Buddhist atomism

Buddhist atomism is a school of atomistic Buddhist philosophy that flourished on the Indian subcontinent during two major periods. During the first phase, which began to develop prior to the 6th century BCE[1], Buddhist atomism had a very qualitative, Aristotelian-style atomic theory. This form of atomism identifies four kinds of atoms, corresponding to the standard elements. Each of these elements has a specific property, such as solidity or motion, and performs a specific function in mixtures, such as providing support or causing growth. Like the Hindus and Jains, the Buddhists were able to integrate a theory of atomism with their logical presuppositions.

According to Noa Ronkin, this kind of atomism was developed in the Sarvastivada and Sautrantika schools for whom material reality can be:

reduced to discrete momentary atoms, namely, the four primary elements. These momentary atoms, through their spatial arrangement and by their concatenation with prior and posterior atoms of the same type, create the illusion of persisting things as they appear in our everyday experience. Atomic reality is thus understood first and foremost as change, though not in the sense of a thing x transforming into y. That is, change itself is the very nature of atomic reality rather than its being made of enduring substances the qualities of which undergo change. Atoms that appear to endure are, in fact, a series of momentary events that ascend and fall in rapid succession and in accordance with causal relations. Unlike the atoms of the Vaifesika, the atoms of the Sarvastivada-Vaibhasika and the Sautrantika are not permanent: they come into being and cease from one moment to the next going through a process of birth, continuance, decay and destruction. Yet the material compounds that consist of these atoms are real, if only in the minimal, phenomenological sense.[2]

The second phase of Buddhist atomism, which flourished in the 7th century CE, was very different from the first. Indian Buddhist philosophers, including Dharmakirti and Dignāga, considered atoms to be point-sized, durationless, and made of energy. In discussing Buddhist atomism, Stcherbatsky writes:[3]

... The Buddhists denied the existence of substantial matter altogether. Movement consists for them of moments, it is a staccato movement, momentary flashes of a stream of energy... "Everything is evanescent," ... says the Buddhist, because there is no stuff ... Both systems [Sānkhya and later Indian Buddhism] share in common a tendency to push the analysis of Existence up to its minutest, last elements which are imagined as absolute qualities, or things possessing only one unique quality. They are called "qualities" (guna-dharma) in both systems in the sense of absolute qualities, a kind of atomic, or intra-atomic, energies of which the empirical things are composed. Both systems, therefore, agree in denying the objective reality of the categories of Substance and Quality, ... and of the relation of Inference uniting them. There is in Sānkhya philosophy no separate existence of qualities. What we call quality is but a particular manifestation of a subtle entity. To every new unit of quality corresponds a subtle quantum of matter which is called guna "quality", but represents a subtle substantive entity. The same applies to early Buddhism where all qualities are substantive ... or, more precisely, dynamic entities, although they are also called dharmas ("qualities").

See also


  1. ^ Reginald Ray (1999), Buddhist Saints in India, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195134834, pages 237-240, 247-249
  2. ^ Ronkin, Noa, Early Buddhist Metaphysics: The Making of a Philosophical Tradition (Routledge curzon Critical Studies in Buddhism) 2011, p. 57-58.
  3. ^ (Stcherbatsky 1962 (1930). Vol. 1. p. 19)


  • Stcherbatsky, F. Th. 1962 (1930). Buddhist Logic. Volume 1. New York: Dover.
  • Dreyfus, Georges (1997). Recognizing Reality: Dharmakirti's Philosophy and Its Tibetan Interpretations. New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-3098-7.
  • Karunadasa, Y. (1967). Buddhist analysis of matter, Colombo : Dept. of Cultural Affairs
  • Majumdar, Pradip Kr (2002). The Bauddha Atomism, 佛學與科學 (= Buddhism and Science), 3 (2), 65-67
  • Gangopadhyaya, Mrinalkanti (1980). Indian atomism : history and sources, Calcutta : K.P. Bagchi

Abhidharma (Sanskrit) or Abhidhamma (Pali) are ancient (3rd century BCE and later) Buddhist texts which contain detailed scholastic reworkings of doctrinal material appearing in the Buddhist sutras, according to schematic classifications. The Abhidhamma works do not contain systematic philosophical treatises, but summaries or abstract and systematic lists.


Acosmism, in contrast to pantheism, denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory (the prefix "a-" in Greek meaning negation; like "un-" in English), and only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real. Conceptual versions of Acosmism are found in eastern and western philosophies.


Atomism (from Greek ἄτομον, atomon, i.e. "uncuttable, indivisible") is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions.

References to the concept of atomism and its atoms appeared in both ancient Greek and ancient Indian philosophical traditions. The ancient Greek atomists theorized that nature consists of two fundamental principles: atom and void. Unlike their modern scientific namesake in atomic theory, philosophical atoms come in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, each indestructible, immutable and surrounded by a void where they collide with the others or hook together forming a cluster. Clusters of different shapes, arrangements, and positions give rise to the various macroscopic substances in the world.The particles of chemical matter for which chemists and other natural philosophers of the early 19th century found experimental evidence were thought to be indivisible, and therefore were given the name "atom", long used by the atomist philosophy. Although the connection to historical atomism is at best tenuous, elementary particles have become a modern analog of philosophical atoms.

Buddhist ethics

Buddhist ethics are traditionally based on what Buddhists view as the enlightened perspective of the Buddha, or other enlightened beings such as Bodhisattvas. The Indian term for ethics or morality used in Buddhism is Śīla (Sanskrit: शील) or sīla (Pāli). Śīla in Buddhism is one of three sections of the Noble Eightfold Path, and is a code of conduct that embraces a commitment to harmony and self-restraint with the principal motivation being nonviolence, or freedom from causing harm. It has been variously described as virtue, right conduct, morality, moral discipline and precept.

Sīla is an internal, aware, and intentional ethical behavior, according to one's commitment to the path of liberation. It is an ethical compass within self and relationships, rather than what is associated with the English word "morality" (i.e., obedience, a sense of obligation, and external constraint).

Sīla is one of the three practices foundational to Buddhism and the non-sectarian Vipassana movement — sīla, samādhi, and paññā as well as the Theravadin foundations of sīla, Dāna, and Bhavana. It is also the second pāramitā. Sīla is also wholehearted commitment to what is wholesome. Two aspects of sīla are essential to the training: right "performance" (caritta), and right "avoidance" (varitta). Honoring the precepts of sīla is considered a "great gift" (mahadana) to others, because it creates an atmosphere of trust, respect, and security. It means the practitioner poses no threat to another person's life, property, family, rights, or well-being.Moral instructions are included in Buddhist scriptures or handed down through tradition. Most scholars of Buddhist ethics thus rely on the examination of Buddhist scriptures, and the use of anthropological evidence from traditional Buddhist societies, to justify claims about the nature of Buddhist ethics.

Buddhist logico-epistemology

Buddhist logico-epistemology is a term used in Western scholarship for pramāṇa-vāda (doctrine of proof) and Hetu-vidya (science of causes). Pramāṇa-vāda is an epistemological study of the nature of knowledge; Hetu-vidya is a system of logic. These models developed in India during the 5th through 7th centuries.

The early Buddhist texts show that the historical Buddha was familiar with certain rules of reasoning used for debating purposes and made use of these against his opponents. He also seems to have held certain ideas about epistemology and reasoning, though he did not put forth a logico-epistemological system. The structure of debating rules and processes can be seen in the early Theravada text the Kathāvatthu.

The first Buddhist thinker to discuss logical and epistemic issues systematically was Vasubandhu in his Vāda-vidhi ("A Method for Argumentation"), who was influenced by the Hindu work on reasoning, the Nyāya-sūtra.A mature system of Buddhist logic and epistemology was founded by the Buddhist scholar Dignāga (c. 480–540 CE) in his magnum opus, the Pramāṇa-samuccaya. Dharmakirti further developed this system with several innovations. Dharmakirti's Pramanavarttika ('Commentary on Valid Cognition') became the main source of epistemology and reasoning in Tibetan Buddhism.

Buddhist philosophy

Buddhist philosophy refers to the philosophical investigations and systems of inquiry that developed among various Buddhist schools in India following the parinirvana (i.e. death) of the Buddha and later spread throughout Asia. The Buddhist path combines both philosophical reasoning and meditation. The Buddhist traditions present a multitude of Buddhist paths to liberation, and Buddhist thinkers in India and subsequently in East Asia have covered topics as varied as phenomenology, ethics, ontology, epistemology, logic and philosophy of time in their analysis of these paths.

Early Buddhism was based on empirical evidence gained by the sense organs (ayatana) and the Buddha seems to have retained a skeptical distance from certain metaphysical questions, refusing to answer them because they were not conducive to liberation but led instead to further speculation. A recurrent theme in Buddhist philosophy has been the reification of concepts, and the subsequent return to the Buddhist Middle Way.Particular points of Buddhist philosophy have often been the subject of disputes between different schools of Buddhism. These elaborations and disputes gave rise to various schools in early Buddhism of Abhidharma, and to the Mahayana traditions such as Prajñāpāramitā, Madhyamaka, Buddha-nature and Yogācāra.


Dharmakīrti (fl. c. 6th or 7th century) was an influential Indian Buddhist philosopher who worked at Nālandā. He was one of the key scholars of epistemology (pramana) in Buddhist philosophy, and is associated with the Yogācāra and Sautrāntika schools. He was also one of the primary theorists of Buddhist atomism. His works influenced the scholars of Mīmāṃsā, Nyaya and Shaivism schools of Hindu philosophy as well as scholars of Jainism.Dharmakīrti's Pramāṇavārttika, his largest and most important work, was very influential in India and Tibet as a central text on pramana ('valid knowledge instruments') and was widely commented on by various Indian and Tibetan scholars. His texts remain part of studies in the monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism.

Dualism (Indian philosophy)

Dualism in Indian philosophy refers to the belief held by certain schools of Indian philosophy that reality is fundamentally composed of two parts. This mainly takes the form of either mind-matter dualism in Buddhist philosophy or consciousness-matter dualism in the Samkhya and Yoga schools of Hindu philosophy. These can be contrasted with mind-body dualism in Western philosophy of mind, but also have similarities with it.

Another form of dualism in Hindu philosophy is found in the Dvaita ("dualism") Vedanta school, which regards God and the world as two realities with distinct essences; this is a form of theistic dualism. By contrast, schools such as Advaita ("nondualism") Vedanta embrace absolute monism and regard dualism as an illusion (maya).

Kalapa (atomism)

Kalapa or rupa-kalapa (from Sanskrit rūpa "form, phenomenon" and kalāpa "bundle") is a term in Theravada Buddhist phenomenology for the smallest units of physical matter, said to be about 1/46,656th the size of a particle of dust from a wheel of chariot.

Kalapas are not mentioned in the earliest Buddhists texts, such as the Tripitaka, but only in the Abhidhammattha-sangaha, an Abhidhamma commentary dated to the 11th or 12th century, and as such not part of common Theravada doctrine.According to the description found in the Abhidhammattha-sangaha, Kalapas are said to be invisible under normal circumstances but visible as a result of meditative samadhi. Kalapas are composed of eight inseparable elements of material essence in varying amounts which are: Pathavi (earth), Apo (water), Tejo (fire), Vayo (air), Vanna (color), Gandha (smell), Rasa (taste), and Oja (nutrition). The first four elements are called primary qualities, and are predominant in kalapas. The other four are secondary properties that derive from the primaries. Certain kalapas are said to also include additional elements, including sound, sex, body, mind-base and life.In contemporary Buddhist meditation practice, the observation and analysis of kalapas is a type of vipassana practice that aims to allow direct observation of impermanence and non-self. Contemporary adherents of practices related to the observation and analysis of kalapas include U Ba Khin, S.N. Goenka and Pa Auk Sayadaw.Mahasi Sayadaw in the 1980s expressed a belief that kalapas played a role in aging, death and rebirth.


Mahāyāna (English: ; Sanskrit: महायान for "Great Vehicle") is one of two main existing branches of Buddhism (the other being Theravada) and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. This movement added a further set of discourses, and although it was initially small in India, it had long-term historical significance. The Buddhist tradition of Vajrayana is sometimes classified as a part of Mahāyāna Buddhism, but some scholars consider it to be a different branch altogether."Mahāyāna" also refers to the path of the Bodhisattva seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called "Bodhisattvayāna", or the "Bodhisattva Vehicle". A bodhisattva who has accomplished this goal is called a samyaksaṃbuddha (सम्यक्सम्बुद्ध), or "fully enlightened Buddha". A samyaksaṃbuddha can establish the Dharma and lead disciples to enlightenment. Mahāyāna Buddhists teach that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and this can be accomplished even by a layperson.The Mahāyāna tradition is the largest major tradition of Buddhism existing today, with 53% of practitioners, compared to 36% for Theravada and 6% for Vajrayana in 2010.In the course of its history, Mahāyāna Buddhism spread from India to various other South, East and Southeast Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Taiwan, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Mahayana Buddhism also spread to other South and Southeast Asian countries, such as Afghanistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Iran and other Central Asian countries before being replaced by Theravada Buddhism, Islam, or other religions.Large Mahāyāna scholastic centers such as Nalanda thrived during the latter period of Buddhism in India, between the seventh and twelfth centuries. Major traditions of Mahāyāna Buddhism today include Chan Buddhism, Korean Seon, Japanese Zen, Pure Land Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism and Vietnamese Buddhism. It may also include the Vajrayana traditions of Tiantai, Tendai, Shingon Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism, which add esoteric teachings to the Mahāyāna tradition.


Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions. According to philosophical materialism, mind and consciousness are by-products or epiphenomena of material processes (e.g. the biochemistry of the human brain and nervous system) without which they cannot exist. This concept directly contrasts with idealism, where mind and consciousness are first-order realities to which matter is subject and material interactions are secondary.

Materialist theories are mainly divided into three groups. Naive materialism identifies the material world with specific elements (e.g. the scheme of the four elements—fire, air, water and earth—devised by the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles). Metaphysical materialism examines separated parts of the world in a static, isolated environment. Dialectical materialism adapts the Hegelian dialectic for materialism, examining parts of the world in relation to each other within a dynamic environment.

Materialism is closely related to physicalism—the view that all that exists is ultimately physical. Philosophical physicalism has evolved from materialism with the theories of the physical sciences to incorporate more sophisticated notions of physicality than mere ordinary matter (e.g. spacetime, physical energies and forces, and dark matter). Thus the term physicalism is preferred over materialism by some, while others use the terms as if they are synonymous.

Philosophies contradictory to materialism or physicalism include idealism, pluralism, dualism, and other forms of monism.

Mereological nihilism

Mereological nihilism (also called compositional nihilism, or rarely simply nihilism) is the mereological position that objects with proper parts do not exist. Only mereological simples, those basic building blocks without proper parts, exist. Or, more succinctly, "nothing is a proper part of anything". Mereological simples can be both spatial and temporal. Mereological nihilism also asserts that objects existing in time do not have any temporal parts.


Nalanda (IAST: Nālandā; /naːlən̪d̪aː/) was an ancient Mahavihara, a large and revered Buddhist monastery, in the ancient kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar) in India. One of the most illustrious learning centres to ever exist, it was built in the 5th century by the Gupta Emperor Kumaragupta I. The site is located about 95 kilometres (59 mi) southeast of Patna near the city of Bihar Sharif, and was an important centre of learning from the fifth century CE to c. 1200 CE. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The highly formalized methods of Vedic scholarship helped inspire the establishment of large teaching institutions such as Taxila, Nalanda, and Vikramashila, which are often characterised as India's early universities. Nalanda flourished under the patronage of the Gupta Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries, and later under Harsha, the emperor of Kannauj. The liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age resulted in a period of growth and prosperity until the ninth century CE. The subsequent centuries were a time of gradual decline, a period during which the tantric developments of Buddhism became most pronounced in eastern India under the Pala Empire.At its peak the school attracted scholars and students from near and far, with some travelling from Tibet, China, Korea, and Central Asia. Archaeological evidence also notes contact with the Shailendra dynasty of Indonesia, one of whose kings built a monastery in the complex.

Much of our knowledge of Nalanda comes from the writings of pilgrim monks from Asia, such as Xuanzang and Yijing, who travelled to the Mahavihara in the 7th century CE. Vincent Smith remarked that "a detailed history of Nalanda would be a history of Mahayanist Buddhism." Many of the names listed by Xuanzang in his travelogue as alumni of Nalanda are the names of those who developed the overall philosophy of Mahayana. All students at Nalanda studied Mahayana, as well as the texts of the eighteen (Hinayana) sects of Buddhism. Their curriculum also included other subjects, such as the Vedas, logic, Sanskrit grammar, medicine, and Samkhya.Nalanda was very likely ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Mamluk Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate under Bakhtiyar Khalji in c. 1200 CE. While some sources note that the Mahavihara continued to function in a makeshift fashion after this attack, it was eventually abandoned all together and forgotten until the 19th century, when the site was surveyed and preliminary excavations were conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India. Systematic excavations commenced in 1915, which unearthed eleven monasteries and six brick temples neatly arranged on grounds 12 hectares (30 acres) in area. A trove of sculptures, coins, seals, and inscriptions have also been discovered in the ruins, many of which are on display in the Nalanda Archaeological Museum, situated nearby. Nalanda is now a notable tourist destination, and a part of the Buddhist tourism circuit.

On 25 November 2010 the Indian government, through an Act of Parliament, resurrected the ancient university through the Nalanda University Bill, and subsequently a new Nalanda University was established. It has been designated as an "international university of national importance."

Outline of Buddhism

Buddhism (Pali/Sanskrit: बौद्ध धर्म Buddha Dharma) is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha, "the awakened one".

The following outline is provided as an overview of, and topical guide to, Buddhism.


The Sarvāstivāda (Sanskrit; Chinese: 說一切有部; pinyin: Shuō Yīqièyǒu Bù) was one of the early Buddhist schools established around the reign of Asoka (third century BCE). It was particularly known as an Abhidharma tradition, with a unique set of seven Abhidharma works.The Sarvāstivādins were one of the most influential Buddhist monastic groups, flourishing throughout North India (especially Kashmir) and Central Asia until the 7th century. The orthodox Kashmiri branch of the school composed the large and encyclopedic Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra during the reign of Kanishka (c. 127–150 CE). Because of this, orthodox Sarvāstivādins who upheld the doctrines in the Mahāvibhāṣa were called Vaibhāṣikas.

The Sarvāstivādins are believed to have given rise to the Mūlasarvāstivāda sect as well as the Sautrāntika tradition, although the relationship between these groups has not yet been fully determined.


The Sautrāntika or Sutravadin (Sanskrit, Suttavāda in Pali; Chinese: 經量部\ 說經部; pinyin: jīng liàng bù\ shuō jīng bù; Japanese: 経量部, romanized: Kyou Ryou Bu) were an early Buddhist school generally believed to be descended from the Sthavira nikāya by way of their immediate parent school, the Sarvāstivādins. While they are identified as a unique doctrinal tendency, they were part of the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya lineage of monastic ordination.Their name means literally "those who rely upon the sutras", which indicated, as stated by the commentator Yasomitra, that they hold the sutras, but not the Abhidharma commentaries (sastras), as authoritative. The views of this group first appear in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya of Vasubandhu.


Vasubandhu (Gandhari: 𐨬𐨀𐨯𐨂𐨦𐨀𐨞𐨡𐨂; traditional Chinese: 世親; ; pinyin: Shìqīn; Wylie: dbyig gnyen) (fl. 4th to 5th century CE) was an influential Buddhist monk and scholar from Gandhara. He was a philosopher who wrote commentary on the Abhidharma, from the perspectives of the Sarvastivada and Sautrāntika schools. After his conversion to Mahayana Buddhism, along with his half-brother, Asanga, he was also one of the main founders of the Yogacara school.

Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośakārikā ("Commentary on the Treasury of the Abhidharma") is widely used in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism, as the major source for non-Mahayana Abhidharma philosophy. His philosophical verse works set forth the standard for the Indian Yogacara metaphysics of "appearance only" (vijñapti-mātra), which has been described as a form of "epistemological idealism", phenomenology and close to Immanuel Kant's transcendental idealism. Apart from this, he wrote several commentaries, works on logic, argumentation and devotional poetry.

Vasubandhu is one of the most influential thinkers in the Indian Buddhist philosophical tradition. In Jōdo Shinshū, he is considered the Second Patriarch; in Chan Buddhism, he is the 21st Patriarch.


Yogachara (Sanskrit: योगाचार; IAST: Yogācāra; literally "yoga practice"; "one whose practice is yoga") is an influential tradition of Buddhist philosophy and psychology emphasizing the study of cognition, perception, and consciousness through the interior lens of meditative and yogic practices. It is also variously termed Vijñānavāda (विज्ञानवाद, the doctrine of consciousness), Vijñaptivāda (the doctrine of ideas or percepts) or Vijñaptimātratā-vāda (the doctrine of 'mere vijñapti), which is also the name given to its major epistemic theory. There are several interpretations of this main theory, some scholars see it as a kind of Idealism while others argue that it is closer to a kind of phenomenology or representationalism.

According to Dan Lusthaus, this tradition developed "an elaborate psychological therapeutic system that mapped out the problems in cognition along with the antidotes to correct them, and an earnest epistemological endeavor that led to some of the most sophisticated work on perception and logic ever engaged in by Buddhists or Indians." The 4th-century Indian brothers, Asaṅga and Vasubandhu, are considered the classic philosophers and systematizers of this school, along with its other founder, Maitreya.It was associated with Indian Mahayana Buddhism in about the fourth century, but also included non-Mahayana practitioners of the Dārṣṭāntika school. Yogācāra continues to be influential in Tibetan Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism. However, the uniformity of a single assumed "Yogācāra school" has been put into question.

Topics in Buddhism
The Buddha
Key concepts
Major figures


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.