I have heard that Lord Buddha wrote or discussed about the smallest indivisible particle i.e the atom. What exactly did he say. Is it mentioned in some scriptures? If yes, did he give any argument or detail of his observations.

  • The atom is divisible
    – Heisenberg
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 1:51

4 Answers 4


As described in Theravada Buddhist texts of the Abhidhamma Pitaka in the Tipitaka, there is no indivisible part of the atom. Every atom is divisible. If anyone divides it infinitely, the ultimate outcome is energy = there is nothing that exists in reality, it's a mirage that we experience because of the four major qualities. And the atom is made out of four major qualities and due to those 4 major qualities, there are another four qualities are generated. The four major qualities can exist in different or equal proportions within the atom. When the proportions changes, the elements change to another element. The four major qualities are:

  • "patavi" - which gives the quality of roughness to the atom
  • "aapo"- which gives the quality of flowing (fluidity)
  • "thejo" - the quality which gives warmth or heat (and this accounts for the coldness too, when the heat decreases we humans feel coldness, so it is both heat and cold)
  • "waayo" - the quality of expansion.

Then because of those four, another sub qualities being generated:

  • "warna" - the quality which gives colour to atoms
  • "ghanda" - which gives smell
  • "rasa" - which gives the quality of taste
  • "oja" - the energy that keeps those four main qualities intact (it's like food to the atom).

And the proportions of the four major qualities in atoms are constantly changing, the change can take fraction of second in some materials, sometimes it might take uncountable years to change. And according to Buddhist texts the atom itself appears and disappears very fast and we humans can only see its existence if you don't have developed your mind to understand and see those happenings (just like our human eye see the tv screen or a video as a one motion, it actually contains many frames to make a full video, but we only see it as a one frame with people moving inside it), but Buddha have said this is a mirage we see and it is "non-eternal".

Source: I have read Abhidhamma Pitaka. And I'm a Buddhist.

P.S: if you want to know the what's really happening, my advise is, you have to read it by yourself and understand, rather than reading some English translated text.

  • thanks for the explanation! I am a Hindu, have not read this text! Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 8:21
  • @pretty-girl Please provide references.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 15:02
  • Good answer. But I think 2 points need to be corrected- Buddha does not go on to say that "if anyone divides it indefinitely, it boils down to energy". In fact, he says the opposite- that there is nothing that is fundamental substance/energy/god. The "fundamental"- the concept is a mirage. Second point is about reading translated text. I partially agree with you- one should exercise caution. But it does not mean that there are no good english translations available. ANd most definitely, it does not mean one shouldnt read texts in original, if they can. Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 19:14

In Theravada buddhism, atoms are not the same as those found in western physics. Instead, they are

As described in Buddhist texts, it is a ‘non-eternal’ unit of the four elements (water, fire, earth, and air) that are impermanent and constantly changing... Like other seemingly external objects, these atoms are perceived by the senses, but do not truly exist beyond cognitive awareness

There really isn't much similarities between the two atoms because one can be divided and the other cannot. So what are the Buddhist atoms? They are earth, water, fire, air, color, smell, taste and nutritive essence (food).

These eight components of matter, forming an octad (atthaka), are called “indivisible matter” or simply “inseparable”

they make up the four elements, also known as the "Four Greats", spoken from the Surangama Sutra explains how we are able to see the world today. There are also two additional elements (Emptiness and consciousness) which lets the illusory forms take shape.

In the Mahayana Tradition there is a Sutra known as the Lalitavistara Sutra. It's to complicated for me to read, but I guess it does go into depth on buddhas explanation of matter. < http://iteror.org/big/Source/buddhism/Lalitavistara-ch12.html


You might be thinking of Kalapas.

Wikipedia says,

In Theravada Buddhist phenomenology, Kalapas are defined as the smallest units of physical matter.[1] Kalapas are described as tiny units of materiality, “tens of thousands of times smaller than a particle of dust,” coming into existence and disappearing in as little as a billionth of a second or a trillionth of the blink of an eye.[2][3] Kalapas are understood by some Therevada thinkers as actual subatomic particles and the smallest units of materiality.[4][5]

Kalapas are not mentioned in the earliest Buddhists texts, such as the Tripitaka, but only in the Abhidhammattha Saïgaha, an Abhidhamma commentary that was composed between the 5th and 11th centuries.[6] They are not universally accepted in Theravada Buddhism, and the Buddha never directly speaks of kalapas.[7]

See also the answers to this question: Meaning of 'kalapas'

  • Answer seems good but prefer direct sources rather than wikipedia citing sources
    – Adamokkha
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 23:42
  • The answers which I linked to quote some (translated) sources.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 23:48

Search abhidhamma pitaka english translation... There are seven books for the abhidhamma pitaka section... abhidhamma means deep knowledge!

  • Why don't you quote the section of the Abhidhamma that explains this? That would be good answer.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 4:22

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .