Understanding the Doctrines of Rebirth and Nibbana of Buddhist Philosophy Through Energy Dynamics by Prof. B. L. Jadhav
The Lord Buddha has put forth various doctrines like four noble truths, eight fold noble path, the law of dependant origination, doctrines of kamma, rebirth, nibbana etc. Among all these, the doctrines of rebirth and nibbana or nirvana are the most important because the ultimate aim of every Buddhist is to overcome rounds of rebirth and attain an enlightenment i.e. nibbana. These terms are explained in Buddhist literature as follows.
The term rebirth suggests life after death based on the cause and effects. It is very well explained through the law of dependant origination by the Tathagata. Accordingly, rebirth is the evolving consciousness or stream of consciousness which upon death or dissolution of aggregates becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new aggregation. The consciousness in the new person is neither identical to nor entirely different from that in the deceased but the two forms a causal continuum or stream. The craving or ignorance is believed to be the basic cause of rebirth in Buddhism. When the craving is uprooted rebirth ceases. Accordingly craving becomes the basic cause or rationale for the rebirth.
The nibbana, a supramundane state realized by Buddha’s and Arhata’s is the Summum bonum of Buddhism. The nibbana means, liberation, literally the unbinding of the mind from the mental effluents (asava), defilements (klesha), and the rounds of rebirth, a condition in which all pain, suffering and mental anguish have ceased as well as destruction and departure from lust, attachment and craving. All these explanations to rebirth and nibbana are based on the personal experiences of Tathagata and his disciples therefore very difficult to understand by a common man. So far there are no attempts in explaining or testing the doctrines of rebirth and nibbana with the help of laws there in pure science.
In view of this, for the first time an attempt has been made to explain these two important concepts using the laws of ‘energy dynamics’ i.e. thermodynamics. This is a new and scientific dimension to understand the concepts of rebirth and nibbana. In this paper the doctrine of rebirth is explained through the first law of thermodynamics while the Gibbs free energy and other energy laws are used to understand the state of an enlightenment or nibbana. The present paper not only helps in understanding these two important doctrines through energy dynamics but also establish scientifically the truth of rebirth and nibbana explained by the Tathagata.
A common misconception among Westerners thinkers is that Buddha is a counterpart to “God” in Buddhism. However it is not because Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. The commonly accepted definition of the term "God" describes a being that not only rules but actually created the universe. Such ideas and concepts are disputed by Buddha and his disciples. Buddha does not teach the existence of a supreme creator God or depend on any supreme being for enlightenment or claim to be a God. Buddha is a guide and teacher who points the way to nirvana. In Buddhism, the supreme origin and creator of the universe is not a God, but rather causes and conditions obscured by time. In 45 years of Dhamma teaching, Buddha has put forth various doctrines like four noble truth, eight fold noble path, law of dependant origin, doctrines of kamma, rebirth, nibbana etc. Among all these, the doctrines of rebirth and nibbana are most important because the ultimate aim of every Buddhist is to overcome rounds of rebirth and attain an enlightenment i.e. nibbana. These terms are explained in Buddhist literature as follows.
Rebirth: The term rebirth suggests life after death based on the cause and effects. It is very well explained through the law of dependant origination by the Buddha. Accordingly, rebirth is the evolving consciousness or stream of consciousness1, 2 upon death or dissolution of aggregates, becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new aggregation. The consciousness in the new person is neither identical to nor entirely different from that in the deceased but the two forms a causal continuum or stream. The craving or ignorance is believed to be the basic cause of rebirth in Buddhism. When the craving is uprooted rebirth ceases3. Accordingly craving becomes basic cause or rationale for the rebirth.
Nibbana: The nibbana, a supramundane state realized by Buddha’s and Arhata’s is the Summum bonum of Buddhism. In a number of Mahayana sutras, Buddha teaches that the Buddha is no longer essentially a human being but has become a being of a different order altogether and that, in his ultimate transcendental "body/mind" mode as Dhammakaya, he has eternal and infinite life and possess great and immeasurable qualities. In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra the Buddha declares: "Nirvana is stated to be eternally abiding. Thus Tathagata also, eternally abiding, without change." This is a particularly important metaphysical and stereological doctrine in the Lotus Sutra and the Tathagata-garbha sutra. According to the Tathagata-garbha sutra, failure to recognize the Buddha's eternity and - even worse - outright denial of that eternity is deemed a major obstacle to the attainment of complete awakening (Bodhi) 4.
The nibbana means, liberation, literally the unbinding of the mind from the mental effluents (asava), defilements (klesha), and the rounds of rebirth, a condition in which all pain, suffering and mental anguish have ceased as well as destruction and departure from lust, attachment and craving3. This way rebirth and nibbana are explained in Buddhism. However so far there are no attempts to explain or test these doctrines on the basis of natural science. These concepts can be explained through science of ‘energy dynamics’ i.e. thermodynamics as follow. This is a new concept of understanding these doctrines.
Energy Science: Thermodynamics is a branch of science which deals with the dynamics of energy. In science, thermodynamics laws explain the theories of energy flow5. The starting point for most thermodynamic considerations are the laws of thermodynamics, which postulate that energy can be exchanged between physical systems as heat or work. They also postulate the existence of a quantity named entropy, can be defined for any system6. In thermodynamics, interactions between large ensembles of objects are studied and categorized. Central to this are the concepts of system and surroundings. A system is composed of particles, whose average motions define its properties, which in turn are related to one another through equations of state. Properties can be combined to express internal energy and thermodynamic potentials, which are useful for determining conditions for equilibrium and spontaneous processes.
Energy, mind and matter: According to Buddhism, human being is made of mind and matter. The famous Einstein equation E = mc2 suggests matter and energy are different forms of same thing. Matter can be turned into energy and energy into matter. Similarly mind is a consciousness and vitality (heat), a form of energy i.e. free energy (Gibbs free energy), the energy available to do work in the biological system. Therefore mind and matter are different forms of energy. Since rebirth and nibbana are the states of mind and matter, therefore these can be considered as energy forms. According to science, all forms of energy must obey thermodynamics laws including rebirth and nibbana. Therefore it should be possible to explain the states of rebirth and Nibbana with the help of energy dynamics i.e. thermodynamic laws. However if we are unable to establish correlations between these Buddhist doctrines with the existing laws of thermodynamic then either these concept are imaginary based on wrong understandings or existing energy laws are insufficient. These concepts can be explained through energy dynamics as follows.
Energy dynamics of death: What is a death? The death is passing away of vitality, heat and consciousness while the rebirth is of vitality, the basis of which is heat7. Heat is a form of energy. The vitality must be the free energy (Gibbs free energy), the energy available to do work in the biological systems. As long as the cause (rationale) exists, the free energy (vitality) works by changing its forms as per first law of thermodynamics i.e. “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it can be changed into different forms”. Eventually, at the time of death, the liberated free energy (vitality) can not be destroyed but changes its form i.e. from one life form to another. Hence rebirth takes place. Thus first law of thermodynamics validates the concept of rebirth scientifically.
Energy dynamics of nibbana: It is believed that in the state of nibbana, person is liberated from the rounds of rebirth, therefore no rebirth. However questions are always raised about the state of nibbana. Does the state of nibbana exist? Is it an imaginary concept and can not be explained through natural science? According to Buddhist philosophy the state of nibbana does exist. Then what happens to the evolving consciousness (energy liberated) of an enlightened human being after his death? The evolving consciousness or the energy liberated after death is supposed to change into another life form. However according to Buddhism, it is not in the case of Buddhas and Arhtas. The energy dynamics of a person liberated from the rounds of rebirth can not be explained through the existing laws of thermodynamics.
Overall explanation to rebirth and nibbana: Based on the Buddhist philosophy of cause and effects I have proposed Thermodynamics law of reasoning. It states that “Energy does not change its form without any rationale”. This law of energy dynamics may explain the concept of nibbana as follows. In the state of nibbana, loss of craving and mental anguish overcomes all the causes (rationale) for evolving consciousness, giving full control over physical and mental activities, leading to full control over energy change into different forms of life as rationale does not exist. Because there are no violation activities, the liberated free energy at the time of death is neither destroyed (1st Law of Thermodynamics) nor converted to other forms of life as cause does not exists. Therefore energy does not leave its form to change into other and may remain static. This is the reason evolving consciousness stop evolving. It means there is consciousness in Buddha’s and Arhata’s but not evolving. Consciousness being energy form can not be destroyed according to the first law of thermodynamics at the same time it will not be evolving consciousness since cause does not exists. It has potential to evolve into its other form; however, reason does not exist. Hence, it does not evolve and therefore no rebirth. This way scientifically the state of nibbana can be explained through energy dynamics.
This may be the reason that whenever the question was raised “What happens to Buddha after his death?” The Buddha and his enlightened disciples gave the same reply “This question is not applicable to Buddha”8. This reply is scientifically based on the Thermodynamic Laws of energy dynamics.
Thus thermodynamics laws explain and establish the Buddhist doctrines of rebirth and nibbana. Moreover, these fundamental laws of science also serves the basis and explains the great grand law of “The cause and its effects” proposed by The Buddha.
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- Narada., The wheel of life - Paticca samuppada. In The Buddha and his teachings. Publ. Buddhist Missionary Society, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1988.pp 326-404.
- Kosho Yamamoto, The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra in 12 Volumes (Translated), Edited by Dr. Tony Page, Nirvana Publications, London, 1999 – 2000.
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- Ambedkar B.R., Rebirth. In The Buddha and his Dhamma, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writing and Speeches, Book IV, Part-2, Section-I Vol.11. Publ. Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, India, 1992, pp 329- 349.
- Thanissaro Bhikku., Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To vacchagotta on fire. In Majjhim Nikaya(Tipitaka), Translated from Pali, Access to Insight, June 14, 2010.
Author: Prof. B. L. Jadhav