Science And Buddhism

Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 19/8/2020




Quantum Physics

Quantum physics explain the nature and behaviour of matters, energy on the atomic and subatomic level and many of the features of our universe. There are many applications of Quantum theory in electronics, in laser, transistors, computers and telecommunication devices and medical research such as Magnetic Resonance imaging MRI…

Wave-particle duality: in the experiment when the electrons pass a double slit system, they behave like particles when observed and become waves when left alone with no interference with the environment. When the waves spread out in space and pass a double slit, they give rise to interferences like interferences by ordinary light waves or water waves. If any detector interacts with the waves, the waves will abruptly contract to a point in space that appears as a material particle.

As wave, the material particle has no actual position in space but many potential positions. Lothar Schafer, a physicist, states that “it is in this way that there is a view that physical reality appears to us as two domains: the realm of the actuality of localised material things and the realm of potentiality of the non material forms that are spread out in space”.

These forms are real, although invisible, because they have the potential to manifest themselves into the empirical world. The empirical particle emerges out of its state of potentiality when it interacts with objects in the environment.  This rule seems to apply to everything in the universe. The visible world is an actualisation of non empirical potentiality forms.



After enlightenment, the Buddha is said to have gained a perfect understanding of the nature of the world and of the human existence. His teaching is widely seen as supporting free inquiry with an absence of rigid dogma, an attitude open to empirical verification and therefore consistent with science. He usually said “do not accept my words mainly out of respect for me”. He put emphasis on validation by experience rather than scriptural authority.

He treats human suffering the way a physician does. It can be seen in the Four Noble Truths:

-      Medical diagnosis: recognition of the symptoms of suffering

-      Cause of the suffering: ignorance of the law of nature and the resultant  craving and attachments

-      Prognosis: the condition can be treated

-      Treatment: the prescribed therapy is to follow the Eighth Fold Path.

 The aims of Buddhism are mainly to overcome ignorance and end suffering.

As it was pointed out, the true reality of nature is beyond our conception and we are often deluded into believing that the material things that we see exist independently.

Things actually exist in the world with no intrinsic essence but its essence becomes real from our own interpretation. The world experienced by someone who is colour blind is different than the world of someone who is not, so the world appears to us through our own perception and interpretation.


The Three Dharma Seals:

The three Dharma seals are impermanence, non self, and Nirvana.

1-   Impermanence:

We can never find anything that is permanent in this life. At a molecular level, the particles in the material things are involved in a never – ending frantic dance out of the actuality and into the potentiality and vice versa.

Particles are not inherently existent. It exists by interaction with the mind of the observer. All particles show impermanence as they do not remain in exactly the same state from one moment to the next.

Our body is aging, flowers decompose, social system is changing and even our feelings, perceptions, consciousness change constantly.

Impermanence does not necessarily lead to suffering. Without impermanence life could not be possible as a baby cannot grow into an adult….

Impermanence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all the precious things of the present moment. When we are deep in depression, we have to believe that we can get out of depression and we can change suffering into joy.


2-   Non self:

Inside your body, atoms and molecules are constantly undergoing transitions between different quantum states, in and out of the empirical world. Therefore the permanence of your body is an illusion.

An atom consists of a nuclei and surrounding electrons. The mass of an atom is mainly from the nucleus and if we add all the nuclei in our body, it is reduced to a speck. So our body consists 99.9999999% of empty space.

Non self is the true nature of this world as nothing has a separate existence or a separate self. When we see that everyone and everything belongs to the same strings of life, our suffering will vanish. It is an insight that can help us live life more deeply and suffer less.

Interdependent co-arising or dependent origination of all matter can be explained with the behaviour of the electron. The state of a particular quantum particle cannot be expressed independently because it is dependent on the quantum system as a whole, because their existence is dependent on the conditions of the environment.


3-   Nirvana:

Nirvana is the complete silencing of all concepts, extinction of all notions.

Buddha said:”there is no birth and no death, no being and no nonbeing.”

We think that being born means from nothing we become something, from no one we become someone, from nonbeing we become being.

Nirvana means extinction of those ideas, ideas of birth and death, existence and no existence, self and other…All these ideas cause us to suffer.  We worry about our future and the future of the people or things that belong to us but fail to worry about the other people. All these ideas cause us to suffer.

Nirvana has commonly been interpreted as the extinction of the three fires or poisons, greed, hate, ignorance/delusion. The Three Poisons keep the process of rebirth going.

To achieve Nirvana, we have to follow the Eighth Fold Path.

Liberation is achieved when all things and beings are understood to be with No Self. It can be described to achieve emptiness with no attachment with the material world, as the fundamental nature of everything is empty.

Nirvana in this life is the state of the mind of someone who has attained complete release from desire and suffering. It is a state of perfect quietude and freedom. We only need to return to ourselves and touch our true nature. We only need to be at peace in the present moment and not running after anything. It is the art of mindful living.

Nirvana after death is the complete cessation of the continuous cycle of death and rebirth.

Can we say that Nirvana is the state of merging with the Universal consciousness ?



It is commonly believed that we already went through a continuous cycle of death and rebirth.

Dr Ian Stevenson, a psychiatrist, studied spontaneous recall of information about previous lives by young children usually from 2 to 4 years old. The child usually asks his parents to return to the community where he claims that he formerly lived. Attempts at verification often result in the members of the two families visit each other.  The child is asked whether he recognises places, objects and people of his supposed previous existence. He published a book Twenty cases suggestive of Reincarnation.

Luthar Schafer in his book “ Infinite potential” states:

 “ Chances are that you existed as a subspace of forms in the cosmic potentiality a long time before you were born, and the subspace that is you, will continue to exist in the potentiality after you die” ( p143)

There are many reported cases of near death experience when the survivor can recall seeing his body being revived by the medical staff. We could speculate that the mind left the body in a waveform.

Buddhism deals with death head on both in theory and in practical preparation.

In the earliest days, Buddhist monks have gone to funeral grounds to observe bodies and meditate about impermanence.

Believing in reincarnation, the body is seen like a host in which our consciousness inhabits only briefly to go to another host. This almost endless journey will involve staying in hundreds or thousands of such temporary residences until liberation.

Awareness of death leads to an awakened appreciation of every precious moment of life. Each day becomes an opportunity for improving our long term spiritual life rather than absorbing in the inconsequential material pleasure.

The training for a good rebirth is simply to lead a good virtuous life mentally, verbally and physically. This helps to develop wholesome virtuous mental reactions at the time of dying which lead to a better after life.

In my opinion, after leaving the body the mind becomes a waveform that can actualise when meeting the right receptor or condition for rebirth. Every mind has a corresponding waveform and it determines what kind of rebirth the person will have.

When the mind is attached to the life in this earth, it has to come back and find a suitable host depending on the person’s Karma.

I have heard many stories of spirits from a monk who can communicate with them. Those who cannot reincarnate are suffering in the realm of ghost. Most of their stories involved sudden death from accident or from murder and those spirits do not accept death so they are staying in a ghost realm close to human. The lesson to learn is to understand that life is impermanent and we can leave this life, leave our loved ones at any time so we can go in peace.


Why are some people rich and some poor, some fortunate and others in misery? These are difficult questions for most faith believing in a compassionate God to answer.

Buddhists see this life as one in a series of many. In this life, we are reaping the harvest of seeds sown by actions (Karma) of past lives while at the same time planting new seeds to ripen in the life to come.

Buddhists believe that we are reborn an infinite times and relationship can carry over from one lifetime to the next.

When my late husband was terminally ill, he was still too attached to me and the nuns told him he had to let go of this life but if he sincerely wished to be with me in his next life, it is possible that we could be together again.  He promised all his afterlives to be with me until liberation from Samsara. It is a puzzling question in my mind: how can we recognize each other among millions of other people?

I think with Quantum physics, this phenomenon can be explained. Each individual’s mind can transmit a waveform that could be recognized by the other person even in the afterlife as the body is only a temporary host.

Twin Telepathy is a fairly well established phenomenon, when one of them is in distress, the other will be aware of it instantly, no matter how far apart they are.

When 2 particles interact, they can form a special connection in a state called a twin state, like twins do. When the 2 entangled particles move away from each other to different parts of the world, an observer interacting with one of the twin particles in the laboratory will instantly affect the other one, no matter how far away it is.

Synchronicity is a concept introduced by Carl Jung to describe meaningful coincidence of two or more events. Too many people have thought of a name only to have that person telephone the next.

I personally experienced many synchronicity events in my life. My late husband was thinking of a monk in India in a middle of the night and the monk Venerable Huyen Dieu phoned him to enquire about his health. Ven Huyen Dieu told him that after his morning meditation, a thought came up about my husband and he tried to contact my husband in Australia.

When I was attending a dharma talk, I had a personal question that I wanted to ask but I didn’t and the monk in his talk explained what I wanted to ask. Another time, I had trouble to find someone to help me with flower arranging for Vesak day celebration and the next day a patient came to see me and she offered to help. Another occasion, I need to have some children to give speech at The Ullumbana ceremony and there was a mother who came to see me unexpectedly and volunteered for her daughter to make a speech. Another time there was a nurse who saw me the year before and she would like to apply for the job and that year I needed staff but could not remember her name and I thought about her and she came to apply for the job soon after. There were many other coincidences and I come to believe that I do not have to act or worry too much as problems have a way to solve by themselves.

The connecting ground of synchronistic events is the non empirical realm of forms in the cosmic potentiality.

Luthar Schafer states that “this phenomenon is a sign that human minds have been connected with a cosmic field at all times and everywhere in the world. The connection is possible because consciousness is a cosmic property and our individual minds are connected with it. The human brain can transfer forms from the cosmic field into our consciousness and from our consciousness into the cosmic field. In this way the cosmic field stores the crimes of humanity as well as the achievements. We should expect that synchronistic events will occur if the universe is a mindlike wholeness.”  In such events, our mind seems to be able to transcend space and time.

If the cosmic field stores the crimes of humanity as well as the achievements, could that explains the natural law of cause and effect in Buddhism? We will receive the results of our good deeds or bad deeds in this present life or pass them on into the afterlives.


We can have a better or a worse existence at rebirth depending on our Karma.

A human rebirth is considered to be rare as it is considered the most precious existence because of its tremendous potential. Unfortunately, this potential is rarely exploited as the majority of humans are so busy with their desires and attachments and they are not aware of spiritual possibilities.

Luthar Schafer states that humans have infinite potential. We have a consciousness because the Universe has a consciousness. Since we live in this Universe, its order is our order. We have a body and mind because the Universe has a body- the material world and a mind- the realm of Potentiality.

A thought can exist in our mind a long time before you can act on it. When it is in your mind it is real but it is not observable but it has the potential to be expressed like the virtual state of quantum.

The three main causes for rebirth are greed, hatred and ignorance.

As a general practitioner, I have the opportunity to be in contact with many patients with dementia. When the mind degenerates and the thinking process is affected we can see clearly the mental habits of those persons. Many people who are attached to their belongings, are afraid of losing their possessions or money and they tried to hide them and when they could not find them they accused family members or carers of stealing from them. One such patient was so attached to money that her daughter had to give her fake money to keep. Other people are very difficult, complain about everything and some can be aggressive and abused their carer. Those people have bad Karma but it is too late to change due to their dementia.

How can we change our mental reflexes and develop good Karma?

According to Dr Rahul Jandial, a neurosurgeon, we can change our bad mental habits by creating new constructive habits. When the electrical activity flows in the brain, it creates an electrical groove like skiing down the mountain. It is then less energy to follow the same path so after doing the same thing, some paths in the mind are deeply carved. To create a new habit, it is like to create a new rail down the mountain. Effort will lead to change and the effort is harder at the beginning so we can change the emotional and cognitive response by conditioning and build a more favourable and constructive path. When creating a new path, with time the old path that was not used will be buried as at a cellular level the dendritic connection will be atrophied. With the neuroplasticity, people can have the power to change to more constructive habits to replace the unwholesome pattern of reactions such as anger, hatred, aggression, greed…


The Noble Eight Fold Path is the path of practices leading to liberation from the cycle of rebirths (Samsara). It consists of eight practices: right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right diligence, right mindfulness and right concentration.


Mindfulness and Meditation:

Mindfulness is never be absent minded and be conscious of what we are doing. It is the practice of paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way.

Mindfulness meditation refers to the practice to deliberately paying attention and be aware of the thoughts, emotions, body states.

In this meditation practice, we do not try to control the breath but simply be aware of the natural breathing process and rhythm. The mind will often run off to other thoughts and associations and if this happens, we simply notice that the mind has wandered in an accepting, non judgmental way and return to focus on the breathing.

The attention is directed to what happens at the present moment, it could be various body sensations, thoughts, feelings, actions, sounds…

Mindfulness can be also viewed as a mean to develop self knowledge and wisdom.

It gives rise to wisdom as the information we are getting in are close to reality and not been distorted by our own subjective interpretation or by our own feelings or our attachments. Mindfulness provided the way to liberation by constantly watching sensory experiences in order to prevent the arising of cravings which will lead to rebirth due to the attachments with this life on earth.

Vipassana meditation in the Theraveda Buddhism practice has gained popularity in the Western countries.

Samatha Meditation is often used as a preparation to calm the mind and strengthen concentration in order to achieve insight with Vipassana leading to liberation.

Mindfulness in day to day life is to maintain as much as possible a calm awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment instead of ruminating about the past or future memory.

Clinical psychology and psychiatry have developed therapeutic applications based on mindfulness to treat mental problems or prevent the development of psychiatric illnesses.  Reduction in rumination in the mind may alter the biological clinical pathways, it can increase happiness and reduces depression and anxiety. Further research indicates that mindfulness may favourably influence the immune system as well as reduce inflammation that can impact on physical health as inflammation has been linked to the development of several chronic health conditions. It can also contribute to a lower risk of developing dementia.

Numerous studies have shown with EEG tests of monks and expert meditators produce high level of gamma brain waves which have benefits to cognitive function. Meditation can even slow the rate of brain atrophy.


Quantum Physics and Mindfulness:

In the Double slit experiment, without observation the electron passes simultaneously through both slits and interferes with itself as a wave. If a detector is placed inside as unobtrusively as possible, the interference vanishes. Simply by observing an electron’s path, even if that observation does not disturb the electron’s motion, the outcome is changed. The electron behaves as a particle.

So observation can make transformation. When we observe, the information we get in through our 5 senses are immediately transformed by the subjective interpretation, the emotional reaction of the observer. So the image we perceive is not a true image of reality but an image distorted by our own subjective input. In mindfulness, we observe without judgement or interpretation using conscious awareness of the present moment. If we observe a pain sensation in mindfulness, we will find that it gradually reduces and sometimes disappears as it is impermanent.  If we observe the negative emotional reaction regarding a traumatic past event without any interaction, the negative response will subside and collapse. So we can change our recollection of the past and therefore transform our past. Observation without interference plays an important role in perceiving the reality of things and developing wisdom.


Social Revolution

The Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gotama in about 500 years BC in Lumbini Nepal as a prince but he eventually renounced lay life in search of a way to end suffering in this life.

In those days, the social structure in India was built on a rigid caste system. People are born into a Brahman, a higher caste, a lower caste or an outcast. The Buddha introduced his revolutionary teachings: the only status that truly matters is the status of personal goodness, attained by personal effort and not by birth.  By denying the spiritual authority in a particular class (Brahman), the Buddha was acknowledging that we do not need someone else to mediate with the Divine. The mind is the forerunner of all elements of life. No matter who is acting, the intention or volition behind the action is the Karmic seed. Our intentions are an expression of the power of our mind. Transforming our motivations transform our whole life. Nothing is fixed when we are born but we all have a universal potential of what we might become. It is clear that each of us is responsible for our own mind and therefore of our freedom and destiny.

He ordained women as Bhikkhunis into his Sangha as he said that women have the same ability to reach all stages of awakening. This is equality between men and women. It enabled women to live a nomadic way of life in the company of other women and men.  Bhikkhunis are required to take extra vows and are subordinate to and reliant upon the Bhikkhu order. This was so to allow women to get out of the set rules of the Indian society. At that time, women only have the options to be wives, mothers or servants, and women had to be under the protection of their male family members at all times.

The Buddha campaigned for real change at every level of society. He made particular emphasis on non violence, love and compassion.

In the history, Ashoka the Great was an Indian emperor who was very cruel and violent person. After the destruction caused during the Kalinga war, he was remorse and in the subsequent years was converted to Buddhism and he devoted himself in the practice and the propagation of the Dharma.

Another true story as recounted by Ajahn Brahm , by using non violence the Thai King successfully stopped the insurgence of the Thai communists.  The Thai military and government used restraint and did not attack the communist bases in the mountains and jungles and used forgiveness to Communist insurgents who wanted to abandon their cause and those leaders were not punished but were offered important positions in the Thai government in recognition of their leadership qualities. The government also improved the infrastructures of the poorest region in Thailand and made the villagers prosperous. The villagers saw no need to support the Communists and the Communists began to doubt what they were doing, living with hardships in the jungles. Therefore the Communist insurgency was decimated without the need of violence. Violence will lead to further violence, destruction, deaths and sufferings.


Buddhism and Evolution

Darwin described a theory of biological evolution stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through natural selection, the ability to compete, survive and reproduce. In such world the fittest will win so it promotes aggression and selfishness.

The Buddha advocates spiritual evolution. The process of rebirth into any of the multitude states of beings including any kind of animal, a human or supernatural being is conditioned by Karma. Buddha believes the world has no beginning nor end and the world was not created by a divine once upon a time but the world is constantly being created millions of time in every second and that it will always continue to do so.

In this spiritual evolution, those who perform good deeds will evolve in a higher level species.

It is interesting that Lothar Schafer in his book “ Infinite Potential” states:

“ Adaptation to forms is a process by which living organisms evolve the ability to receive, understand and actualize increasingly complex signals out of the cosmic potentiality. The reception of signals needs a receiver that has been adapted in the right way. The forms that your mind can actualise are more complex than the forms that your pets understand. That is adaptation to forms of the cosmic potentiality. The adaptation of minds to forms is a process in which the cosmic consciousness creates increasingly complex bases or ports through which it can enter the empirical world. In the adaptation to cosmic forms, species aren’t selected for their aggression in the struggle of life but for their thoughtfulness. This process is automatically an adaptation to the environment as well, because both the order of the external world and the principles of our mind are actualisations of the same cosmic order. “



In the world when we see things and people as separate and independent appearances but in reality they are like the white caps on the waves of an agitated ocean. The visible caps can be electrons, atoms or people or other material things. Underlying the visible world is an invisible field and we are all connected in the ocean of potentiality of the universe.( Luthar Schafer)

In a holistic world in which all things and living beings are connected we should not do anything to harm others as ultimately we harm ourselves.

Our moral rules have cosmic roots and that we should live in harmony with nature and also the nature of the universe.

To be able to have compassion, living beings need to develop complex receptors to perceive the feelings, the distress in other beings and actualise increasing complex signals out of the cosmic potentiality. Do animals have compassion? Most scientists agree that animals are conscious beings that experience varying degrees of emotional responses. Animals display empathy towards humans and other animals including comforting, rescuing each other from harm. Dogs can perceive changes in human emotional states and some instances overcome physical obstacles to go to owner’s aid.

Empathy is considered to be generated mostly on an unconscious level and is more reflexive in the emotional response. Compassion is considered to be more reflective and originates in the cognitive centres of the brain.

Empathy is to join in other sufferings particularly of those who are close to us and do not extend to outsiders. People who are prone to empathic responding are also more likely to experience depressive symptoms as empathy by itself does not lead to action. Compassion on the other hand is more constructive and it starts with empathy and then turns into an intention to help and to make a conscious choice to turn emotion into action. Compassion is the joining in other’s suffering irrespective of their social, cultural background, sexual orientation or personal identity.

We can see that people with severe dementia or autism lose the ability to receive and connect to other people’s feelings and emotions. Therefore they have problems with socialising and often display inappropriate behaviour in social circumstances. Without the complex receptors to receive the signals from other human consciousness and the universal consciousness, they behave according to their own tendencies and they are self absorbed in their own desires and their own world.


Buddhist compassion arises from knowledge of common suffering and directed toward all sentient beings. We wish for others to be free of suffering and in appreciating other people’s feelings, we can put ourselves in their shoes and feel how much awful it must be. We feel connected with others and not confined of thinking just of ourselves. Wanting to help gives us inner strength and self confidence and this is a profound source of wellbeing.

Compassion is most effective when combined with knowledge and wisdom so that we can make the right choice of what to do.

Many people have some degree of compassion which is biased and limited. When our family and friends are suffering, we easily develop compassion for them but we find more difficult to feel sympathy for people we find unpleasant or for strangers.

It is also easier to develop compassion towards people who suffer from a natural disaster, from poverty, from serious illness or for people who are more unfortunate than us. It is more difficult to have sympathy towards people who we believe are more fortunate than us as jealousy can be subtle and not be recognized. The most difficult task is to develop compassion towards people who harmed us, betrayed us or are our enemies.

When people asked The Dalai Lama if he was afraid when Tibet was captured by the Chinese soldiers in the 1950s, he told them: “Yes, I feared I would lose compassion for my captors”

When we practice compassion, we will have more strength, peace and joy and this will transfer to everyone with whom we associate. We may find that the pursuit of compassion makes us happier than the pursuit of our own happiness.

We firstly need to have compassion to ourselves to be able to have compassion to others.

People who feel lonely and unloved often blame their unfortunate life. They mostly think about themselves and do not open their heart to nature and to other people. If they know how to appreciate the beauty and the diversity of nature, they would feel that they belong to the Universe and be connected to other people. A loving and compassionate mind will automatically attract other people even without the need of verbal communication.  If we do not give love, how do we expect to receive love in return.

Universal compassion must be cultivated through training over a long period of time. We can practice it with Loving kindness meditation and also with the realisation that ”Non self “ is the true nature of everything in this world. By practicing compassion, we can reduce our own selfishness, our own self importance and be close to other beings and nature and achieve “Non self” leading toward enlightenment.

In Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who postpone their own salvation in order to help all sentient beings. They are compassionate figures with supreme moral and spiritual perfection in the service of others.

If the background of the Universe is mind like, it can actualise moral principles inside us in the same way in which it actualises material structures outside.

Living in harmony with nature does not mean only with your personal nature but also with the nature of the Universe.



Luthar Schafer- Infinite Potential- What Quantum Physics reveal about how we should live.

Thich Nhat Hanh- The heart of the Buddha’s teaching.

Ajahn Brahm- Who ordered this truckload of dung? Inspiring stories for welcoming life’s difficulties

Dr Ian Stevenson- Twenty cases suggestive of Reincarnation.