Whenever I have read any book or article on Buddhism, one of the biggest takeaways of Buddhism seems to be its indifference to pursuit of 'Metaphysical' questions like origin of the Universe (which in those times belonged to the realm of Philosophy) and the fundamental nature of reality, etc. Buddha was non-theistic, that is, he kept mum on the existence and nature of God. Buddhism seems to teach us not to bother with these questions and focus on ethical living.

But Science and Engineering IS the reason why we have everything we have now. Many of the sufferings like death from polio or tetanus has been eradicated thanks to Science, famine has become a thing of the past due to Science, and so on. And all this has happened because of metaphysical questions which later evolved into the subject of Science (and still guides Scientific progress). For example, NASA's missions like James Webb help us unravel the mysteries of the Universe but at the same time, it also helps us push the boundaries of technology and reduce our sufferings. It seems to me that Buddhism seems to discourage us asking questions like these that has lead to Humanity's progress and sideline Science and Philosophy. Is my thinking correct? Would Buddha, if he would have lived today, discouraged us from pursuing Science and Philosophy and try to make us go to monasteries and live ethical life of meditation? By this rule, does it mean that physicists should abandon Physics and Cosmology?


7 Answers 7


The Right View of the Dhamma is only related to spiritual liberation i.e. the permanent cessation of suffering. Wrong Views are views that contradict Right View e.g. eternalism, annihilationism etc.

Science and mathematics are neither Wrong View nor Right View. They are simply worldly knowledge unrelated to spiritual liberation.

Lay people are taught to practise the Five Precepts and maintain livelihood in accordance with Right Livelihood for lay persons as taught in AN 5.177. In the sutta quote below, we see the Buddha praising the lay characteristic of being consummate in initiative, for mastering and practising worldly crafts. Lay persons need it for their livelihood.

So, science, mathematics and other worldly knowledge are not wrong view. But of course, any kind of exertion in worldly endeavors can lead one to strengthen their sensual cravings and cravings to become something.

[The Blessed One said:] "There are these four qualities, TigerPaw, that lead to a lay person's happiness and well-being in this life. Which four? Being consummate in initiative, being consummate in vigilance, admirable friendship, and maintaining one's livelihood in tune.

"And what does it mean to be consummate in initiative? There is the case where a lay person, by whatever occupation he makes his living — whether by farming or trading or cattle tending or archery or as a king's man or by any other craft — is clever and untiring at it, endowed with discrimination in its techniques, enough to arrange and carry it out. This is called being consummate in initiative.
AN 8.54

Cosmology as a scientific endeavour is perfectly fine, and is acceptable as Right Livelihood for lay persons.

From a religious or philosophical perspective, some other religions or religious thinkers, including during the Buddha's time, are concerned with questions like "did the universe always exist, or was it created?" And "will the universe be destroyed in future?".

This leads to metaphysical and philosophical speculations like "where was I before the universe was created?" and "where will I be when the universe is destroyed?"

It is such speculations that the Buddha considered futile and may lead to vexation.


"It seems to me that Buddhism seems to discourage us asking questions like these that has lead to Humanity's progress and sideline Science and Philosophy. Is my thinking correct?"

Yes. And, no.

You have to distinguish between the ideal that Buddhists like to imagine exists and the things Buddhists actually do and say that more often than not fall far short of that ideal.

And you have to take into account that very few Buddhists are intellectually capable of drawing this distinction, let alone observing it. They constantly conflate idealistic, utopian fantasies with reality and vice versa.

For example, according to ancient scripture the Buddha did indeed recommend that we abandon all interest in the exterior world and in our perceptions of the world (see for example the Sabba Sutta SN 35.23 and 24). But, in practice, almost no Buddhists have ever done this. In practice, for example, Buddhists like to build large, flashy temples and to have large-scale public rituals.

I think for example of the Thai monstrosity built near Shravasti. Millions of dollars spent on a monument for foreigners in one of the poorest parts of India with no conceivable benefit to the locals, since all the materials and labour came from outside India.

Large Monastery in Sravasti

So much for abandoning the world.

Or look at all the tacky statues of the Buddha

large Thai Buddha

In the Buddhist ideal, science is not very interesting since it does not obviously help you to abandon the world. You see this, I think, in some of the answers you've got already. But in practice, here we are discussing Buddhism using the internet: which more than anything represents the triumph of science over superstition.

And yet, if you look at what Buddhists use the internet for, it's largely for spreading superstition and/or a rather perverse worldview in which nothing we can experience is real and that reality means experiencing nothing.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.


Whenever I have read any book or article on Buddhism

I used to do that, then I found it better to read some of the translated "canon" for myself -- instead of reading other people's paraphrase.

he kept mum on the existence and nature of God

Maybe not exactly -- sfaik the canonical "unanswered questions" are these:

When the suttas do have "origin" stories it's not clear whether that's meant to be factual; or instructives fables and parody -- some translators say it's obviously the latter, not meant literally.

indifference to ... the fundamental nature of reality, etc.

That "etc." is "doing a lot of work in that sentence". You're using it to refer to, interchangeably:

  • The conjectures of midieval alchemists
  • The conjectures of modern physicists
  • The results of modern engineering
  • Even any understanding of "cause and effect"

The latter at least is fundamental in Buddhist doctrine, e.g. "what is the cause of suffering?" etc.

Buddhism seems to teach us not to bother with these questions and focus on ethical living.

Even parents may teach ethics -- don't hit people, don't lie, don't steal, be kind, do your chores, etc. -- it's not entirely wrong, IMO, as advice, maybe fundamental.

But Science and Engineering IS the reason why we have everything we have now.

And ethics! Ethics is why we have anything.

And all this has happened because of metaphysical questions which later evolved into the subject of Science

I'm not sure about this logic -- "modern medicine evolved from ancient medicine, therefore ancient medicine is a good"? -- and "metaphysics" isn't precise, sfaik it might mean anything from "morality" to "the search for the Philosopher's Stone".

It seems to me that Buddhism seems to discourage us asking questions like these that has lead to Humanity's progress and sideline Science and Philosophy. Is my thinking correct?

I think you have Buddhist scientists and engineers.

Lay poeple have jobs, make things, buy things, try to improve things, all that.

The Buddha gave a lot of rules for ordained monks and nuns -- a lot fewer rules, guidelines perhaps, for lay people.

Would Buddha, if he would have lived today, discouraged us from pursuing Science

The Buddha did not try to teach modern science (e.g. rocket science).

IMO it's normal that in "higher" education, some questions are off-topic -- e.g. "rocket science" or "cosmology" are off-topic, in modern medical school -- "that is not what I'm trying to teach", or more literally, "that is not connected with the goal".

You could maybe make a more pointed criticism -- that assuming that what he's trying to teach is "dukkha and cessation", perhaps he "should" have said more about lay pursuits as a means -- I think that would be a different question though (which I won't start to answer here).

And in modern times even some ordained monastics use professional skills which they acquired in lay life as a compassionate means e.g. to organize a charitable NGO.


There are a few points that I would like to bring up as follows:

  1. Discouraging the pursuit of the universe’s origins and encouraging the pursuit of science may not be contradictory positions especially if there is a practical and pragmatic reason behind the former. This will be elaborated later.

  2. When the Buddha was alive, science as we understood today, did not exist. And philosophy as it is known then is nothing like the natural philosophy that the Western world understand and engage in discourse. In fact, superstitious beliefs and practices were quite common then.

  3. Buddhism do not believe that an omnipotent or omniscient being exists. It should be stressed that there is no middle ground on this point. Either the Buddha is wrong and the other religions (that believe in such a being) are right or the Buddha is right and the others are wrong. This is an important point and we will come back to it.

The rise of the scientific movement is a confluence of many factors. One is the relative ease of discussion and dissemination of scientific and philosophical ideas with the advent of paper and print. This allowed intellects to critic and examine the works of scholars. The widespread acceptance of science driven values and principles based on keen observations and the study of nature within the scholarly community help support objective and fact-based discourses. The rise of places of learning like schools/universities similarly aided in the dissemination and rigorous evaluation of knowledge. As a result, solid theoretical foundations in reasoning and logic were laid and provided a springboard for further scientific pursuits.

Science as a set of principles is more important than science as a label. Central to all scientific pursuits is a willingness to test, verify and validate everything. I remembered having the privilege of working with researchers in my previous job. I recalled the great pains that these researchers go through to test, validate and replicate their experiments. If the Buddha had lived in this modern time, he would be the epitome of a scientist. Similarly, one should recognise a scientist not by their title but by the scientific principles and practices that they adhere to. I view the Buddha as a man of science because he was careful with his words, do not engage in speculation or talk of things that are not validated and known through verification by himself.

Although the Buddha did not have scientific equipment and tools to work with, he had other tools like the divine eye and the power to recollect past lives to investigate issues like the origins of the universe. However, the use of these supramundane tools comes with costs, in the form of time, efforts and energy of the Buddha. As the Buddha stated to Ananda that it is troublesome for him to answer queries on the rebirth of noble ones who passed away because he needed to spend time and efforts to investigate and get the necessary answer. Such an explanation mirrored the working ethics of modern professionals (e.g. doctors, engineers, researchers and technicians). Given a complex issue, a conscientious and diligent professional will first do the necessary investigations, testing and what not to understand the underlying causes and effects before giving a qualified answer.

Buddhism’s (like Hinduism) position is that our universe follows a cyclic model with previous universes that go way, way back. The Buddha himself alluded to the disproportionate time and efforts needed just to investigate and uncover its original beginning. The unimaginable effort needed is simply beyond the lifespan of a human being. This is the practical reason behind point 1.

I believe it is for this reason that questions on the universe's origin was met with silence by the Buddha. Let us use a further analogy to illustrate this point. Suppose someone came to you with a math problem and asked you to solve it. After working on it for half an hour, you realised the proof would be complicated and required a few days’ work. You decide to put it aside as you got more important stuff to attend to. The next day, the questioner asked if you had succeeded. You started to explain that the problem requires a lot of work and time. At this point, the irritated and impatient questioner cut you off and demanded that you give a simple, "Yes, I know the solution" or "No, I don't know the answer" reply. How should one respond? I believe the silence of the Buddha is appropriate in such a situation because to say he knows would not be true. Likewise, saying he does not know would be equally disingenuous.

At this point, those who believe in an omnipotent/omniscient being might proclaim that this shows that the Buddha is a mere mortal and the answer to the universe's origins would be just a snap of the fingers for such a being. Which brings us back to point 3 above. The Buddha did not claim to be omniscient. It is just that knowledge in any area can potentially be revealed if he directed his mind towards it and is willing to expend the time and energy to investigate it.

There is a difference between these two approaches. One is within the realm of cause and effect while the other operate in an unknown realm. One can potentially be validated (note: the Buddha is not the only one with supramundane powers), the other operates with a one-of-a-kind, unknown mechanism that cannot be validated by anyone else. If you are a supporter of scientific principles and approaches, which one would you rather work with?

Lastly, I believe the Buddha would strongly encourage pursuits that brings about long-lasting wellbeing and happiness such as scientific endeavours that generate greater wellbeing for humanity. However, he would not encourage pursuits that consume an inordinate amount of time and resources with hardly any tangible benefits to anyone. At the core lies a principle that truly sustainable happiness has to be pragmatic.


There's no reason why Buddhism should reject science. The creation of the tech like internet and computers is just organization of all the diffuse resources the Earth already possessed since a long long time into pattern from chaos which for some reason our ancestors were not able to do quickly because their life was utter chaos.

Organization saves time. The better things are organized the less energy we have to spend on things, the more time for meditation, you get the point. Science helps brings organization from chaos which reduces a lot of suffering. What if we could delegate all our responsibilities to the machines? We all could easily become monks.

Life is suffering when mind is compelled to worry about things that one need not worry about in an ideal scenario. Worrying about losing job, worrying about bankruptcy, worrying someone might shoot you, etc.

Most of the suffering arises when the world is utterly disorganized, wars everywhere, lack of food, lack of jobs, etc. It's very clear science can diminish these issues.

I think Buddhism and Science jell together nicely.

  • What you talk about is tech not Science. They two are linked for not the same. Cosmology is Science, Aerospace Engineering is technology Feb 10 at 4:22
  • This is exactly what I am talking about. The mind likes measuring things, creating distinctions, etc. These distinctions arise from the fact that there is some order within. And these things become the content of consciousness that mind can absorb itself in. So, any kind of order is useful for the mind as it can indulge itself in it.
    – ukh
    Feb 10 at 5:03

If Buddha would have been alive today then most people would have agreed that Birth , Ageing and Death is suffering. Almost everyone would have agreed that there is a need to escape suffering of Birth , Ageing and Death. Science doesn’t say that Birth , Ageing and Death are suffering. Science offers “thing” technology to live life with lesser amount of suffering. Buddha says all realms of existence are suffering. No matter how many space missions you take or have taken , no matter how many medicines become available there is no escape from suffering. Science is a Dhamma. And like all Dhammas it is not self because all its laws are impermanent. All the beauty of science is bound to become ugly. Therefore not only science needs to be abandoned but also all Dhammas as they are not fit to be called Self.

  • I understand that suffering exists and probably will always do. But what bothered me is how Buddha tells people to be indifferent to metaphysical questions. Imagine if Einstein stopped being bothered by Theory of Relativity (which Buddha would have probably called a waste of time). It seems like Buddhism discourages pursuit of Science and Technology and is very puritanical and primitive. Remember, communists tried this anti-materialism and the only thing they got was more suffering. Feb 7 at 11:49
  • @SuradoeUchiha Technology should be used like a medicine. But from Buddhas point of view , even shoe technology is a luxury. The Nobel 8 fold path should be followed as it is, you should not mix communism with Buddha Dhamma. Feb 7 at 13:20

The Buddha taught there are four material/physical requisites for the life of people: (i) food; (ii) clothing; (iii) shelter; (iv) medicine. Therefore, if science can help improve the quality & provision of these material/physical requisites in a non-harmful manner, the Buddha would not oppose the material sciences.

The Buddha would discourage unbeneficial expensive NASA missions where the people's (taxation) money could alternately be spent on more beneficial purposes. For example, the internet says NASA's lifetime cost for the James Webb Space Telescope project is expected to be US$9.7 billion. NASA's annual budget (using the people's taxpayer money) is around US$22 billion. The Buddha advised governments to provide ward and protection for all people, beasts and birds; to not let wrongdoing prevail; and to give charity to those who are poor (DN 26). Yet, in the USA, there are many homeless people and people without adequate health care; and so much crime & wrongdoing.

Similarly, if believing in God can help improve the morals of people, the Buddha would not oppose belief in God (as shown in the sutta DN 13). I do not recall the Buddha ever kept mum on the existence and nature of God. As already posted, in DN 13, the Buddha taught the path to Brahma (God) was to radiate unconditional love in all directions.

The fundamental nature of reality the Buddha revealed many times, such as in AN 3.134.

As for 'metaphysical' questions, such as about the physical origin of the physical universe, yes, the Buddha would have taught these questions are pointless. However, the Buddha did teach about the origin of the mental worlds of delusion (SN 12.44).

The Buddha did not try to make those without the capacity for enlightenment to go to monasteries & live a life of meditation. The Dhammapada says: Blind is the world; here only a few possess insight. Only a few, like birds escaping from the net, go to realms of bliss (Dhp 174).

  • From the comment on Buddha and NASA it is very clear that Buddhism is not suited for modern needs. Buddhists do not seem to know that this selfish NASA missions lead to technologies which lead to better food, meds, etc. It is a very indirect but significant relation. Yet Buddha would have discouraged it. Economics works on money multiplier and selfish greed and Buddha didn't seem to know it. Feb 7 at 3:43
  • NASA missions lead to technologies which lead to better food, meds, etc? How? Thanks nasa.gov/specials/60counting/tech.html ???? I eat brown rice, vegetables, legume beans, fish, dead kangaroo, coconut water in Tetra Pak (established in 1951). How did NASA change these natural foods? Feb 7 at 6:25
  • NASA's groundbreaking tech is the way humanity progresses. You might try to make yourself look like a saint but you are using the internet - a product of minds thinking about metaphysical questions. And regarding food, NASA's missions pushes our understanding of Sciences which is often used to increase yield of food. It is a more macroeconomic thing. Today you as well as others get food and famine is a thing of the past only thanks to Science. Before, Buddha would have told people to detach from dukkha. Science literally solved it Feb 7 at 6:41
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    Sounds like NASA propaganda. Feb 7 at 6:45
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    @SuradoeUchiha Don't assume that "Buddhism is not suited for modern needs" based on something which Dhamma Dhatu says. There are other Buddhists (perhaps even including a few who work at NASA). At the same time I'm not sure that "Science literally solved dukkha": anyone you love still dies, etc.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 7 at 6:48

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