First, let me frame my question by establishing a shared understanding of what I mean by "view." Throughout all forms of Buddhism as far as I know, the Four Noble Truths are considered essential Buddhadharma. Included in the 4th Truth is the Eightfold Path, which Bhikkhu Bodhi (in Noble Eightfold Path) describes as follows:

The eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path are not steps to be followed in sequence, one after another. They can be more aptly described as components rather than as steps.... With a certain degree of progress all eight factors can be present simultaneously, each supporting the others. However, until that point is reached, some sequence in the unfolding of the path is inevitable.

Right view has a very important role in that unfolding. One's very definition of "Noble" or "wisdom" reflects one's view, and in fact it seems that inquiry into and transformation of view is integral to how and where one travels as a sentient being. As Bhikkhu Bodhi writes in the same book:

Right view is the forerunner of the entire path, the guide for all the other factors. It enables us to understand our starting point, our destination, and the successive landmarks to pass as practice advances. To attempt to engage in the practice without a foundation of right view is to risk getting lost in the futility of undirected movement. Doing so might be compared to wanting to drive someplace without consulting a roadmap or listening to the suggestions of an experienced driver. One might get into the car and start to drive, but rather than approaching closer to one’s destination, one is more likely to move farther away from it. To arrive at the desired place one has to have some idea of its general direction and of the roads leading to it. Analogous considerations apply to the practice of the path, which takes place in a framework of understanding established by right view.

Back in the full context of the Eightfold Path: among the three trainings, Right View and Right Intention make up the "training in the higher wisdom." This goes along with training in two other sets of Path elements. Bhikkhu Bodhi:

the moral discipline group [is] made up of right speech, right action, and right livelihood; [and] the concentration group [is] made up of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration

To give an example of the role of View from an Indo-Tibetan tradition, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo had a vision in which Manjushri taught: "If there is grasping, you do not have the View.” This same teaching includes 3 specific attachments to relinquish leading up to this:

  • If you are attached to this life, you are not a true spiritual practitioner.
  • If you are attached to samsara, you do not have renunciation.
  • If you are attached to your own self-interest, you have no bodhichitta.

Therefore, as is true throughout the Indo-Tibetan traditions I've encountered, the Right View must include a perspective that looks across countless lifetimes as well as beyond samsara; and that takes consciousness as somehow more primary than the physical. The ontological assumptions behind both "matter" and "mind" can certainly be tested, but by framing this in terms of View I want to focus on how one's convictions about the relationship between the physical world and consciousness (whatever one's ontological stance about them) shapes the way one interprets and practices Dharma.

Second, let me try to explicitly name my motivations in asking this question:

I ask partly as someone born into an environment of unexamined scientific materialsm, who has found greater sanity and happiness extending beyond its bounds as I've inquired into my assumptions. I hope to uncover and test more such assumptions within myself by asking others about their views, and thereby to keep getting more sane and happy for the sake of my own good and that of all sentient beings.

I also ask hoping to become more skillful when I encounter people who are both materialists and Buddhists. I've definitely gotten perturbed before (and probably will again) in reacting to materialist views that I consider unhelpful or already refuted. Beyond the afflictive emotion involved, it seems like such a critique on my part is "wrong speech" if it drives someone away from wanting to study and practice Buddhadharma. Given the interdependent and holistic nature of the Eightfold Path, how could wrong speech possibly help to advance right view or anything else? Further, given the immense range of skillful means employed by Buddhas in training beings, why should I assume that a materialist stance (especially given the dominant cultural assumptions of modern civilization) might not fall within one or more of these skillful means, at least as a provisional adaptation to social mores? With a more complete understanding, I can still speak my own truth but do so in more compassionate and constructive ways.


Hoping I've now given enough context to avoid coming across as rude or provocative, I'll present my question: if as part of your view you find that what you call physical reality (e.g., "matter & energy") encompasses and underpins what you call mind (e.g., "the space of mental events that includes qualia, thoughts, images and feelings"), how do you:

  1. Express this view in your own words; and
  2. Carry this view (or not) into how you travel the Eightfold Path? In particular, what are its implications for how you train in ethical discipline and/or concentration?
  • Great job framing this question. As someone who used to be a physics student with strong materialist views who then abandoned this view after realizing how limited our current physical theories are, I'm interested in hearing what people have to say about this.
    – user5770
    Aug 29, 2015 at 17:51
  • Thank you, Samurdha! Although a layperson, I did benefit from reading about the 'known unknowns' of physics. It also helped me to learn that most of what I'd thought about physical reality based on grade school had already been refuted by current physics in ways that opened up a much more robust role for consciousness in our experience. Yet I understand that many people do not find such lines of inquiry convincing (or maybe even worthwhile); and would reject this hierarchy of views while still sincerely studying and practicing Buddhadharma.
    – Alan W
    Aug 29, 2015 at 19:12
  • 1
    I think that in order to truly appreciate such lines of reasoning people need to first be familiar with modern physical theories themselves. In addition to having at least a passing familiarity of at least special relativity and quantum mechanics, they must be willing to consider the philosophical implications of these theories. Even many professional physicists are reluctant to consider certain philosophical implications because the scientific orthodoxy is strongly biased a certain way and has a tendency to automatically label anyone who challenges certain fundamental assumptions as crazy.
    – user5770
    Aug 29, 2015 at 21:00
  • I studied at least the mathematics of relativity and quantum mechanics at school, but I can't really guess what you mean by "materialism" (I studied maths not philosophy). I also can't guess why you're calling the "people you encounter" materialists, whether they call themselves materialists, and what they mean when or if they say "materialist". And so I for example can't easily answer this question. I suggest you talk about this with the next "materialists" you encounter: try to ask them these questions.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 30, 2015 at 10:09
  • 1
    If you get the opportunity again in person, maybe listen more than you talk, concentrate on understanding what they say (if possible and if you even want to) instead of "speaking your own truth but in more compassionate and constructive ways" ... because two thirds of this question is explaining your view (which isn't meant to be the subject of the question) not theirs (which is), and apparently accuses them of "wrong speech" (when you wrote, "how could wrong speech possibly help to advance right view or anything else?") i.e. this might be a preconceived argument, not a sincere question.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 30, 2015 at 10:16

7 Answers 7


According to Theravada Buddhism, Right view (Samma Ditti) should eliminate both extreme ideologies( materialistic -"Everything exists" view and "Everything doesn't exist"). This is very clear per most of the suttas. For example. pls refer to Kaccayanagotta Sutta. Also if you could read Bhikku K Nanananda's Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist Thought that'd be helpful to clear your right view.

  • Hi Sajeewa and welcome to Buddhism SE. We have put together a Guide and a Resource section for new users that you might find useful.
    – user2424
    Aug 31, 2015 at 21:22

"A Buddhist whose view is materialist" can only mean someone who has just taken refuge in the triple gem, but has no idea what the Buddha taught on the subject matter. If he repudiates the teachings of the Buddha knowingly, the refuge is broken and he is no longer a Buddhist.

Ajita Kesakambali was a well known materialist during the time of the Buddha. He argued that there is no such thing as alms or sacrifice or offering. There is neither fruit nor result of good or evil deeds...A human being is built up of four elements. When he dies the earthly in him returns and relapses to the earth, the fluid to the water, the heat to the fire, the wind to the air, and his faculties pass into space.

Materialism falls under ucchedavada. It is one of the 2 misbeliefs that blocks the noble eightfold path. The other one being the belief of an eternal soul. Those who believe in an eternal soul can still get into heavenly realms. But those who are with materialistic views are said to be destined for hells.

  • Thank you for these points. Indo-Tibetan Buddhism teaches very similarly and I find this approach to right view is compelling and helpful. But even so, maybe someone's view (especially if held in a good-hearted spirit of inquiry) can be materialist [as was mine when I was younger, and probably still is at some levels given lifelong influences]; while their practice advances based on skillful training in ethics and concentration? That's what I'm trying to understand, anyway - the perspective of practitioners who don't share my view, or even my view about view : ) . Thanks again.
    – Alan W
    Aug 29, 2015 at 19:42
  • I posted on meta to ask about answers like this one: Moderating answers which don't answer the question?
    – ChrisW
    Aug 29, 2015 at 20:17
  • @ChrisW first 2 paragraphs answer the 1st question and the third answers the 2nd :) Aug 30, 2015 at 0:33
  • I think the question is looking for answers (i.e. an explanation of their own view in their own words) from people who identify themselves as materialists.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 30, 2015 at 0:40
  • Answered under the question you posted in meta Aug 30, 2015 at 2:51

If i can be permitted to answer this from my own personal experience and feelings about this - I think for a practitioner in the west materialism is a difficult view to work with. For many of us a materialist view is what we have been brought up with and it is a very dominant (the dominant?) paradigm in the west. We are fishes swimming in the waters of materialism and fishes don't see the water and many of us don't question our materialist assumptions.

I've had a few conversations with order members in my sangha about materialism. While no-one in my sangha will stop you practicing if you are an unreconstructed materialist it is ultimately a view like all the other views and like all views it needs to be ultimately transcended. For many of us (for me anyway) we can see materialism as the unquestioned truth but then other times the dominant world view (christianity, paganism etc...) would also have been the unquestioned truth and in 500 years time there will be another unquestioned truth. We are not living at the end of history where the answer is a materialist western liberal democracy - but at times it feels like that how things are presented in our culture.

As I'm sure you can tell it's a struggle for me but your materialist views are something to work with. Right now I feel things are just a lot more unknowable than I appreciated for most of my life. But then the unknowable nature of reality is surely just a view of itself. The work continues!!


I came from a background in Stoicism. While there are many differences, I have found it very similar to what might be considered a materialist view of Buddhism. Attachment is referred to as passion, and happiness is said to come from being virtuous. The Four Noble Truths become (paraphrasing Epictetus):

  1. Somethings things are in our control, others not. Things we control: our actions, thoughts, words, intentions. Things we don't control: everything else.
  2. Focusing our efforts on things we don't control is unproductive and leads to suffering.
  3. Only minding what is in our control ends suffering (leading to nirvana).
  4. Minding what is in our control is the domain of ethics and virtue.

Aristotle discuses virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics. He defines ethics as doing what a human does well. The same way a calculator that evaluates 2+2 as 4 is a good computer, a human that acts right is a good human. He defines a virtue as the middle path between two vices. Leading to the stoic version of the Noble Eightfold Path, the cardinal virtues:

  1. Prudence: Right view, Right intention are the natural extension of a sound mind.
  2. Justice: Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood.
  3. Temperance: Right mindfulness, Right concentration.
  4. Courage: Right effort.

Roughly, prudence is the "higher wisdom", justice is the "moral discipline group", courage and temperance are the "concentration group".

So taking the assumption that ethics and logic are the same thing, we can look at the relationship of physicality and the consciousness underpinning our path. Personally, as a materialist, I look at this as the relationship between causality and matter - or math and physics. Some things are evidently true, others are necessarily true. The latter is Formal Ethics. Harry Gensler has book on it where he shows that the golden rule is formally true in all cases. A materialist avoids stealing because it is nonsensical to do this. "Bad" actions rightly lead to their consequences. This is true regardless of what the physical specifics are: what life you live, how you live it (samsara), what you hope to gain... Personally, I see consciousness as the causal relation of matter, like calculation (the Curry-Howard Isomorphism). By this I don't mean that consciousness is a property of matter per se, but that it is inextricably linked and emerges with it, like the internal language in a cartesian closed category.

But whatever your view of consciousness is, you can see how the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path could be seen as a necessary truth without mentioning consciousness at all.

As for #2, Harry Gensler's Formal Ethics is good reading. Practical training in ethics comes down to the Law of Universality (fair should be consistently fair in all cases, not just when it's convenient). Practical training in concentration is aided by continence (Smoking kills; I don't care for dying; Therefore I won't smoke) and ends-means (If I want to stop smoking I should actually do the work of quitting).

Honestly though, I don't think most scientists are strictly atheists or materialists. The nice thing about framing the issue this way is that it works with or without a duality of consciousness or a god. So you can be Buddhist, Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Nihilist, etc. and these principles still apply just as well.

I realize this answer strays a bit from Buddhism proper. I mean only to shed a different light on the subject.

  • If you "don't mean that consciousness is a property of matter per se", do you consider this a "materialist" view?
    – ChrisW
    Aug 31, 2015 at 7:01
  • Can you clarify why "a materialist avoids stealing because it is nonsensical to do this"? What's nonsensical about it, why do you call it nonsensical?
    – ChrisW
    Aug 31, 2015 at 7:02
  • 1
    How can the Four Noble Truths "be seen as a necessary truth without mentioning consciousness at all": does the first noble truth for example imply sentience, some consciousness of suffering?
    – ChrisW
    Aug 31, 2015 at 7:06
  • I'm with Chris on this. Stoics seem to believe what they like, but a materialist Buddhist is like a married bachelor.
    – user14119
    Jul 1, 2019 at 11:07

Wrong view is words. What is in your experience, what you are focusing on within your experience moment by moment is right view. Really no opinion or laws are right view. They are agreements, assumptions and premade arguments. They can point to what is right view but they aren't right view.


Well,you have missed a valuable teaching so let me provide it to you briefly..

  • What makes someone a "Buddhist" ?

A Buddhist is a one who had accepted Triple gems as his only path and refuge. He has absolute confidence in Lord Buddha's words.But this confidence is not a blind one,He has learnt and applied the teachings to his personal life and understood the truthfulness of them by himself.He follows every word of Lord Buddha because he has seen it by himself that thee is no other path.He understand that his ability to fathom something is far less from a lord Buddha so when he find some things that he has never even dreamed of in "Dhamma" he believes it because of the proofs he had previously about the practicality of Lord Buddha's teachings.He is sure of those things because even if he did not see those amazing things by himself he has his trust in Lord Buddha.

So what makes a real Buddhist?

Lord Buddha said this about it.....

  • He should believe in lower and higher realms and about the birth without parents (Basicly the equalants of Hell and Heaven)

    But please understand this is not a foolish eternal heaven or hell like ones in other religions.These words are mostly lost in translation to English so checkout these links to learn about lower and higher realms.

Higher Realms

Lower Realms

  • He should believe In Karma

  • He should believe that some people are Special,that there are people who deserve respect and care from others (Parents,Elderly,monks)

  • He should have Shraddha (Unshakable trust in lord Triple gems) But a trust built upon realization,not a one built on faith )

  • He should Take the "Triple Gems" as his only refuge

This would look a bit rude what i am about to say,but as we are advised in Buddhism a good friend is a one who correct another for his own good.

Here is the thing my friend,Lord Buddha used to slam some beliefs that existed in his own age,One of which is materialism.So please try to understand if you believe in materialism you are not a part of any form of Buddhism

Because materialism is against everything Buddhism stands for.Before being a materialist please understand that to explain everything in science is still extremely impossible so how can you believe in a half-made belief? I'm afraid you are going to have to choose between Buddhism and materialism,it is that simple.

If you have any question we all are happy to help because as to Buddhism materialists are not bound to a good place in the lives to come.Because they generate an unusual karma (Lord Buddha said that universe expands and shrinks ,so when the time is right the universe as we know it meets it's end but people with views like materialism will have births in planets with such harsh conditions even in this chaos those planets will not be destroyed and without any hope of a comfort they will have to suffer for eons until the new universe is born.).If you have any question regarding this question please ask.


The term "materialist" appears to not exist in the Pali suttas. Therefore, this question appears to be more non-sense.

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