I am very grateful to Venerable Master Chin Kung, Venerable Wu Shin,
Venerable Wu Ling, Venerable Wu Ping, Ms. Julia Lieu, Dr. Mei-Hui
Ho, Mr. Gene Lamb, Dr. Yeong-Han Cheong, Ms. Jenny Wong, Ms. Vivian
Fung, and Ms. Fei-lun Chen for their helpful comments and suggestions.
All errors remain my own. Address correspondence to: Dr. Maosen
Zhong, UQ Business School, University of Queensland, St. Lucia,
Brisbane, QLD 4067, Australia, phone: (+61) 7 3365 6181, e-mail:
from New Discoveries in Space Physics
Traditional Buddhism is not a religion but an education about the
truth of life and the universe. Modern science has gradually verified
what Buddha Shakyamuni taught in the sutras (i.e., Buddhist texts).
We contrast the new physics discoveries about the universe with
statements in the sutras. These new scientific discoveries are very
similar to what Buddha Shakyamuni taught 3000 years ago. Specifically,
we relate three findings in space physics to the Buddha’s teachings:
1) Distance and time are “illusory”; 2) Things can be created from
“nothing”; and 3) The origin of the universe. We hope this preliminary
study can stimulate our thinking and discussion about the truth
of our universe.
Traditional Buddhism is not a religion but an education about the
truth of life and the universe. Modern science has gradually verified
what Buddha Shakyamuni taught in the sutras (i.e., Buddhist texts).
It would be interesting to contrast the new physics discoveries
about the universe with the statements in the sutras. In this paper,
we summarize some key discoveries about the universe from America’s
National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA)1
on-line cosmology literature.
The purpose of this preliminary study is to stimulate our thinking
and discussion of the truth about our universe. We believe that
each religion has insightful descriptions about the truth of life
and the universe. It is important for religious followers to study
their own scriptures and understand these truths.
Modern cosmology attempts to describe how the universe started and
developed. The subject is built upon quantum mechanics and Albert
Einstein’s Theories of Relativity. Most of the discoveries are derived
from highly advanced mathematical principles and are quite difficult
for a person without sufficient knowledge in physics and mathematics
to comprehend. However, we do not intend to focus on the technical
details of those mathematical formulas here. What is important are
the messages that emerge from this scientific research. We will
elaborate on some key discoveries of space physics research, which
appear amazingly similar to what Buddha Shakyamuni had taught 3000
NASA, founded in 1958, is the world’s
leading research agency in aerospace and physics.
The time frame of 3000 years is calculated from Chinese records
which differs from those of other countries.. Most scholars hold
that Buddha Shakyamuni lived about 2500 years ago.
In this paper, we present three key messages derived from modern
cosmology and quantum physics, which are essentially the same as
some of the Buddha’s profound teachings about the universe. Below
we try to use easy-to-understand language to explain the ideas,
avoiding complicated mathematical equations, because we expect our
audience to be the general public, not physics professionals. These
three key messages are:
and time are “illusory”;
2) Things can be created from “nothing”;
3) The origin of the universe.
and Time are “Illusory”
To prove this concept is not an easy task in physics. Although we
do not emphasize the technical aspects of physics in this paper,
the proof of this idea has to rely on Albert Einstein’s Theory of
Relativity. Relativity is an outgrowth of Einstein’s thoughts in
the early 1900s about motion and gravity in a non-Newtonian framework.
Newton’s physics—especially in the realm of mechanics—works well
in the dynamics of three-dimensional space (especially for earth-sized
and smaller bodies) and at velocities common to everyday experience.
Einstein’s relativity framework, however, is completely different.
Instead of the Absolute view of fundamental parameters such as space
and time envisioned in Newtonian physics, space, time, energy, and
mass can all vary in their perceived nature in a Relative sense.
This theory completely altered the direction of modern physics and
provided a solid theoretical founding for cosmic research. Einstein
is therefore regarded as the “Father of Modern Science.”
the history of Einstein’s discoveries and an excellent portrayal
of how they affect cosmology are given in Amir Acezel’s book
God’s Equation: Einstein, Relativity, and the Expanding Universe,
published by Dell Publishing in 1999. Einstein was awarded the
Nobel Prize in physics in 1922 and was later selected by Time
Magazine as the “Man of the 20th Century.” A splendid biography
of him: Einstein: The Life and Times by Ronald W. Clark, published
by Avon Books in 1971, describes Einstein’s contribution as
a scientist and humanitarian.
There are two stages of Relativity theories: Special Relativity
(SR) and General Relativity (GR). Special Relativity is applicable
to objects that are traveling at uniform velocities. General Relativity
is concerned with the effects of accelerating velocities. Einstein’s
theory of Special Relativity (SR) was first published in Annalen
de Physik in the summer of 1905. In the same issue of that Journal,
he also had significant papers on Brownian motion and on the photoelectric
effect, for which he later (in 1922) was awarded a Nobel Prize in
Einstein, among other researchers, realized that physical properties
should theoretically change greatly when their measurements are
under conditions where the observer is traveling at high speeds
relative to that of light. A simple relationship between the length
and speed of an object can be described in the following equation:
where Lv is the object’s length when it is moving, L0 is the object’s
length when it is standing still, v is the speed of the moving object,
and c is the speed of light (approximately 300,000 kilometers per
second). Figure 1 below shows the inverse relationship between an
object’s length and its speed according to the equation (1). As
an object moves increasingly faster (relative to the observer),
its length becomes progressively smaller.
The relationship between an object’s length and speed
Equation (1) tells
us that objects that are moving very fast (at significant fractions
of light speed) would appear to “shrink” in length. If an object
is moving at the speed of light, then the ratio v2/c2 =1, and we
will observe that the object has no length or size.3
In other words, lengths (or sizes) will vanish at the speed of light.
For instance, under certain conditions, you will not see any distance
between a nearby object (say, the Queensland Performing Art Center
in Brisbane, Australia) and a distant object (say, the White House
in Washington, DC in the U.S.).4
Or put it differently, under some conditions, you may be able to
appear on Earth and on Mars at the same time5
as the distance between Earth and Mars can vanish. Dr. Sten Odenwald,
NASA’s space scientist, concludes that objects can be in many places
at the same time.6
Therefore, distance is not real!
It is a belief in physics that nothing with mass can actually move
at the speed of light as its mass would become infinite. Only massless
particles like light itself can move at the speed of light
In physics, this would only be true to an observer traveling at
the speed of light relative to the Earth.
Relative theory tells us that time, just as distance explained above,
is relative. There is no absolute time or space. These vary depending
on one’s point of reference.
This concept is consistent with Buddha Shakyamuni’s teaching in
the Infinite Life Sutra7:
“The Buddha does come but without coming from anywhere. He leaves
but without going anywhere. He was neither born nor will he pass
away.” (無量壽經： 彼佛如來，來無所來，去無所去，無生無滅).8
Another similar statement can be found in the Practices and Vows
of Bodhisattva Universal Worthy of the Flower Adornment Sutra: “In
each of the innumerable Buddhas’ lands, I manifested transformation
bodies as numerous as the number of fine dusts in incalculable numbers
of Buddha-lands.” (華嚴經普賢行願品：我以普賢行願力故，一一佛所，皆現不可說不可說佛剎極微塵數身。) Bodhisattva
Universal Worthy has the ability to appear in infinite number of
worlds at the same time. This ability can now be understood by modern
In full title, The Buddha’s Teaching On The Sutra of Awakening To
The Equanimity Pure Adornment of The Immeasurable Lifespan of the
Great Vehicle (佛說大乘無量壽莊嚴清淨平等覺經).
The English quotes from Buddhist sutras in this presentation may
need to be further polished. The Chinese original versions of the
quotes are also presented for readers’ reference.
Regarding time, the theory of Relativity also provides an intriguing
viewpoint. A cornerstone premise in Einstein’s physics is the constancy
of the speed of light. That is, light travels at precisely 299,792
km/sec (or approximately 300,000 km/sec) and this is the highest
speed an object can attain. Nothing (with mass) can accelerate beyond
the speed of light.9
Let us first consider a simple example in our daily life. Suppose
we are walking in a fast-moving train. While we might feel that
we are walking slowly, an observer outside of the train would see
that we were passing by very rapidly This is because our relative
speed is very low with respect to the train but is very high with
respect to the external observer.
The reason for this is that the object’s mass increases as the speed
increases and would become infinite at the speed of light which
is clearly an impossibility. It is hypothesized that particles called
tachyons, go faster than the speed of light; but they, theoretically,
do not accelerate beyond the speed of light but always move at a
speed beyond that of light. They cannot decelerate to the speed
of light for the same reasons.
Now suppose we occupy a spacecraft moving at extreme speeds (approaching
the speed of light) away from Earth. From the spacecraft, we use
a special clock device to send forth a light signal every second
to an observer on Earth. In the spacecraft passengers’ eyes, the
relative motion of ourselves within the spacecraft is that of standing
still with respect to the spacecraft, but moving quite fast (close
to the speed of light) with respect to external observers. For the
rapidly moving spacecraft passengers, the clock on board seems to
move normally (without any change in the length of time of a second).
The external observers receive the light signal from the clock on
the fast-moving spacecraft at a much longer time interval (interval
between seconds increases). That is, for external observers on Earth,
the clock on the spacecraft appears to tell time more slowly so
that time “stretches out.”
In effect, for anyone moving at high relative speeds, time stretches
out (called “time dilation”). There is no “absolute” time. Thus,
time is just an “illusion.” Theoretically, you may be able to stretch
time from very short intervals to extremely long intervals without
making any change to yourselves and your objects. In fact, we believe
that the Buddha has attained this ability. In the Infinite Life
Sutra, it is said: “The Buddha possesses unfathomable wisdom. He
has no obstacles. In one single instant, he can dwell in innumerable
billions of kalpas (i.e., long eons), but his body and sense organs
do not increase or decrease (i.e., do not age). Why is it? Because
the Buddha’s concentration and wisdom are boundless and free of
obstructions.” (佛說大乘無量壽莊嚴清淨平等覺經第三品：如來正覺，其智難量，能於念頃，住無量億劫， 身及諸根，無有增減，所以者何？如來定慧，究暢無極，於一切法而得最勝自在故。)
Hence, when we attain the ultimate bliss of Buddhahood, this fantastic
ability comes naturally from within us.
Another excellent example of the time dilation effect is best illustrated
by Einstein’s “Twin Paradox.” If the above-mentioned spacecraft
were to return Earth after 20 years (according to the Earth calendar)
of high-speed travel, the passengers on board will prove to have
aged less than 20 years of Earth’s time. Suppose two twin brothers
born on the same day separate in the following manner. The ground
twin remains on Earth while the space twin takes a journey such
as described above. The ground twin now becomes 20 years older.
The space twin, upon return, appears to have aged about 3 years
because time has shortened from 20 years to 3 years for the space
twin and his bodily functions in aging have proceeded more slowly
relative to those on Earth. To himself and any other passengers
on the spacecraft, he has aged in the normal manner—although he
felt that he was traveling for only three years.
To take this a step further, theoretically, the space traveler sees
his return as a step into the future (from 3 years old to 20 years
old). On the other hand, if time can be shortened to a negative
value, the traveler can somehow move backward in time from “now”
to the past.10
This would be possible if he could accelerate beyond the speed of
light which modern physics has yet to prove.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are able to actually enter either the infinite
past or the infinite future in a single moment. As Bodhisattva Universal
Worthy says in the Flower Adornment Sutra: “I can clearly behold
the state of the future and combine all coming kalpas (i.e., long
eons) into one instantaneous thought. I can also penetrate all the
eras of the past, present, and future in an instant.” (華嚴經普賢行願品：我能深入於未來，盡一切劫為一念，三世所有一切劫，為一念際我皆入。)
To further illustrate this point, we want to cite an example from
Buddhist literature, which is analogous to the example of Einstein’s
“Twin Brother Paradox” that we just discussed. There were three
brothers who practiced hard in order to be reborn into heaven and
follow Bodhisattva Maitreya’s teachings there. The three promised
each other that whoever went to heaven first would come back to
tell the other two what was happening in heaven.
One brother went to heaven first but never returned. Then a few
years later, the second brother went to heaven and returned three
years later to see the third brother who was still on Earth. The
third brother asked, “What took you so long?” The second brother
protested, “I have been in heaven for only a moment. As soon as
I paid my respect to Bodhisattva Maitreya, I returned to see you.
But when I came back, three years had passed on Earth!” “What about
our other brother who never returned?” The second brother answered,
“He was seduced by many beautiful girls in heaven and forgot about
seeing Bodhisattva Maitreya.” Upon hearing this, the third brother
felt that it was too risky to attain enlightenment in heaven. He
decided to be reborn in the Western Pure Land and follow the teachings
of Buddha Amitabha. From this example, we see that there is a time
difference between Earth and “heaven” perhaps due to different relative
speeds. Here, heaven can be regarded as place of different space-time
In summary, space and time are varying and illusionary phenomena.
Under some conditions, space and time can be changed completely.
Indeed, the recent discovery of Black Holes demonstrates this concept.
According to NASA space scientists, space and time can reverse themselves
in a Black Hole. This means that space becomes time-like and time
becomes space-like. What we call time does change to something with
the mathematical properties we have normally associated with space,
and vice versa.
can be created from nothing
Talking about this concept, let us first quote NASA astronomer Dr.
Odenwald, “Nature has over the years presented us with many physical
situations where our intuition about how things ‘ought’ to behave
has been shown to be absolutely false: people age differently if
they are moving; space can dilate; matter can be created out of
pure energy; matter can be created spontaneously out of the vacuum…”
In this section, we present the idea that things can be created
from nothing. Without spending too much time in explaining the mathematical
formulas, we can cite Einstein’s conclusion of the Principle of
Equivalence of mass and energy. That is, under certain conditions,
energy can “condense” to mass and, conversely, mass is convertible
The famous conversion
E = mc2 (2)
where c is the speed of light, E is energy, and m is mass. The energy
is equal to mass times c2.
From this equation, one can deduce that as an object moves faster
up to speeds approaching that of light, its energy will begin to
increase notably. In principle then, the maximum energy a given
amount of mass can release is determined by c2. This mass-energy
equivalence forms the basis of recovering huge amounts of energy
by “tapping” into the nuclei of atoms; the energy released from
the explosion of an atomic bomb is derived from this theoretical
On the other hand, matter (mass) can be created if enough energy
is applied to some volume of space. This can be seen by simply rearranging
m = E/c2 (3)
The above formula suggests that under certain conditions, we can
convert energy into matter in empty space. This means that one can
literally make up something out of “air.”11
In fact, in a micro world, we see things are created from nothing
all the time. This reminds us of what is said in the Infinite Life
Sutra: All the things that are needed by them (people in the Pure
Land) will be in abundance. All the adorned things, such as the
palaces, the beautifully decorated clothing, the fragrant flowers,
the banners and umbrellas will come forth just as one wishes for
or needs. If a man wishes to eat, the seven precious bowls and containers,
which contain hundreds of different food and drinks of different
tastes, will naturally appear in front of him and be filled to the
brim… When eating is finished, the food, drinks, and containers
will disappear and appear again in time for lunch.” (無量壽經第十九品：受用種種，一切豐足。宮殿、服飾、香花、幡蓋，莊嚴之具，隨意所須，悉皆如念。若欲食時，七寶砵器，自然在前，百味飲食，自然盈滿。事已化去，時至復現。)
My use of 'air' here is not the best English expression since air
is already something. Maybe I should say 'out of thin air' implying
A physical justification of this behavior in the Pure Land is that
people there possess highly advanced scientific power so that they
can create things out of energy when they need them, and convert them
back to energy after use.
The Origin of the Universe
In the quantum world, we see things “appearing” out of nothing.
Here, a quantum is the smallest possible unit of energy. The universe
may have done the same thing—appeared out of “nothing.” Dr. Odenwald
said that when physicists say “nothing,” they are being playful
with the English language, because we often think of a vacuum as
being “empty” or “nothing.” In fact, physicists know full well that
the vacuum is far from nothing. Before the formation of the universe,
there was no time or space, not even vacuum. The primordial state
of the pre-universe period was far from being the kind of “nothingness”
we might have in mind.
As Dr. Odenwald acknowledges, “We don’t have a full mathematical
theory for describing this state yet, but it was probably ‘multi-dimensional’…Nothingness
[that gives rise to the present universe] was not nothing, but it
was not anything like the kinds of ‘something’ we know about today.
We have no words to describe it and the ones we find in the Oxford
English Dictionary are based on the wrong physical insight.”
Buddha Shakyamuni taught that the original state of the universe,
referred to as the “true self nature,” neither comes from somewhere
nor goes anywhere, is neither continuous nor separate, is neither
dirty nor clean, neither increases nor decreases. (不來不去，不常不斷，不垢不淨，不增不減。
This pre-universe state (or so called “nothingness”) seems obscure
and incomprehensible to most of us. Let us put it aside for now
and look at what happened at the moment of the formation of the
universe. The widely accepted theory in physics about the formation
of the universe is the so-called “Big Bang” theory. However, the
theory is still being questioned both in its detail and its essential
correctness. We can obtain some insights from this theory without
necessarily accepting this theory in its entirety.
According to the Big Bang theory, our universe was created somewhere
between 10-15 billion years ago from a cosmic explosion that threw
matter in all directions. Before the explosion, there was no “space”
or “time.” Such a state is far removed from anything we know. Even
the laws that govern the universe become totally obscure to scientists.
The Buddha used the terms “unthinkable” and “inexpressible” to describe
this state. In fact, this state is beyond our comprehension. Dr.
Odenwald admits “What this means to us may never be fully understood.”
But the Buddha did not imply that we should not attempt to “understand”
or “observe” this state. The method we should use is “not to think,”
that is, meditation or deep concentration without any wandering
thought. In deep concentration, there are no obstacles. At this
moment, the true nature of ourselves and the universe come forth.
This level is called “the pure state of enlightenment.”
So how big was our universe when it was born? According to scientists’
calculation, the size of the universe at that moment was equal to
10-33 centimeters. That is, 0.000…0001 (33 zeros) centimeters! Such
a number is so small that it is merely a mathematical concept and
can never be grasped by our common thought.
Consider this analogy. Suppose the thinnest body hair has a diameter
of 0.01 millimeters. If this pre-universe particle can somehow be
stored in a thin hair, how many particles can you store across the
hair’s diameter? You can store one million trillion trillions of
particles across the diameter of your single hair! It is amazing
that our infinite universe once contained the same information as
that tiny particle did. This information includes everything in
the universe in the past, present, and future, including you and
me! It is more amazing that a hair can potentially accommodate that
many universes! No wonder Buddha Shakyamuni told us: “There is no
difference between the infinite and the infinitesimal. Incalculable
number of universes can emerge from a single pore!”
Another amazing phenomenon relates to the speed of the expansion
from this tiny particle to a huge universe. Space scientists told
us that the particle expanded at an increditably high speed: 1059
times bigger in every second. That means, within less than one thousandth
of a second, the particle had grown to a size bigger than our present
solar system! The formation of our universe takes only an instant!
This scientific finding verifies what the Buddha had stated in the
sutra: the formation and extinction of universes takes only an instant
In short, according to modern cosmology, the genesis of our entire
universe is as follows. In the beginning there was “nothing.”12
All of a sudden, a tiny particle appeared. This tiny particle took
an unimaginably short instant to form our entire universe. Currently,
scientists do not have a meaningful explanation of this tiny particle
and only have a subtle mathematical description. Buddha Shakyamuni
told us that this tiny particle is actually one’s smallest wandering
thought rising from the pure mind. In an instant, this wandering
thought forms the entire universe. (無明不覺生三細，境界為緣長六粗)
Here “nothing” differs from its ordinary meaning, since “nothing”
still implies an absence of something (No Thing). But in fact, there
was neither something nor nothing (incomprehensible).
Finally, when asked about other universes, Dr. Odenwald answered that
according to General Relativity, our universe represents everything,
including all space, time, and galaxies. Other universes are of totally
different space and time completely outside our own. Those universes
do not now, or ever will in the future, have any “physical” contact
with our universe. From our perspective, these other universes are
literally on the other side of eternity and infinity from our perspective.
Buddha Shakyamuni also said that incalculable universes exist in numerous
different dimensions but we human beings are unable to see them because
our wandering thoughts, differentiation, and attachments block our
vision. When we let go of our wandering thoughts, differentiation,
and attachments, we will be able to clearly observe all the universes.
Let us summarize the points we have discussed here.
First, distance and time are illusions of human beings. Under some
conditions, space and time can vanish. You can appear in many places
at the same time and you can observe the past, present, and future
at the same instant.
Second, things can be created from nothing. Objects can appear from
vacuum. Pure energy can be converted to mass and vice versa.
Third, the origin of the universe is an extremely tiny particle.
It takes an extremely short instant for this tiny particle to expand
into the huge universe.
Despite the significant progress in modern cosmology research, the
universe still remains extremely profound to human beings. The more
phenomena that scientists discover the more they realize how little
they know about the universe. Three thousand years ago, Buddha Shakyamuni
not only explained the true phenomenon of this entire universe but
also showed us ways to attain the ultimate wisdom that will enable
us to see it all very clearly. It is unfortunate that our scientists
have not studied Buddhism. Otherwise, modern science would have
even more advanced achievements. We strongly believe that as science
advances, more facts taught by Buddha Shakyamuni will be proven.
We conclude our paper with a quote made by Albert Einstein, the
“Father of Modern Science.”
of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal
god and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and
the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from
the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful
unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion
that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.”
--- Albert Einstein
Acezel, Amir, 1999, God’s Equation: Einstein, Relativity, and the
Expanding Universe, Dell Publishing.
Buddha Shakyamuni, The Buddha’s Teaching On The Sutra of Awakening
To The Equanimity Pure Adornment of The Immeasurable Lifespan of
the Great Vehicle (佛說大乘無量壽莊嚴清淨平等覺經).
Shakyamuni, Flower Adornment Sutra (大方廣佛華嚴經).
Clark, Ronald W., 1971, Einstein: The Life and Times by, published,
National Aeronautics and Space Administration on-line literature:
of the Author
Dr. Maosen Zhong is currently a Senior Lecturer in Finance at The
University of Queensland Business School. Dr. Zhong obtained his
bachelor’s degree in economics from Zhongshan University in 1995,
China and Master of Business Administration and Doctoral degrees
in Finance from Louisiana Tech University (U.S.A.) in 1999. Prior
to joining UQ, he was the Assistant Professor of Finance at Kansas
State University and The University of Texas-Brownsville in the
United States. He teaches both graduate and undergraduate finance
courses. He has published 12 articles in international academic
journals and made 20 presentations at academic conferences world
wide. Two of his papers were awarded “Best Paper” by professional
associations in the U.S.A. He has studied Buddhism for many years
under Venerable Master Chin Kung, President of the Pure Land Learning
College and Honorary Professor of the University of Queensland.