Is it necessary to study quantum field theory to understand the Abhidhamma Pitaka

  • Can you elaborate on why you think the Abhidhamma has any relationship with physics? And why quantum field theory in particular?
    – ruben2020
    Jul 20 '19 at 14:10
  • 1
    I expect one answer is "no" -- do you imagine that everyone who has ever studied the Abhidhamma also studied quantum field theory? QFD was developed in about 1950 and by Physicists, the Abhidhamma is Buddhist and from more than 2000 years ago.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 20 '19 at 14:16
  • 3
    – PL_Pathum
    Jul 20 '19 at 16:15
  • 1
    Buddha's exposition towards laws of nature was totally driven by laws of physics as he envisioned it. Abhidhamma pertains to evolution of consciousness through elaborate hierarchy of elements. These elements are bundles of energies in different manifestations. Buddha anticipated quantum mechanics in his dealings with the microcosm. So the edifice in the ABHIDHAMMA must have parallels with quantum field theory. Jul 20 '19 at 17:56
  • I would say not but, rather, that it would be necessary to study Buddhist philosophy to understand quantum mechanics. Some of the quantum pioneers seemed to have seen this, but then the Behaviourists took over.
    – user14119
    Jul 21 '19 at 11:49

Abhidhamma mainly deals with citta, cetasika, rupa and nibbāna.

Rupa deal with physical properties but concentrates mainly or the making of the physical body.

Citta and cetasika deals with mental and psychological factors.

Nibbana is a state one can experience which is not governed by the laws citta, cetasika, rupa, which results in liberation when one realise it.

The physics in Rupa is different from the current knowledge in physics so this baggage might be an impediment to learn Abhidhamma if you try to draw too much parallel.

Also, Abhidhammarmic studies are generally motivated to realise Nibbana so the teachings are geared toward this goal and a general understanding of how things work for mundane affairs.

  • Abhidhamma's work is not merely qualitative. It's quantitative too. How did the Buddha arrive at the number of the skandas, etc. All researchers in quantum mechanics agree that the Buddha thought at the deepest level about this qualitative and quantitative aspects of energy even at the atomic level. This is at the level of physicists working with the physical constants to study phenomena at the atomic as well as at the subatomic domain. Searching the combination BUDDHA AND QUANTUM THEORY in Google will return thousands of outputs. Jul 21 '19 at 4:13
  • Abhidhamma is the evolution of consciousness. It depends upon intricate hierarchy of various cittas and skandas. Buddha gave quantitative analysis of these consciousness. He was deeply thorough with the workings of the energies at the subatomic as well as at the universal level. The number of cittas is dependent upon careful examination of the physico- chemical interplay of energy which goes into formation of consciousness. If we feed BUDDHA AND QUANTUM THEORY we get thousands of results, which only mean Buddha's Abhidhamma is quantum field theory anticipated. Jul 21 '19 at 4:30
  • Interrelations are coved in the Pattana in the Abhidhamma. There are 24 such relations. Jul 21 '19 at 4:43
  • These 24 relations is the intense study of classification of various forms of energy that go together to give rise to consciousness which is what the Abhidhamma all about. To study it in modern light makes theoretical physics a helpful tool which is what most scholars on the Abhidhamma agree upon. Jul 21 '19 at 6:02

These 24 relations is the intense study of classification of various forms of energy that go together to give rise to consciousness which is what the Abhidhamma all about. To study it in modern light makes theoretical physics a helpful tool which is what most scholars on the Abhidhamma agree upon.

FYI I don't think that physics is a useful tool, nor that "studying the Abhidhamma in a modern light" will "make theoretical physics a helpful tool".

Based on personal experience I think it's easy to think, "I've studied physics, and physics is an accurate description of the world."

You might then think something like, "Therefore every accurate description of the world is related to physics."

I believe that physics is an inadequate description -- it won't tell you about morality for example.

The fact that https://www.google.com/search?q="BUDDHA"+"QUANTUM+THEORY" returns many results isn't evidence, IMO -- there are innumerable misleading or ill-informed things published on the internet (often though not always a result of delusion rather than malice) -- not only about Buddhism and Physics but everything, politics, diet, health, news, too many to mention.

Buddha and the Quantum is one of the results returned on the first page, it's a polite review of a book of the same name -- the book review is by a Buddhist monk who is familiar with translating Buddhist scripture.

This approach is one I have a nostalgic fondness for. In the 80s, I read most of the early generation of works exploring similar themes, most famous of which was Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics. A whole generation of thinkers, it seemed at the time, was forging a deep-level bridge between philosophies east and west, and between religion and science.

That was a famous book ("famous" meaning I heard of it and read because I studied Physics and was open to finding out more about the world, perhaps as it might be described by Buddhism). Another was titled The Dancing Wu Li Masters. Anyway, note what he says: "a whole generation of thinkers".

Anyway the book review stays admirably polite and as "positive" as it can be, and ends with,

If you’re after a book on Buddhism, this is not for you. If you’re after a book on quantum theory, this is not for you. But if you want to explore the ways that the ideas underlying modern science can be applied to bend and twist the mind into new shapes, Buddha and the Quantum offers a challenging set of models and analogies. I really hope that there is a fundamental connection between Buddhism and science, and I hope that a work like this can help bring out this connection a little more. However, until both the science and the Buddhism become a lot more rigorous, such connections remain no more than intriguing possibilities.

If you want to study Buddhism I suggest you do that, without a preconceived idea that it might relate to your study of physics and mathematics -- Buddhist doctrine is using new words (i.e. not necessarily related to the words you use to describe Physics) to talk different phenomena.

I categorise this kind of thinking as Quantum mysticism or Quantum woo.

I think it's confused at best -- I recommend you study what Not even wrong means.

Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig; es ist nicht einmal falsch!

Worse, it might be conceited, even malicious:

  • "I'm cleverer than you because I can argue this way, so I'm right"
  • "Everyone respects Einstein in the modern world, but the Buddha knew all that and more, was ahead of his time (and anyone who doesn't believe what I say about Buddhism is arguing against Einstein etc.)"

Sorry if this sounds hostile. I did study quantum field theory (as a student around 1980), and I didn't find it useful -- good luck to you if you do. If you're going to study Buddhist scripture I think it's better to try to figure out what they were saying and how and perhaps even why they were saying it, and not assume it's the same "view" as, nor the same topic as, physics.

  • Everything that you said is agreeable. But then there is something that haunts me. I'm a student of quantum field theory and relativity. My conviction is: If the Enlightened One was aware of all the workings of the Universe down to the subatomic domain, why would it be out of place to not relate his careful analysis of mind, matter and consciousness to the powerful structure of the QFT philosophy which rules the world as of today with utmost precision? Buddha is venerated as the first physicist and it seems ironic to not view his omniscience with the spectacles of modern physics!! Jul 21 '19 at 17:04
  • I suppose everyone sees through their own spectacles, everyone compares new doctrine with their previous knowledge, is that so? I think the monks who studied it 2000+ years ago probably weren't wearing the spectacles of a modern physicist, can't have studied it, and so it isn't "necessary to study quantum field theory to understand it". I'm also not sure what special about 20th century physics -- is that more likely to be useful than biology or neurology or psychology, or than 15th century engineering, or than 10th-century horse-training? I'm not sure it is.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 23 '19 at 21:17
  • Your comments on the 20th century physics flabbergasted me. 20th century quantum field theory saw the origin of our own existence: the Higgs particle. You body is made up of atoms which gain mass through Higgs boson. Therefore many physicists call it the God particle. Something which gives mass to everything around it. Is it non- special? You take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide in your one breath. This 1 second event triggers hundreds of biochemical reactions which give energy to the brain and body. What rules these reactions? It is quantum physics! Is it non- special ? Jul 25 '19 at 13:16
  • Biology, neurology, psychology are all governed by quantum mechanical rules at the ground level. This is not quantum mysticism or quantum woo. What are sensations? Transmission of nerve impulses through synapses? What are they basically? They are electric impulses. What rules they obey? They obey quantum mechanics rules! Sensations form a great concept in the Abhidhamma through citta. And these seem non-special to you? Scientific enquiry and research stand on the pillars of modern approach and viewpoint. Otherwise there wouldn't have been Einstein or Darwin today. Jul 25 '19 at 13:27
  • Science progressed only when it scrutinized conventional wisdom in modern light ! No one can deny this. Monks who studied 2500 years back already were sophisticated in their analysis. Galileo and Darwin challenged the Bible and viewed its tenets in modern light. Therefore science progressed. That such facts go unnoticed by intellectuals like you is a matter of regret. Jul 25 '19 at 13:57

Abhidhamma pitaka is the third basket, of tripitakas. It contains the philsophical aspects of Buddha's teachings (compiled around 2 millenia ago; 500/600 years after the time of Buddha, kept alive thorugh an oral tradition). QFT is a specialised discipline within Physics that came up around 20th century.
For two millenia there are records of people unedrstanding, in different extents the contents of Buddha's teaching (therefore abhidhamma pitaka) with traditions of vast commenataries that extends to various countries in Asia. It clearly then doesn't seem that one needs to understand QFT in order to understand Abhidhamma pitaka.


It is not necessary but it certainly helps. The main reason is that since quantum physics is an empirical subject, it is possible for non science students to follow the developments in quantum physics through very informative videos/data on the internet. The moment quantum physics descends to the non-empirical level, whatever is produced in the name of quantum physics are postulations sans empirical evidence.
The widely accepted String Theory is perhaps a good example of such a postulation. The Buddha arrived at similar conclusions as the String theory via his Dhamma Theory. Both theories go below the levels of sub atomic energies to the level of Information. Abhidhamma, at its core, tells us that it is the Information embedded in the mental and material phenomena, that finally determine, not only our fate (karma) but that of the universe as well. The basis for the Information stored is primarily morality, which is a not a field of science. Presumably, at this point Quantum Physics ceases to have any bearing on Abhidhamma. The String theory comes alive, with the mastery of the Abhidhamma.

Possibly the best example of a direct link between Quantum Physics and Abhidhamma is the Double Slit Experiment, which demonstrates scientifically that it is consciousness that constructs matter from energy (electrons). The Abhidhamma goes far beyond this experiment to demonstrate that it is consciousness which "constructs" all the mental and material phenomena of the universe.

To quote from page XI of ''The Spontaneous Healing of Belief" by Gregg Braden* "Paradigm shattering experiments published in leading edge, peer reviewed journals, reveal that we are bathed in a field of intelligent energy that fills what used to be thought of as empty space. Additional discoveries show beyond any reasonable doubt, that this field responds to us, it re-arranges itself - in the presence of our heart based feelings and beliefs, and this is the revolution that changes everything".

The field of intelligent energy is I believe the dhammas i.e. the bits of Information embedded in the mental and material phenomena, that, together with Consciousness form the core of the Abhidhamma. The Strings referred to in the theory are, I believe, of a similar nature.
If the Heart based Feelings and Beliefs are of a wholesome nature, Abhidhamma shows the Way to close in on Liberation. Therefore, there is a strong case for Quantum Physics and Abhidhamma to live in symbiosis, as genuine seekers will undoubtedly be the final beneficiaries.

  • it's probably a bit strong to say string theory is widely accepted. there's a lot of faith in it within the physics community, but to be accepted we need to bridge the gap with experimental physics first
    – joel
    Mar 14 '20 at 19:43
  • also quantum physics isn't really an empirical subject (though I'm not really sure what that phrase means). there are huge number of experiments that agree with the theory to an unparalleled degree of accuracy, but it's not purely empirical. there's a lot of very solid theory involved too
    – joel
    Mar 14 '20 at 19:49
  • My understanding stems not from science but from the grey areas of meditative experience. Often these grey areas can be clarified through the doctrinal scriptures but these too remain theoretical. In my experience the closest I could get to a ''practical explanation ' of meditative phenomena was through QFT. The ''Double Slit experiment" demonstrating the relationship between visual consciousness and the conversion of waves of energy into matter (electrons) was to me, a game changer. ''Bridging the Gap'' is achieved through ''experiments'' conducted in the Mind and not in the laboratory. Mar 18 '20 at 14:34

It is not necessary because the matter in Abhidhamma is simple more than in physic.

If the practitioner spends too much time in physics, then they have no time left for the practice.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.