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Quantum and the Abhidhamma

Quantum and the Abhidhamma

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Published by ANKUR BARUA
This study deals with the notion of matter in Buddhism and its relationship with modern physics.
This study deals with the notion of matter in Buddhism and its relationship with modern physics.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: ANKUR BARUA on Apr 30, 2009
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12/05/2012

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 Journal 
 
 for 
 
Interdisciplinary 
 
Research
 
on
 
Religion
 
and 
 
Science,
 
No.
 
5,
 
 July 
 
 2009
 
63
Quantum
 
and
 
the
 
 Abhidhamma
 
 Ankur
 
BARUA
 
The
 
Centre
 
of 
 
Buddhist 
 
Studies,
 
The
 
University 
 
of 
 
Hong
 
Kong,
 
Hong
 
Kong
 
Block 
 
 
EE,
 
No.
 
 
80,
 
Flat 
 
No.
 
 
 2A,
 
Salt 
 
Lake
 
City,
 
Sector 
-
 2,
 
Kolkata
 
 
700
 
091
 
West 
 
Bengal,
 
INDIA
 
-
mail:
 
ankurbarua26@yahoo.com
 
 Abstract 
 
In the Theravāda Abhidhamma tradition, an atom isconsidered to be the smallest unit of matter which is anaggregate of a number of unitary material elements called as a“cluster of material elements” or “rūpa‐ kalāpa”, where everycluster is delimited by an intervening space, so that they donot touch each other. However, according to the Sarvāstivādatradition, an atom is considered to be the smallest unit of asingle unitary material element and it is so minute that it actually lacks spatial dimension. This Buddhist concept of matter is very close to Einstein’s concept of quantum assmallest unit of energy in the universe and also the moderntheory of quarks which are hypothesized as mere geometricalpoints in space that make up the protons and neutrons of anatom. Though the study of the physical world was not thecentral focus of the traditional areas of learning andspecialization in Buddhism, but the Buddhist scholars andcontemplatives had developed views on matters related to theuniverse and its contents. These views were developed onpure logical and rational thinking and no rigorousmethodology was applied for experimenting with the physicalworld.
1.
 
Introduction
 
Modern physics bears the impact of Albert Einstein morethan that of any other physicist. His theory of relativity with itsprofound modifications of the notions of space, time andgravitation had fundamentally changed and deepened ourunderstanding of the physical and philosophical conception of the universe [5].
 
Though the study of the physical world wasnot the central focus of the traditional areas of learning and
 
BARUA
-
Quantum
 
and 
 
the
 
 Abhidhamma
 
64
specialization in Buddhism, but there are some strikingsimilarities present between Buddhist and modern scientificviews related to the concepts of time and space. The Buddhist scholars and contemplatives had developed views on mattersrelated to the universe and its contents, which was based onpure logical and rational thinking and no rigorousmethodology was applied for studying the physical world[12,13]. These phenomena were discussed in detail in the earlyBuddhism, the
 Abhidhamma
 
Pitaka
, the
Visuddhimagga
, thePali commentaries,
Mah
ā
vibh
ā
ā-
ś
ā
stra
, the
ā
lacackra
 
Tantra
 and in the literature on Buddhist epistemology [2,9].
2.
 
Einstein’s
 
Theories
 
on
 
Quantum
 
Physics
 
and
 
Relativity
 
[1,5,10]
 
Albert Einstein had published some remarkable scientificpapers addressing fundamental problems about the nature of energy, matter, motion, time and space. Some of his theorieswhich could be viewed in light of the Abhidhamma concept of matter are as follows:
 
In March 1905, Einstein created the
quantum
 
theory
 
of 
 
light 
. This theory dealt with the idea that light exists as tinypackets, or particles, which he called photons. Einsteinproposed that we live in a quantum universe, one built out of tiny, discrete chunks of energy and matter.
 
During April and May 1905, Einstein published twonew research papers. In one he invented a new method of counting and determining the size of the atoms or molecules ina given space and in the other he explains the phenomenon of Brownian motion. The net result was a
proof 
 
that 
 
atoms
 
actually
 
exist 
. This brought an end to a millennia‐old debateon the fundamental nature of the chemical elements.
3.
 
Quantum
 
and
 
the
 
Concept 
 
of 
 
Matter
 
in
 
 Abhidhamma
 
The Abhidhamma analysis of matter assumes significancewithin framework of the Dhamma Theory. There are in all 28rupa‐dhammas or material elements which imply that 28items into which material existence can be analyzed. These 28
 
 Journal 
 
 for 
 
Interdisciplinary 
 
Research
 
on
 
Religion
 
and 
 
Science,
 
No.
 
5,
 
 July 
 
 2009
 
65
material elements represent not only the matter that entersinto the composition of living beings (organic matter), but alsothe matter that exists in the external world (inorganic matter).However, matter is defined as that which has the characteristicof “ruppana” which means the susceptibility to being modifiedor receptivity to change due to the impact of the contraryforces. This is also defined as “visaduppatti” or the “genesis of dissimilarity” or change. What is meant by change is thedisappearance of one material element and the appearance of another material element in its place. So, the concept of changeis not mere alteration between two stages of a single materialelement [6,7,10].The four primary elements of matter recognized inBuddhism are: (a) Earth element – represents solidity andextension, (b) Water element – represents viscidity andliquidity, (c) Fire element – represents the temperature of coldand heat and (d) Air element – represents distension,fluctuation and mobility. These four primary elements arenecessarily co‐nascent and inseparable. These elements arisetogether, exist together and cease together and they cannot beseparated from one another. Though there is no quantitativedifference among these elements that enter into compositionof material things, but the only difference is of intensity[6,10,11].As defined in Theravāda Abhidhamma, the earth‐element (pathavi‐dhātu) has the characteristics of solidity andextension, which means the three dimensional spatialoccupation. Our notion of a solid body is obtained when matteroccupies the three dimensions of space. The earth‐element which represents solidity and spatial extension is said to bepresent in every instance of matter. So, every instance of matter is characterized by solidity (whatever be the degree)and extension (whatever be the extent). This shows that theTheravāda Abhidhamma too, recognizes the Sarvāstivādadefinition of matter in the concept of “pratighata” which is theresistance or impenetrability [6,10,11].The Visuddhimagga states that in this body the earth‐element (pathavi‐dhātu) taken as reduced to fine dust andpounded to the size of atoms (paramā
u) might amount to an

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