Physics and Buddhism

So I’m not going to claim I have a full understanding of either Physics or the Dhamma, but recently I’ve been reading books by theoretical physicist called Carlo Rovelli and I’ve noticed some interesting parallels. Or, at least my mind has interpreted some parallels.

One thing he mentions in relation to how space-time functions is that, time itself is a by product of heat transfer. And that if no heat or energy transfer occurs the past and the future look identical.

It took my back to moments where via the dhamma in daily life, or during a particularly profound meditation experience you get a taste of clarity, and can see beyond the illusion of reality the mind creates, and for those special moments the past and the future are irrelevant and you are temporarily liberated from them. Because the past and future only sort of ‘ocurr’ or come into being as mental objects due to the grasping/attachment we create. So if there is no grasping/attachment, or no ‘heat transfer’, there is no suffering and to gain a state where that is fully sustained, were grasping is extinguished and birth/death past/future become irrelevant is how I’ve always understood ‘The Deathless’.

Amateur pondering over.

With Metta.


I can’t see the connection between these two.
Attachement is mental and heat transer is something physical.


You’re looking at it too literally


Dear friend @The_Passenger

You have put forth a good example of a simile to help beginners (with scientific background) understand the concept.

There are a few points I would like to talk about.

There’s a term in physics called ‘entropy’. It is a measure of the disorder in any system taken into consideration. Also, It is a fact that the entropy of the universe is constantly increasing and hence does the heat transfer.

It is just a speculation as the heat transfer would never stop due to the ever increasing entropy.
These are all physical phenomena and are out of our control.
Though, for the sake of the argument, consider that no heat transfer takes place. Time stops and like you said, the past and the future look identical. But, when that happens, there would be no time to observe these material phenomena as we would be in a standstill (I guess?)

On the other hand,
We are composed of mind and matter.
Our body needs food to grow and develop. We can choose to have an amount and choice of food that is beneficial for our body.
Our body requires proper nourishment at least once every day to stay healthy.

Now let me ask you this:
What happens if we do not eat or drink? We grow weak.
Another day without food or drink, we grow weaker.
Lets stay put and have no food or drink. What will ultimately happen?
Our body will start using up the stored energy available in the form of fat, then muscle tissue and ultimately if we keep on not eating, our body runs out of food and we die.
(I only mention these bodily phenomena so you can compare them to their mental counterpart - sankharas, below)

Unlike our body which requiers food at least once every day to stay healthy, our mind interacts with sankhara every instant. This process may, in turn, generates more sankhara every instant(depending on how we deal with the current one/s).
We can train our mind as to how we interact with these sankhara so as to not generate more sankhara. If we blindly react to any bodily or mental sensations (these are sankhara or caused by sankhara) without being aware and equanimous, we generate more sankhara as a result of the reaction we give to the stimulus. But if we develop awareness and equanimity and merely observe these sensations without developing craving or aversion toward them, we dont create more sankharas.

Doing this over a course of several human births would eventually cause us to be able to fulfill all our paramis and attain the deathless in what would be our last human birth (If, luckily, you have all the parami jars filled, one is sufficient :smile: ). Our mind would spend one final birth consuming the leftover sankharas which were generated out of ignorance during that life. Now our mind interacts with sankhara until our very last breath. So the moment the last of the sankhara , our human body breathes its last in this final birth. Since there are no more sankhara to interact with, there is no rebirth. Thus the cycle is broken. The complete cessation of sufffering has been achieved.

Thus, though the physical material phenomena of entropy and heat transfer, etc. may not be under our control, The mental phenomena of ‘cessation of all suffering’ is within our reach.

P.S. Understanding of the ‘Deathless’ can only be done by striving to experience the ‘Deathless’. There is no other way.

P.P.S. Thanks to @stu for an important correction :blush:

Our body is our vehicle to attain nibbana, treat it with care.
-The Buddha


Look up Maxwell’s demon and you’ll see further connections. Maxwell’s demon is volitional. :japanese_ogre:


This is not the Theravada teaching.


@SarathW1 Oh. Thank you for your clarification friend :slight_smile:
I’m curious… So does the mind die without sankharas? I wish to understand the theravadin concept. Please do reply.

With metta.


There is no short answer. Even if I give you the long answer you will still left with more questions. Once you attain Nibbana you do not ask questions.
Having said that:
The way I understand Five clinging-aggregate including consciousness are not the Nibbana. There are two types of Nibbana. Nibbana experienced by living Arahant and the Nibbana after Parinibbana of an Arahant.
The closest experience you may have for Nibbana after death could be the cessation of perception and feeling. To be honest with you I can tell you what is not Nibbana but not what Nibbana is because it is not a fabricated thing. Seeking is craving and not seeking is Nibbana. If you are seeking Nibbana it is craving.
However, there are 33 ways Nibbana explained in Sutta.


Thank you for your reply. The dhammawiki link was very helpful :slight_smile:

From what I can find in the Early Buddhists Texts (EBTs) there are 4 nutrients that:

maintain sentient beings that have been born and help those that are about to be born

These are:

Solid food, whether coarse or fine; contact is the second, mental intention the third, and consciousness the fourth

So that’s kabaḷīkāro, phasso, manosañcetanā and viññāṇaṃ

From SN12.63

So no sankara in that list. Am I missing something? Do you have a reference from the EBTs for your understanding regarding sankharas and the deathless?


No, in fact, you corrected me :slight_smile: Mind interacts with sankharas. it does not literally consume sankharas (From what i have heard in Vipassana sessions, pls feel free to correct me if I am wrong)

I guess i should correct my original post…


I always had understanding this concept.
Why can’t I say each link in Dependent Origination is nutriment for the other?

1 Like

I guess causality/conditionality is a different proposition to consumption?

1 Like

I can understand food as a nutriment.
How about the other three.
Why does Sutta say them as nutriments?


With manosañcetanā translated as ‘mental intention’ in SN12.11 and saṅkhāra often rendered as ‘mental formation’, it is tempting to assume that an intention is a type of formation. But reading this

PTS Pali English Dictionary
one of the most difficult terms in Buddhist metaphysics, in which the blending of the subjective-objective view of the world and of happening peculiar to the East, is so complete, that it is almost impossible for Occidental terminology to get at the root of its meaning in a translation. We can only convey an idea of its import by representing several sides of its application, without attempting to give a “word” as a def. translation
■ An exhaustive discussion of the term is given by Franke in his Dīgha translation (pp. 307 sq. esp. 311 sq.); see also the analysis in Cpd. 273–⁠276
■ Lit “preparation, get up”; applied: coefficient (of consciousness as well as of physical life, cp. viññāṇa), constituent constituent potentiality; (pl.) synergies, cause-combination, as in SN.iii.87; discussed, B. Psy., p. 50 sq. (cp.

puts me in total despair of ever mastering anything other than the most basic Pali.


With physical food the body grasps some parts and assimilates those into the body, this transforms the body. Other parts are rejected by the body and eliminated. There is a constant ‘choosing’ by the body that leads to transformation of the body in a particular direction. This starts at the gross level of seeing a tasty snack and putting it in your mouth over one that looks less tasty to you. But it continues down into the microscopic level of bodily function.

Maybe an understanding of this sort of process (pulling towards, pushing away, choosing, rejecting, assimilation, transformation) with regard to the other three may bear some fruit after contemplation?


I agree. Once i asked a Theravadain bhikkhu about the choices we make regarding food resulting in craving for some and aversion towards other.
He said “When us monks are offered food, we place our bowl forward with both hands to accept it and after blessing the ones offering the food, we remind ourselves the purpose of the food thats infront of us. And what purpose does the food serve? The sole purpose being the provision of energy, we think thus ‘This, in front of me, is a form of energy necessary for the body.’ Thus we do not classify the food by its taste, form, or any other characteristic.”

Ever since, i have started to follow those teaching in my daily life. It has indeed helped me down the choice…and it is helping me develop equanimity towards the sensations of cravings and aversions towards foodstuff while meditating.


Andy Wachowski, the producer and director of The Matrix series…


Since this post is about physics and past present and future is mentioned. I would like to say something about the experience of time,

In time, the present can only be thought of as the line that separates the past and the future. Even though it is an information/ description(paññatti) the ordinary mind does not have much ability to experience it. The assumption that the present exists is not a self-evident to a normal person.

The past is already gone. It has been experienced as a paññatti. The future is yet to come. We can also experience it as a paññatti. In our ordinary life, the present is not evidant experience because of five hindrances. Only a person who has developed his mindfulness up to its bojjhaṅga level can experience the present (moment): the limb of wisdom that is mindfulness.

1 Like

Without going into the (possible) connections between physics and Dhamma, I’ll just note that an appreciation of either does not preclude valuing the other. Rachel Lewis, who is an IMS (Insight Meditation Society) teacher, completed a PhD in physics at Yale University.

1 Like