamma, rebirth), science naturally cannot have the concept of the end of all rebirth forever (Nibbana).

You might be interested in my blog:

4 Likes

True, mind is complex in Science while properly structured by consciousness in Buddhism.

At the same time, Physics is a defining enquiry discipline in the modern knowledge systems. If it is possible to relate consciousness (citta- 89) based research in Monastery, the Universities will interface smoothly (Psychology, a separate subjecct). Hence discussion on verifiability is pertinent.

Thank you.

1 Like

I think the Noble One suggested that these kinds of enquires were just like a person hit by a poisonous arrow and asking many questions before allowing the arrow to be removed, such as how to shoot it, what kind of wood the arrow was made from, the distance and so on.
Here is where faith comes in and it is much more useful than rationality and science. Just try yourself, apply the method taught by the Buddha and see where it brings you. It is much better to spend time working on the mind, than trying to resolve riddles that nothing will add to the methodology taught by the Tathagata.
There are two types of knowledge: the knowledge that brings to liberation (and this is linked to the practice, the mind and moral behaviour) and knowledge that entertain the mind, and the kind of questions asked here are of the second type. I have learnt with time (and I was a uni professor before!) that the knowledge that entertains the mind is really useless if not a potential damage to the progress in the path, at least for me.
So in the end, I think Buddhism as a methodology for the liberation of the mind and heart does not need any scientific demonstration since it does not aim to be “right” at an empirical level but at a phenomenological one.

4 Likes

The answers here are leaning away from sutta texts towards science, so I’m moving this thread into the Watercooler.

3 Likes

Welcome to the Forum, ashoksrivastava. I hope you find interesting things here.

2 Likes

We need more fictional Nirvanas.

The notion of Nirvana is so outside experience that it’s impossible to test, it has no “counterpart”, no inferential basis on which it can be shown. Science is just a method, a method that has had extraordinary success in some fields—physics, chemistry, biology—but is of dubious value outside those disciplines.

Consider Psychology. After over a century of “scientific” efforts, we have rampant mental illness, and a devastating replication crisis that throws in doubt the veracity of experimental findings across the board.

Psychology has made some great insights. But are those insights due to scientific method, or simply because lots of smart people have spent a long time trying to understand the mind? Who can say? The answer to this question cannot be determined scientifically.

And if this is the case even for ordinary everyday mind states, how much more so with something as abstract as Nirvana?

Imagination has a capacity to erase conceptual boundaries and open up new ways of seeing. An imaginary Nirvana is not the real Nirvana, but it’s a damn sight closer than anything science could find.

6 Likes

‘The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.’

The need for social verification/justification is habituated through how institutions function. People go to schools and universities and get certified on how brilliant (or dumb) they have become. The process of certification includes birth and death and should be extended to include Buddhism and Nirvana. This would be necessary for the mass-production of wisdom.

I’ve heard this often and never understood it. How much more verifiable does it need to be? Every aspect of Buddhism is personally verifiable. In order to verify Buddhism you need to do the Buddha’s experiments (regarding suffering and the cessation of suffering) for yourself and on yourself (because suffering arises and ceases within this “fathom long body”), then you can analyse the data and draw your own conclusions. If you don’t (re)do the experiments that the Buddha did, then you can’t analyse the data or draw any conclusions. If you don’t follow the protocols laid down, then you will most likely get different results. Am I missing something in the scientific verification process?

7 Likes

Great thoughts, I appreciate. I was trying to voice the Buddha’s advice to Kalamas by using the term verifiability.

1 Like

Indeed, and it’s an important standard.

I guess my point would be that, if we are to use science to test things, let us be humble and realistic about what we might achieve. There are promising results in testing simple questions, like “does being mindful of breathing promote calm”. But even there, results and their interpretation are deeply contested. We should have a firm foundation in knowing simple things before we extend that to profound things.

5 Likes

The type of problems each system is meant to solve can be of relevance. How about sickness, old age and death? Science has limited success in solving or eliminating these problems. And what is the impact of these problems on the truth value of what science can contribute and in differentiating truth from fiction?

If I am not mistaken it’s string theory that will unify all other theories, there is a reason it’s called the theory of everything

• Buddhism needs a more verifiable approach.
Meditation is an ultimate solver, it needs more visibility by attainments (jhanas)

I agree more visibility is needed by noble attainments (streamentry, once-returner, anagami, arahant as in the Early Buddhadharma).
7 Step Scientific Method & Early Buddhist Method

  • Make an observation. …
    The observation (realization) of human suffering

  • Ask a question. …
    What is suffering, its causes and how to end existential suffering to transform and liberate heart-mind

  • Propose a hypothesis. …
    Kalama Sutta hypothesis: proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.

  • Make predictions based on observation/data/realization. …
    There is a cause of suffering and there is an end of suffering

  • Test the predictions. Method or way to end suffering and attain liberation by staying mindful and present, restraining body-mind-speech, stilling mental formations, breaking 10 fetters, unbinding five aggregates that bind consciousness,

Scientific method works mostly with the measurable material or form realm and not with the immeasurable formless. Niravana imho bridges the form and formless dimensions through brahmaviharas (entry to immeasurable unified field) and goes beyond [4(3+1)+4+4] space-time-dimensions via samadhi and samatha-vipassana jhana.

  • Iterate and report verifiable results (ehipasiko) of listening and practicing true dhamma with ‘source attention’ (my translation of yonisomanisikara) and devotion to Truth.

Superstring theory posits 10 dimensionsal universe, there is also 12 dimensions in some other omniverse theory and Hindu-tantric buddhist chakra science.

1 Like

The above are triggers to scientifically minded people. Since there’s no concrete link from meditation to higher dimensions (other that it sounds alien and cool), it’s best not to bring those in. It alienates those who studies the higher dimensions.

Concrete link includes at least some sutta references, or detailed explanation of why deep samadhi is higher dimension, what’s higher dimension, does it correspond with the extra dimensions in string/M-theory etc. None of which is easy to make without fully detailed experience of deep samadhi and having learnt string theory properly (not just having read one popular science book about it).

2 Likes

Not everything has to be learned through suttas or string theory to make connections in consciousness. Late Bhante Samahita’s lecture is thought-provoking. He mentions the danger of AI and the hard problem of consciousness after the first hour in his talk.