At some point in its development, Quantum Mechanics signaled the beginning of the ascendence of non-material science (or a priori science) over empirical science. Said Werner Heisenberg:
"Modern atomic theory is thus essentially different from that of antiquity in that it no longer allows any reinterpretation or elaboration to make it fit into a naive materialistic concept of the universe. For atoms are no longer material bodies in the proper sense of this word . . . The experiences of present-day physics show us that atoms do not exist as simple material objects."
We would not be wrong to say that if we could look at the foundation of our material world we would find nothing in the usual sense of the word, matter—certainly not atoms. The foundation of our material world would be, in fact, non-material which in Buddhist terms lies beyond the six senses with which we apprehend our material world.
We are reminded of an earlier voice that flipped the empirical world upside down. This was Irish philosopher Bishop Berkeley (1685–1763) whose philosophy essentially said that only the mind and its ideas are real. There is no material reality that is external or outside of mind. We might even go so far as to say that matter is just resistance which puts it into or at least close to the non-empirical realm. The man who pounds the table and says, “Here is matter!” is really only saying, “Here is resistance.” He has no idea what resistance means. He draws a blank.
We have all been brainwashed to believe that there is only the material world—there is no non-material reality which underlies it. However, living in our material world we are only able to look at the material side. We are reassured that our universe is determined by certain mechanical laws. We look at the skies at night and see what appears to us to be an orderly universe. But this is only half the picture. It hides the non-material, the non-local, quasi-realities, and mind-like properties.
As a matter of fact, we do not know from whence this material world of ours arises, nor do we know to where it returns. We can only make educated guesses. In some respects, our world is a complete mystery, although we would like to believe otherwise, acting towards it as if it were real and true.
In Buddhism we can witness the West’s uneasy transition from a mechanical world view to a non-material one. Western Buddhists tend to believe that Buddhism denies such a non-material thing as the âtman which in Sanskrit refers to the primary animative principle of the universe. At least this is the way the hermeneutical work, Nirukta, describes âtman, which happens to be a work older than Buddhism itself. For Western Buddhists, only the material is real. And when the human body dies, that’s it, there is no more continuation of life. But the problem is that death is what happens to us in a bio-material form such as a human body. From the non-material or unconditioned standpoint, we do not die. This is what the Buddha is teaching.
He also teaches us not to identify with our psychophysical body through which the material world takes shape. Fundamentally, we are not material beings but rather non-material beings. The more of us has never been born nor will it ever die.