Was science invented in India 2500 years ago? Is Buddhism a science?

According to Wikipedia, “Science (from the Latin word scientia , meaning “knowledge”)[1] is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”

Typically, we also want causal theories out of science. That is, science isn’t merely describing what we see, but we want to understand why and how things happen. Science is also about controlling the universe, for example, scientific knowledge about viruses allows us to create vaccines, which allows us to avoid getting sick.

There’s a bit of a ‘causal revolution’ ongoing in the sciences right now. Here’s an excerpt from The Book of Why by Judea Pearl (page 155), describing a huge innovation in the scientific analysis of causality which came in the late twentieth century.

Robins and Greenland set out to express their conception of confounding in terms of potential outcomes. They partitioned the population into four types of individuals: doomed, causative, preventive, and immune. The language is suggestive, so let’s think of the treatment X as a flu vaccination and the outcome Y as coming down with flu. The doomed people are those for whom the vaccine doesn’t work; they will get flu whether they get the vaccine or not. The causative group (which may be nonexistent) includes those for whom the vaccine actually causes the disease. The preventive group consists of people for whom the vaccine prevents the disease: they will get flu if they are not vaccinated, and they will not get flu if they are vaccinated. Finally, the immune group consists of people who will not get flu in either case.

However, this idea seemed to have been known in India 2500 years ago, AN 3.22:

In some cases a patient won’t recover from an illness, regardless of whether or not they get suitable food and medicines, and a capable carer.

In some cases a patient will recover from an illness, regardless of whether or not they get suitable food and medicines, and a capable carer.

In some cases a patient can recover from an illness, but only if they get suitable food and medicines, and a capable carer, and not if they don’t get these things.

Now, it’s for the sake of the last patient—who will recover only if they get suitable food and medicines, and a capable carer—that food, medicines, and a carer are prescribed. But also, for the sake of this patient, the other patients should be looked after.

It’s amazing to me to find one of the most advanced modern scientific ideas, expressed more clearly by the Buddha ~2500 years ago.

If we look further in AN 3.22:

In the same way, these three people similar to patients are found in the world. What three? Some people don’t enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities, regardless of whether or not they get to see a Realized One, and to hear the teaching and training that he proclaims.

Some people do enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities, regardless of whether or not they get to see a Realized One, and to hear the teaching and training that he proclaims.

Some people can enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities, but only if they get to see a Realized One, and to hear the teaching and training that he proclaims, and not when they don’t get those things.

Now, it’s for the sake of this last person that teaching the Dhamma is prescribed, that is, the one who can enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities, but only if they get to see a Realized One, and to hear the teaching and training that he proclaims. But also, for the sake of this person, the other people should be taught Dhamma.

So here we have the Buddha framing Dhamma-teaching as an intervention, using causal logic that is supposedly a ‘revolutionary’ late 20th century scientific innovation :slight_smile:

Therefore, I propose that Buddhism is actually a science and not a religion. But we’re unable to recognize this because our modern notions of science are underdeveloped, particularly when it comes to causation. In other words, since most of our science is limited to studying correlations, not causation, we’re not able to recognize the scientific nature of the Buddha’s dhamma, since it is so thoroughly grounded in causality.

What do you think?


Buddhism still contain concept of rebirth and karma that still have no proof

But it’s the closer to science

If you google “most science friendly faith” you will see buddhism on the top

Update 1
The concept of rebirth have many proofs thanks to researchs by Dr Jim tucker but the concept of karma still has no proof


This is highly unscientific :rofl:


What do you mean by proof? Do you think all scientific concepts are backed by proof? :slight_smile:


I have updated my op

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What do you think proof of karma (or the absence of karma) would look like? By what method might we confirm or disconfirm the concept of karma?


Funny you should mention this. Ive just been reading the On the meaning of yoniso thread and while I was reading it, I thought yoniso sounds a lot like it should be translated as ‘science’ or ‘scientific’ or some such. As an actual translation it probably wouldn’t really work.

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For example we can do past life regression for 2 past lifes at once and find how he died and if he died by being murdered we can trace whether in his previous life he had murdered his killer or not and try to match it with hospital records


Scholastic semantic aside -
Buddhism is a private point of view, it is most biased. Thus enlightenment is always individual.
Science is striving to rid of view ports. Its stand is to exclude subjectivity’s influence as much as possible.
A scientist could see the whole objective field and its each component as impermanent, but fail to see his subjectivity being the same. For him to see himself being impermanent, he still needs Buddha.


I think of it as an ancient parallel to the Western discipline of psychology, which is not quite science, not quite philosophy, and not quite medicine, but a hybrid of the three. I’m particular struck by the Buddhist description of what we would today call mental illness. I’ve read classical Mahayana texts essentially argue that a bodhisattva should regard people who behave badly as ill in order to stay detached from it and regard himself as a doctor. The medical metaphor goes back to the Buddha.


We’d probably want to do thousands of life regressions and see if there are patterns, e.g. those who remember killing beings in their past life having shorter lifespans, etc.

Does it though? I’m not sure this is a mainstream account of science; many scientists recognize that their own subjectivity is part of their scientific work.

If Western psychology had the same level of causal sophistication as they did in the Buddha’s time, perhaps it would have come further in developing effective treatments for mental illness?

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You might want to look at two other wiki articles regarding this issue.

The first one is about the demarcation problem. Basically, it “is the question of how to distinguish between science and non-science.” TL;DR: There’s no agreement on this in philosophy of science or among scientists regarding what actually constitutes “science”. It gets ever weirder when you start to discuss terms in other languages, like Wissenschaft.

There’s an an entire article devoted to the issue on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Regarding how the word is used in everyday English, I would say no, Buddhism is not a science, at least it is not what the everyday word “science” means for most people (widely accepted academic or engineering endeavors which use experiments and peer review).

Regarding the relationship between Buddhism and science, this is a huge topic, gigantic even. I recently finished basically re-writing the wikipedia article on this issue, and it was a massive endeavor. There are many opinions and ideas out there about this, and the discourse goes back hundreds of years.

Buddhism and science - Wikipedia

Happy reading, its fun a rabbit hole.


as in quantum physics, i assume? I know very little about it so i could not comment on methodology they conduct their experiments.
But i am speculating that whatever subjectivity is literated here, it is not his own subjectivity. It is merely a subject outside his own, and remains an object with characteristics of a subject.
Further more, if a scientist is about to conduct an experiment on his own private subject, they most likely will not be able to get a clearing to start the exploration. When they do get a clearing field, he wont be able to tell the characteristic of anicca; when some can tell, they either miss its significance in its liability to dukkha; or they see dukkha, they don’t see a way out; or they a private buddha.

Well, I think psychology runs into the same wall that Buddhism does, which is that it’s difficult to maneuver people into the right mental conditions to make progress. They also suffer from the relativism of modern Western society and try to avoid moralism. But the basic problem is that the typical person isn’t very interested in “improving” themselves to that extent. And people who are really ill are hostile the whole idea that have something “wrong” with them in the first place. So, it’s a two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, two steps back type of situation in the long run.

Yes. There are other ancient traditions that came to the basic conclusions that underpin science besides Buddhism. Confucius established the ethic of investigating things in the context of government policy. The idea was that good governance wasn’t possible if the ruler and his ministers didn’t perform the due diligence of discovering root causes rather than follow their prejudices. Basically, he was saying that a policy would be delusional if the policy makers didn’t understand what was actually happening and what their actual capabilities were.

This ethic of investigating things led to the first pre-modern renaissance in China during the 11-13th centuries, after they emerged from the civil war that ended the Tang dynasty. They advanced very quickly when they returned to Confucianism during the Sung. It was very similar to the Italian renaissance, but it was tragically interrupted by the Mongol hordes, and they didn’t recover afterwards. But during that three centuries of the Sung, they advanced in terms of developing civil government, academic disciplines, movable type printing techniques (imagine that with Chinese!), complex financial instruments, engineering inventions, and the like. They just had the problem of having very dangerous neighbors who eventually conquered them.


Buddhism is inherently empirical because it is meant to be practiced, and its results are meant to be observed. That in itself is remarkable. And in that sense, it does seem more scientific than some other religions that simply tell followers to have faith.

However, Buddhism does not follow the modern scientific method. The way it presents claims and tests them generally does not match the type of strict standards used in modern sciences.


Why do you say Buddhism doesn’t use experiments or peer review?

How does psychology run into this problem? Does psychology even have any coherent theories of what the right mental conditions are?

In what way does Buddhism not follow the modern scientific method? What are the strict standards used in modern sciences, and how does Buddhism not follow these?

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Well, I’m not a therapist, though my personal experience was that it’s one thing to go to therapist because something was wrong, but an entirely different thing to recognize bad mental habits. Or even once they are recognized to actually change them. A therapist spends 90% of their time trying to find a way around a person’s self-defense mechanisms, the most difficult of which is denial. If a person isn’t capable of introspection, the therapy doesn’t go very far.

Yeah, I think they do. It’s a bit different than Buddhism, as they use a interview method that involves people interacting, and they think of the human mind as being a similar situation. Parts of it aren’t fully cognizant of what other parts are doing because of self-defense mechanisms, etc. Socially, people are often unaware of aspects of their personality that are obvious to other people; this is the blind spot therapists try to defeat to give the patient a fuller understanding of themselves.

So, psychologists think of the process as one of gaining greater self-awareness and then self-control. Their basic orientation is the same as Buddhism: People are unhappy because of they sabotage themselves with bad cognitive and emotional habits. But it is much more secular and concerned more with the ordinary person’s mental problems than those of a spiritual seeker.


I don’t see how"science" was ever “invented” in the first place. One might argue that early man mastered fire by what could be called a scientific process.

Buddhism is The Middle Way in a variety of contexts. Buddhism is and isn’t religion, psychology, philosophy, science. Religion, psychology, philosophy or science doesn’t break the fetters that need to be broken.


Your whole comment was very well said @cdpatton. Reminded me of an interview I read with Thanissaro Bhikkhu :

The purpose of therapy, Freud said, was to take neurotic individuals and return them to an ordinary level of unhappiness. The purpose of meditation is to take you from that ordinary level of unhappiness to a place where there is no unhappiness and no suffering.


This was a bit of a trick question on my part, sorry. A recurring critique of psychology is precisely the lack of any unifying theory of the mind or mental health. Rather, it’s a hodgepodge of pet theories, old ones fading from memory and new ones being invented.

But this is most likely Buddhism influencing psychology. Therapy would be different depending on whether someone sees a Jungian psychotherapist, a cognitive behavior therapist or a mindfulness based therapist, etc.

I phrased it like that on purpose to stoke the fire of debate :smiling_imp: muaha! :slight_smile: