The Koan of Massless Particle

Zen Buddhism in addition to meditation has a well developed system to help shatter the walls of paradoxes – called koans. This is meant to change the understandings and perceptions of a student. A koan is a story, a dialogue, a puzzle that cannot be understood or solved by rational thinking. The most popular koan we know is – “Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?”. Koans are paradoxical in nature. They are meant to be contemplated. There is no single answer to a koan. They are meant to create s change in our perception, away from mental concepts and linear thinking, so that, we might get a glimpse of the true picture. We might be able to look beyond in our quest for the nature of reality.

Buddhism has a ton of paradoxes. Paradoxes occur where our rationally thinking mind bumps into the brick wall of its own limitations. Eastern philosophy believes that it’s the false distinctions that we create such as east and west, high and low, ugly and beautiful are responsible for these paradoxes. These are merely self made and self maintained illusions that create conceptual limitations – to free one’s mind of these paradoxes is to hear the sound of one hand clapping. Getting beyond these paradoxes is to attain enlightenment – understanding the true nature of reality.

Quantum physics has it own koans – If we take Albert Einstein’s photoelectric effect where he discovered light is made up of particles called photons. These particles zero mass and rest energy. They travel at the speed of light when they get created. They have an indefinitely long life time and do not decay. They cannot be drawn. No one has seen them.

So the Quantum Physics koan would ask – “picture a massless particle”. It is conceptual. It defies common sense. It takes you back to paradoxes. It seems that the Buddhist contemplating internal reality thousands of years ago and quantum physicists looking towards external reality in the twentieth century arrived at the same conclusion – to understand the nature of reality, first step is to break the wall of paradoxes and look beyond to get a glimpse of the truth mankind has been seeking for ages!!

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education….Albert Einstein

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *