Quantum Mechanics 

Albert Einstein supposedly said “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma 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 as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.”  

Although there is no evidence that the famous physicist ever said this quote, it nevertheless illustrates the profound connection between Buddhism and quantum mechanics. This article will specifically focus on the connection between quantum mechanics and Nichiren Buddhism. Before this connection can be understood, the reader must gain some rudimentary understanding of the double slit experiment, one of the fundamental building blocks of quantum mechanics performed in the early 20th century. 

The experimenters constructed a wall with two slits (gray) in front of a purely solid wall (black) and transferred electrons (blue) through the slits. They hypothesized the creation of two rectangular strips as shown in the diagram below. 

However, the actual outcome was very different. Experimenters detected a third rectangular slit as shown below.   

This is consistent with the behavior of a wave. When a wave (such as light) passes through the two slits, the waves interfere with each other in a way that shows an interference pattern as shown below: 

To investigate further, a detector was placed by the slits to determine which slit the electrons passed through. However, an unusual result occurred. The pattern on the detector turns into two strips. The very act of observing the phenomenon caused it to change. This was truly unorthodox!!!  

These outcomes truly baffled the physics community. How could particles behave like waves? How could the mere observation of a phenomenon change the result? After an indeterminate time was spent pondering these questions, two conclusions were made which form the basis of quantum mechanics. 

The first was that electrons can be considered both particles and waves since they exhibit the characteristics of both objects. The formal name of this is the wave particle duality. Furthermore, the act of observing a quantum system (any combination of atomic or subatomic particles) changes its behavior.  

In quantum mechanics, a quantum system is written as an addition of smaller quantum systems. Physicists consider this the wave aspect of the system. However, when one makes an observation of the system, the quantum system collapses into one of these smaller systems. 

Nichiren Buddhism 

In the 13th century, a man named Nichiren Daishonin revived Buddhism. He studied all the Buddhist texts and came to the conclusion that the Lotus Sutra was the basis of the Buddha’s teachings. Its fundamental premise is that all human beings, from men and women to criminals, had the potential to lead happy lives.  

He established the daily chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Myoho Renge Kyo is the Japanese title of the Lotus Sutra. The meaning of each part of the phrase is detailed in the chart below 

Nam  I devote myself to  
Myoho  Mystic Law 
Renge  Cause and effect 
Kyo  Sound and teaching 

One translation is “I devote myself to the mystic law of cause and effect through sound and teaching”. One aspect of the mystic law states that we all either have the potential to live miserable, sad lives or happy, fulfilled lives. We obviously want to live happy lives. How can we? By making continuous causes to bring out that potential. Examples include anything from chanting this phrase to exercising to educating yourself for better job opportunities.  

Nichiren Buddhism and Quantum Mechanics 

As you can recall, quantum mechanics says that a big system is written as an addition of smaller systems. When you observe it, the system collapses into one of the smaller systems. The big system is analogous to our potential to live either happy or sad lives (Myoho). When we are intentional and take action to lead happier lives, this big system “collapses” into the state of being happy. This big system is also analogous to a wave. Another way to look at this is as follows: the more we observe and cause happier events in our lives, the more we attract those events. The cause of observing these events actually creates it just like in the double slit experiment.  

An example 

An example by a Nichiren Buddhist practitioner illustrates this. This person (I’ll call her Sally for anonymity) had a daughter who practiced self-harm and engaged in other destructive behavior. For a long time, Sally was unhappy with the situation. However, her Buddhist practice encouraged her to take responsibility for her happiness and to strengthen her determination to change the situation. Over time, Sally and her daughter changed for the better. In this case, the big system is the fact that anything was possible in this situation. It could have improved or declined. Furthermore, by focusing on what she could do to improve the situation, the quantum system collapsed into a state of happiness for everyone involved.  


Image credit: iBrotha via flickr


About The Author

Hello, I'm Kevin Gima. I study physics and material science at North Dakota State University and am working toward my masters degree. In my spare time I read physics book, practice Nichiren Buddhism, and watch Marvel movies.