I am still confused about the meaning of Dhammas. Here I take the example of science. Science has many truths. Science explains the reality in its own ways.

My question is: Can we consider Science a Dhamma? If yes, then why is it a Dhamma? If not, then is science a Sankhara? Is yes, then is it Anicca? Or Is Science both a Sankhara and Dhamma?

4 Answers 4


The words "dhamma" and "sankhara" both have several meanings:

Some of the meanings of dhamma are "practice", "doctrine", and interpretation:

3- the behavior, conduct, practice required to realize and understand the way the world of experience works
5- the substance of the teaching
9- an interpretation of reality

I think that science is certainly a dhamma in these ways: it's practiced by scientists as a way to understand what they experience and study; and it's taught (e.g. as a way of thinking) in schools.

Note that a dhamma may or may not be correct or the best interpretation, e.g. MN 26 mentions that,

In the past
there appeared among the Magadhans
an impure Dhamma
devised by the stained.

When the doctrine (of science) is combined with or applied by a student (of science) then I think that fits several meanings of the word "sankhara" -- it's an experience (by the student scientist), an aggregate (of the doctrine with the person), a conditioning (of behaviour by the doctrine).

By the way I think there's no contradiction in something being a dhamma and a sankhara. Could it be that all sankharas are dhammas, although not all dhammas are sankharas? Wikipedia's translation of the three characteristics:

  • sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā – all saṅkhāras (conditioned things) are impermanent
  • sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā – all saṅkhāras are unsatisfactory, imperfect, unstable
  • sabbe dhammā anattā – all dharmas (conditioned or unconditioned things) have no unchanging self or soul

... says that the three characterisics apply to all sankharas (all conditioned things) and that anatta applies even to dhammas which are not sankharas (i.e. nibbana). I've understood/assumed that to mean that sankharas are a "proper subset" of dhammas -- though a better way to look at it might be to say that sankharas are some aggregated combination of constituent dhammas.


From my very old blog:

The word ‘sankhara’ in context

The word ‘dhamma’ in context

In AN 3.136 & SN 12.20, the word 'dhamma' is used in relation to the Law of Nature (Dhamma Niyama).

The Buddhist Commentaries refer to five laws of nature, as follows:

Buddhism teaches that all things, both material and immaterial, are entirely subject to the direction of causes and are interdependent. This natural course of things is called in common terms “the law of nature,” and in the Pali language niyama, literally meaning “certainty” or “fixed way,” referring to the fact that specific determinants inevitably lead to corresponding results.

The laws of nature, although uniformly based on the principle of causal dependence, can nevertheless be sorted into different modes of relationship. The Buddhist commentaries describe five categories of natural law, or niyama. They are:

  1. Utuniyama: the natural law pertaining to physical objects and changes in the natural environment, such as the weather; the way flowers bloom in the day and fold up at night; the way soil, water and nutrients help a tree to grow; and the way things disintegrate and decompose. This perspective emphasizes the changes brought about by heat or temperature.

  2. Bijaniyama: the natural law pertaining to heredity, which is best described in the adage, “as the seed, so the fruit.”

  3. Cittaniyama: the natural law pertaining to the workings of the mind, the process of cognition of sense objects and the mental reactions to them.

  4. Kammaniyama: the natural law pertaining to human behavior, the process of the generation of action and its results. In essence, this is summarized in the words, “good deeds bring good results, bad deeds bring bad results.”

  5. Dhammaniyama: the natural law governing the relationship and interdependence of all things: the way all things arise, exist and then cease. All conditions are subject to change, are in a state of affliction and are not self: this is the Norm.

The first four niyama are contained within, or based on, the fifth one, Dhammaniyama, the Law of Dhamma, or the Law of Nature. It may be questioned why Dhammaniyama, being as it were the totality, is also included within the subdivisions. This is because this fourfold categorization does not cover the entire extent of Dhammaniyama.

Kamma as a law of nature (Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto)

Science is the study of laws of nature or dhamma niyama.


Science explains the reality in its own ways doesn’t sounds right. The problem is that science explains reality based on its understanding. Its understanding of reality is based on empirical data, experimental results and observations. All of which could change at any one time. As a result of new findings, new understanding emerges and its last explanation of reality may have to be revised. In fact, science’s way of explaining reality is under constant revision and sometimes there is a major makeover (although increasingly rare nowadays). Perhaps, a better way to phrase it would be science is a constant endeavour to understand why and how reality works. Some additional points:

  1. Through understanding why and how reality works, it can then be used to predict phenomena.
  2. Only observable, measurable and testable phenomena are under the purview of science.
  3. All the truths in science are anything but absolute and subjected to revision with new findings.
  4. Discoveries in science have knock-on effects. Breakthroughs in physics could advance engineering fields such electron microscopy which in turn advances fields like chemistry and biology. Both advances in chemistry and biology could further advance the field of medicine and so on.

Can we consider Science a Dhamma (or Sankhara or both)?

Neither or none of the above.

Considering the revolutionary nature of science, if it had existed during the time of the Buddha and his contemporaries, it would be reasonable to believe that they would have created a new word for it or borrowed a word just like what the Europeans did back in the 14th century. Even so, our modern understanding of science would appear strange to someone from the 1400s. This is inevitable as words in a living language tends to evolve with new meanings added to them over time.

Which makes me think that trying to find equivalent semantics in a dead language like Pali for modern concepts and ideas is a futile endeavour. Note: the five niyamas arose from the commentaries from the 5th to 13th centuries; way before the Scientific Renaissance.

  • 1
    I'm not sure about "created a new word" -- your link says they reused an old word (i.e. "science", from old French, Latin, and proto-Indo-European), and from the 14c gave it a specialized meaning to refer exclusively to the modern, important subject.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 24, 2023 at 9:15
  • @ChrisW touché and thanks, I corrected it to "borrowed a word" instead. Although, I think science in the 14c is also unlike our modern usage. A body of knowledge then could be anything. But today’s scientific knowledge must be rigorously tested and validated. So, I think its meaning had kind of changed as a result of the Scientific Revolution and the way science is conducted and practiced subsequently.
    – Desmon
    Oct 24, 2023 at 9:51
  1. Scientist never talk about "arising and vanishing of mind & matter moment more than trillion times per second [SaṅkhataDhamma]". And event they try to prove it, there is no material tools to do because mind is fastest smallest arising and vanishing, faster than the Scientist tools. The only way to prove is attained-awesome-meditation, Jhāna, with real insight meditation, TaraṇaVipassanā.
  2. Scientist never talk about "What is the origin of rebirth".
  3. Even the Scientist try to talk "What is the origin of rebirth", Scientist never see "the right origin of rebirths and the uncountable relativity of them" by "the past lives recollection with the insight meditation", which is so advance and complicate, without the Buddha. Because it is supernatural and the most complicate and advance to insight the entire system of "past & future lives, arising and vanishing of mind & matter moment more than trillion times per second [SaṅkhataDhamma]" systematically. This systematic program must practice the experience collection, Pāramī, more than 4 Asaṅkheyya Kappa, uncountable Big Bangs cycle, to set up the course syllabus, so the Dhamma Course begin by Buddha only.
  4. Without all of those genius knowledge by the wisdom, no one can't finish the entire rebirth. It's impossible to be without the Buddha's teaching.

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