Higgs boson and Nagarjuna’s no-God Particle

The universe may be finite. That what the science team at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, have been thinking ever since they discovered the Higgs boson particle last year. And that could be bad news. Last week one of the team members, speaking at a science meeting in Boston, suggested that it is possible that tens of billions of years from now, another universe could come along and “slurp” ours up. Damn, and I had plans.

God Particle?
God Particle?

Higgs boson is a subatomic particle that scientists believe is what gives matter mass. The media has taken to calling it the “God Particle,” much to the chagrin of most physicists who say it has nothing at all to do with God or creation.

Speaking of which . . . Yesterday I tried twice to leave a comment on another blog and it never showed up. I don’t know if it was a glitch or if the blogger didn’t care for what I had to say, so I guess I’ll say it here.

The Buddha neither confirmed nor denied the existence of God as we understand that concept. In fact, the subject never came up. He had not heard of the God of Abraham and it seems that monotheism was unknown in India 2500 years ago. He was somewhat tolerant of the Indian gods, or devas, which Joseph Campbell described as like impersonal “bureaucrats” presiding over different aspects of nature and human activity. Yet, it is clear that the Buddha was pessimistic about the idea of relying on higher, holier beings for salvation or enlightenment.

Nagarjuna, the Buddhist philosopher who has been called the “second Buddha,” felt that Buddha’s rejection of the God-idea was explicit. In his Hymn to the Inconceivable Buddha, translated by Chr. Lindtner, Nagarjuna states, “Just as the work of a magician is empty of substance, all the rest of the world — including a creator — has been said by You to be empty of substance . . .”

Nagarjuna demonstrated that the existence of a creator god is, as Hsueh-Li Cheng, says, “unintelligible.” Cheng, author of Empty Logic: Madhyamika Buddhism from Chinese sources, explains in this way,

Nagarjuna examined the meaning and possibility of “Something is made or produced by someone or something.” He pointed out that whenever we say “Something is made or produced by someone or something” either (1) x is made by itself, (2) x is made by another, (3) x is made by both, or (4) x is made from no cause at all. Yet none of these cases can be established, therefore the proposition cannot be established, and hence it makes no sense to say that the world was made by God.”

"Ixora [=Ishvara],an East Indian god," by William Hurd, 1781 (columbia.edu )
“Ixora [Ishvara],an East Indian god,” by William Hurd, 1781 (columbia.edu )
Nagarjuna identified the “creator god” as Isvara, the Indian “Supreme Lord.” We don’t know if he was familiar with the God of Abraham, but it doesn’t matter, for the principle is the same. As far as I understand it, if a god did not create the universe, then it cannot be a supreme being. Nagarjuna used his logic to advance further arguments against the very existence of God.

But he was equally as hard on Buddhist concepts. For instance, he demolished any idea that nirvana is a substantial thing (dharma), ultimate reality, or transcendental state. He says that nirvana is neither existent nor non-existent (bhava/abhava), or both, or not-both.  Nirvana is empty, and he says that

There is not the slightest difference between this world (samsara) and nirvana. There is not the slightest difference between nirvana and this world.”

Middle Way Verses, Ch. 25, V. 19 & 20

To some the word “God” refers to a personal, anthropomorphic being who created the universe, while to others it may refer to a non-personal nature and/or force that determines and governs all things. To me, neither side of that coin seems logical. Nevertheless, acceptance or belief in God is not the same thing to all people. My feeling is that regardless of how one appreciates God, or names it – God, ultimate reality, “ground of being”, Tao – at some point, there is a suggestion, a hint, of something outside of our lives involved. Buddhism teaches that when we seek happiness or salvation outside of our lives, or outside of this world, it only makes for greater suffering. That’s why I think it is simpler, smarter, and less confusing to just drop the whole idea. Discover Nagarjuna’s no-God particle.

So, Ananda, you must be your own lamps, be your own refuges. Take refuge in nothing outside yourselves. Hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge, and do not look for refuge to anything besides yourselves. “

Mahaparinibbana Sutta, Digha Nikaya 16



5 thoughts on “Higgs boson and Nagarjuna’s no-God Particle

  1. Hey David,

    I’ve been reading the Lankavatara lately, and in it, the Buddha is equally explicit about the impossibility of a first cause, including the idea that there is a creator god or that the universe is fundamentally composed of very small particles. The argument is pretty rigorous and convincing. I’ll try to find a good quote.

    Was your comment on our blog? Lauren recently made a Higgs Boson post.


    1. Hi Robert – The question is more about the historical Buddha and what he might have said about God. Unfortunately, the words of the Buddha in the Lankavatara, and all Mahayana sutras, were written by folks centuries after the Buddha’s time. In the case of this sutra, I believe around 200 CE. That doesn’t mean that the Lankavatara is not an important sutra or that the teachings it contains are not authoritative for the Mahayana point of view.

      No, it was not your blog, and the subject was on God and not Higgs boson. Thanks for leaving your comment.

      1. Hi David,

        I found the passage I was thinking of. Even with different perspectives on what people consider authoritative, I it’s significant to the topic of what the Buddha might have said about God. In any case, it seemed relevant to me. This is from Red Pine’s translation:

        The Buddha told Mahamati, “Fools let their thoughts wander among the names and appearances of convention to which they are attached. And as they wander among the multitude of shapes that appear, they fall prey to views and longings concerning a self and what belongs to a self, and they become attached to excelling. And once they are attached, they are blinded by ignorance and give rise to passion. And once they are inflamed, the karma produced by desire, anger, and delusion accumulates. And as it accumulates, they become enveloped in their own projections, like silkworms in cocoons, or submerged in boundless states of existence in the sea of birth and death, as if they were on a waterwheel. But because of their ignorance, they do not realize that their own existence is an illusion, a mirage, a reflection of the moon in water, and without a self or what belongs to a self, that it is devoid of the origination, duration, or cessation of what characterizes or what is characterized, and that it arises from the projections of their own mind and not from a creator, time, motes of dust, or a supreme being. Thus do fools wander among names and appearances.

        1. James, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the Lankavatara isn’t authoritative. Part of what I was responding to, and did not go into detail about, is the question of what the Buddha specifically said about God in the Pali suttas.

          Anyway, it’s a great passage, and thanks for sharing it. The last sentence is very similar to a verse of Nagarjuna’s that was in my original draft post but I later removed:

          “Know that the aggregates originated neither from chance, time, nature, intrinsic being, God, nor without cause, but from ignorant deeds and craving.”

  2. Hello! The Pali-Canon was written down centuries after Shakyamuni passed away. I believe that many Buddhist monks were oblivious ignorant or out of reach from the gradual advancement and advancement of the Buddhas lifetime of teaching. As the first Buddhist council was clearly dictated by Bikkhus who took delight in all the petty rules of the Vinaya!!

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