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Modern Physics and Jain Darshan

Narendra Bhandari


            We examine here the  question whether any common ground exists between Modern physics and religion, particularly  the Jain Darshan. The question has arisen because some religious leaders  as well as proponents of modern physics think that  they belong to different spheres of activity, one dealing with soul  and spirituality (which are not physical entities) and the other with matter and the physical world . The laws that govern these two are exclusive to their domain and hence it is futile to look for  any overlaps between them. The religion has declared one as vidya and  the other as avidya   and there the partition has started. However  if we consider that no religion can ignore or wish away  the ground truth on which the physical universe operates, (whether some call it an illusion  a la Shankara, or not), they must not only incorporate each other but be based on each other. I personally believe that any  religion  must encompass various aspects of physical reality as we experience in our daily life. In fact, Darshan  and physics must be complementary and have similarity of concepts and postulates of these two complementary aspects of our existence i.e. Physics  and spirituality must coexist. At the least, they cannot be contradictory and in reality they should derive strength from each other.

            Foundations of  Physics  are based on certain laws, theories and principles which are derived from  observations  and deductions. As examples we may cite Newton 's Law of Gravitation, or Kepler's laws of Planetary motion , Quantum theory or  the Big Bang theory  and principles of conservation of physical entities or attributes. In contrast,  religions are based on faith, philosophical deductions and revelations. The physical laws are deduced from observations  or from theoretical deductions and although the laws of physics control the physical world in a fundamental way, they are not fundamental ________________________________________________________________________



concepts of physics. Take for example the Law of gravitation. It says that attraction

between two bodies depends on their mass and varies inversely as the square of the distance between them. This affects all  the physical universe but is  a consequence of the

principle of gravitational attraction. This immediately leads us to even more fundamental question of the origin of Mass. We may recall here Mach's principle , which  deals with the concept of origin of inertial mass.  Broadly speaking Mach's principle  states that  the inertial mass  of a body is solely due to interaction of other bodies in the universe. Heller (1975) mentions it in the following way" The local inertial frames are entirely determined by the distribution and motion of all matter present in the universe" and Einstein formulated it as " the entire inertia of a point mass is the effect of the presence of all other masses, deriving from a kind of interaction from the latter" There is yet no "proof" for this principle but Einstein is  said to have derived much inspiration  from the Mach�s principle for development of his Theory of Relativity.

            The implication is that inertial mass cannot exist in isolation. Now we may ask if this principle can be extended to other physical entities or even spiritual entities? Is everything interactive. Are we living in a totally interactive world and everything here is interactive. The same may be postulated for life or  consciousness. Life certainly  cannot exist in isolation. If all living species, except one,  in the universe or even on Earth vanish, the last one also will not be able to  survive. Therefore the life is a result of interdependence (or interaction)  with other living species. The principle of non-violence immediately follows since the whole becomes a cause for the existence of a part of it and both are indistinguishable. In effect, when, one does any harm or kills some body, howsoever primitive, one is killing a part of one self ,  because his very existence is interactive in nature. Thus the inertial mass, which is a physical entity and the consciousness, which is a spiritual attribute, can both be a consequence of interaction.

            Many great minds who developed the basic concepts of modern physics have written about things beyond physics. To cite a few of them, we may mention the book  on "Physics and Philosophy" and "Physics and beyond" by Werner Heisenberg who gave the concept of the Uncertainty principle. There are others like Feynman (The character of Physical Law), Einstein (Ideas and Opinions) and various essays and books that deal with science, philosophy, religion, society and reality.

            The crowning glory of modern physics has been the Quantum mechanics.  It took lot of debate  to understand the quantum theory  and Feynman, one of the greatest minds of the modern era said  "nobody understands quantum mechanics�.. I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that may be  she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, enchanting thing. Do not keep saying to yourself�. 'how it can it be like that?' Because you will get  into a blind alley from which nobody has escaped . No body know how it behaves like that."  Some Quantum phenomena can not be described in a language, they are "crazy beyond words", and can not be comprehended.

            The quantum mechanics puts severe constraints on certainty of our knowledge. Two tenets of quantum mechanics that are relevant here can be crudely described  as follows. One is that the universe  does not exist if you don�t observe it, equivalent to the paradox of the Schrődinger�s cat. This implies that universe and the observer exist as pairs and neither can exist without the other. The other is that a particle knows how it should behave. This is the famous  two-slit experiment which is the backbone of quantum mechanics and  particle wave duality.

                        Now let us talk about Jain Darshan. The Jain Darshan or for that matter any other religion did not develop equivalents of physical laws like the law of gravitation or theories like the theory of big bang but were having some basic principles on which the whole religion developed. So are the principles of physics  like the uncertainty principle and principle of Complementary  which we can compare with the principles of Jain Darshan.  These  principles offer a common ground for comparing modern physics with Jain Darshan.

            Some of the  basic tenets of Jain Darshan are Karmavād, Anekāntvād, Syādvād .  Can they be compared (respectively)  to the principles of causality, complementarity and uncertainty?

            Before we begin on this search for similarities between science and religion, it is pertinent to ask  "what benefit will accrue by seeing a common ground between religion and physics. Well the answer is obvious but must be stated here for clarity. Firstly if the religion is based on physics then the intra-religion contradictions can be dispensed with.

Every one believes in physical laws because they are  experienced in daily life. So if religion has a basis in the well established physical laws then there is no need to compartmentalize various religions. The apparent contradictions may be simply due to  different emphasis on different aspects   of physical laws and when they are complete, they will probably all become  the same. Secondly there may be principles  of physics, which may have not been  realized and incorporated in religion and vice versa so that their awareness would  indeed strengthen both of them, physics as well as Darshan. In view of these possibilities, we make an attempt to see some similarities between the two.

Let us first talk about Complementarity and Anekāntvād. Even Neils Bohr  who propounded the basics of quantum mechanics had great difficulty  explaining it. And he did it through his principle of Complementarity. The principle of Complementarity, is the most revolutionary and significant concepts of modern physics. The Western philosophers and scientists had a lot of difficulty in understanding and developing  quantum mechanics. The contradictory results indicated that  photon (or electrons) sometimes behaves as a  particle and sometimes as a wave. This  could not be reconciled because of the basic problem that wave and particles were considered to be exclusive or different.  Bohr explained  by saying that contradictory  behaviour is complementary and used the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, which are both opposite but exist together  and are required  for completeness. In contrast Buddhism avoided extremes and Buddha favoured the path of the Golden mean. Anekāntvād, however is the central philosophy of Jainism. It has been variously described as the theory of many-foldedness, non absolutism, non equivocality and  syādvāda. Literally it is defined as the theory of non-one sided ness, implying the many sided nature of reality. Some times  anekāntvād is contrasted with Ekantvad which stands for  definite and categorical asserted philosophical position. But in his book on the central philosophy of Jainism, Matilal  has pointed out that Anekā or many is  not  the opposite of Ekā, meaning one, since many includes one. Mookerjee (1944) defines it as a theory of non-absolutism, or sometimes as indetermination or indefiniteness.

            In the physical world, as in philosophy, things or ideas have plurality of attributes and these can be apparently contradictory or conflicting. Anekāntvād successfully harmonises or accommodates such views and completes the description of physical reality. But when we talk of manyfoldedness, the question obviously arises, how many. Certainly more than one but can it be infinite? Jains talk of saptbhangi or sevenfoldedness. This has been very clearly explained by D.S.Kothari in his essay  on" Complementarity principle and Eastern philosophy".

            Upanishads talk of Advaitvād and Dvaitvād. Purush and Prakriti as the sole cause(s) of the Universe. One is the energy and the other is its  manifestation. One can exist  without the other. Can particle-wave duality be considered in this context?.  In his exposition of Isa upnishad, Sri Aurobindo talks about "uncompromising reconciliation of the uncompromising extremes such as the Conscious Lord and Phenomenal Nature, of renunciation and enjoyment  or Action in nature and Freedom of soul or the Active Lord and the passive Akshara Brahman which are contradictory and yet complementary providing two sides of the same reality."

            Mahavira propounded Anekāntvād to explain seemingly contradictory propositions in daily life, philosophy, macroworld, mental exercises  and in spiritual domain. Questions which can not be answered in affirmative or negative, like the existence of soul,  could be dealt with  in the framework of Anekāntvād. It is , it is not; it is and yet it is not, it can not be expressed  and so on. But there are no examples of application of anekāntvād in microworld of the physical. May be  no need  arose or there were no queries related to particles, quanta etc as we know them now.   If we extend it  to the microworld, there may be objections on the ground that it has not been said in the scriptures but that will in essence be denying Anekāntvād itself. In order to get insight from physics point of view, Darshan has to be reinterpreted, expanded and interpreted to go beyond what has been said in the scriptures. Anekāntvād therefore  is not simply a multiview perception theory. It is  not a limitation of consciousness that it has limited capability of perception of the physical world . It is in fact a limitation of the interface between the physical and the  conscious world. Thus it is not looking at an object from different perspectives but that the object can not be known from all the perspectives. Anekāntvād is as fundamental as the uncertainty principle, which states that some properties can not be measured accurately, not  because of instrumental limitations but because of  inherent limitation of knowledge.

            Take for example Syādvād. It has been translated as "perhaps", or "May be". That appears to me as a qualitative (or  crude) definition. Can we extend and quantify it to include the uncertainty principle or derive the uncertainty principles  from the framework of Syādvād? Uncertainty principle is one of the most fundamental principles applicable equally well to the realms of all physical microworld and may be (in my opinion), the  cause of biological evolution. The uncertainty, e.g. in energy levels  give a choice for a variance in combination or in taking part in different chemical reactions. Without uncertainty biology will be like ordinary organic chemistry such as polymerization and animate could not have  evolved  from inanimate.  Syādvād therefore must be thought of as going beyond "may be", or used as an instrument for tolerance in society but should be seen to lead to indeterminacy  and to the principle of uncertainty.   

            According to the principle of Saptabhangi reality  can be described in seven ways i.e. it exists, it does not exist, it exists and yet it does not exist, indeterminable, its existence is indeterminable, its non existence is indeterminable and its existence as well as non existence is indeterminable or inexpressible. Saptabhangi has been explained very succinctly by Kothari in a quantum mechanical way by   taking the example of a particle in a box  which is divided by a partition with a hole into two compartments. Because of the particle-wave duality, the particle can be in compartment  A, or in compartment  B, In A and still not in A , In B and still  not in  B, not in A and B, in  A as well as in B  and  in  an indeterminate state (avyakta).The same solutions emerge from the considerations of quantum mechanics as has been shown mathematically by taking wave functions. 

            Umaswāti in his Tatvarthasutra, chapter 5, talks of the physical world. He mentions that infinite division leads to atom. Atom can not be formed by combination but 8is an ultimate product of division. Expansion and contraction is a property of  all, and conservation laws i.e. nothing can be destroyed.  We know through physics that every thing, from atom to universe undergoes expansion and contraction, including the Earth, Moon and Sun but this is not explicitly stated in the Sutra and the sutra does not take us very far. Many  principles are stated there and  yet we need physics to convince ourselves. And the question arises, what is new in Tatvarthsutra, which is not known to Physics.

            A point  where science and religion may meet is consciousness. Science does not recognize consciousness as a physical entity but there are ample evidences that matter, even in its primitive form, may have something akin to consciousness. Sometimes light or a photon  behaves like a compact object i.e. a particle and some times like a wave such as a  ripple we see in a pond.  A photon or an  electron, for example, �knows� when it should behave like a particle and when it should behave like a wave. In the famous two slit  experiment, a beam of photon shines through two slits and hits upon a photographic plate behind the slits. The experiment can be run in two ways: one with photon detectors right beside  each slit  so that the photons can be observed as they pass through the slits and or with detectors removed so that the photons can travel unobserved. When the detectors are in use, every photon is observed  to pass through  one slit or the other. Essentially the photons behave like particles. However, when the photon detectors are removed , a pattern of alternating light and dark spots, produced by interference of light are observed indicating that the photons behave like waves, with individual photon spreading out and surging against both the slits at once. The outcome of the experiment then depends on what the scientists want to measure. But how do photons "know" or realize that they are being observed by the detectors? And at what instant of time do they know that they are being observed. Just before, howsoever  small the interval of time be before they are observed  or at the very "instant"  they are observed. Does it need time, howsoever small, to decide its behaviour?

            John Wheeler has proposed a cosmic version of the two slit experiment based on gravitational lensing and  discussed the same experiment as a �delayed choice� experiment  in the context of cosmic journey of light. Whereas  the laboratory experiment, mentioned above, demonstrates that observation determines the behaviour of photon,  Wheeler's version shows that the present observations can affect the way a  photon behaved in the past and suggests that even the past behaviour can be determined from present. This is in a way  equivalent to changing the past!

            So there are areas where some deeper thinking and  interpretation can bring physics and philosophy closer, if not together. We may cite causality and Karmavād; determinism and Krambaddhaparyāy where there are similarities of postulates and further thinking may be fruitful. Then there are basic principles of physics  like  the Pauli's exclusion principle, the principle of conservation and so on in connection with which one  occasionally finds some statements  in scriptures. This is an area of further study if one wants to establish some common truths.

            At the  same time we must  recognise that there certainly are areas of conflict between physics and Jain Darshan. I may mention the description of the planetary system in Surya Pragyapti, where a binary sun has been postulated to explain the phenomena of  day and night. Certainly it is in clear contradiction  with our  present observations even using the latest space technology. However, one of the modern hypotheses mentions the origin of planetary system due to interaction between two star or as a consequence of a binary star system. So there is certainly need for further research to resolve or discard  some of the  concepts.

            The method of religion is different from science. Where as science believes in observation, experimentation,  generalisation and theorization, Religion may be based on observation, contemplation, meditation  and revelation. We have forgotten this method. Many of us think that there is only one way of knowing the reality and that is the way of science. Is there another way??. Then there is a problem of  methodology to prove, disprove and discard.  For this there is a clear and well established  methodology in science It is the backbone of scientific culture but missing in the religious practice. We have to develop a methodology  and appropriate tools, like mathematics has been used by physicists  if both of them , i.e. science and religion have to be integrated. However, one has to develop a testable and well founded  methodology for what is written in scriptures too and in this effort I hope the Research Institute for scientific study of oriental scriptures RISSIOS (which is being inaugurated today) will play some role.


Goldstein,  S.,  Lebowitz, J.L., Quantum mechanics in  The Physical review : The first 100 years (H. Henristroke, eds).

Kothari D.S. The Complementarity  Principle and Eastern philosophy, Neils Bohr Centenary volume (A.P. French and P.J. Kennedy, eds) Harvard University Press, Cambridge , USA 1985, 325-331.

Matilal B.K. The Central Philosophy of Jainism (Anekāntavāda) L.D. Series 79, (D. Malvania and N.J.Shah (Gen. Eds) L.D. Institute of Indology , Ahmedabad.

Mookerjee, S.,The Jaina Philosophy of Non-Absolutism 1944, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi .

Padamarajiah Y.J., A Comparative study of the Jaina Theory of Reality and Knowledge,1963, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi .

Wheeler, J.
We also know that Darwin �s theory of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest is the motive force for evolution. Evolution essentially means "memory" and modification. Thus every thing which  consciousness experiences is embedded in the memory. Thus consciousness should have  the records of whatever has happened in the past. If this is true, then it should be possible to understand our past by probing our memory. Here we explore the possibility that evolution is the manifestation of quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle  in the biological realm.

Causality in physics relates cause and effect. It is the same principle that is the backbone of Karmavad: As you sow so shall you reap. Action at a distance and action separated in time from the effect is understood in terms of fields.

Pauli's exclusion principle can be best summed up by Kabir:

Causality postulates that every effect has a cause and relates the  cause to its effect.In some expositions, Karmavad is believed to imply that the effect is a part of the cause itself, although sometimes they are considered as separate entities.

Determinism postulates that every event is predetermined and nothing can be changed. The very fact that we can deduce  our past history from the present conditions implies that determinism  dominates all the physical processe. Krambaddhaparyay   also has this as the basic hypotheses proposing that the sequence of events occurring in the universe, in the realms of physical and psychological and even spiritual  world  is predetermined. Every thing, including the thoughts are predestined.

Coming to sankaras hypothesis that the universe is an illusion, the modern science has come to a very similar conclusion, that the universe has formed out of vacuum