Buddhism and Entropy

I started reading a book on Buddhism, and I can’t help but notice a parallelism between the “impurity” in Buddhism and the concept of entropy in the physical world.

In this book, impurity is defined as:

“In this spiritually degenerate time there are five impurities that are increasing throughout the world: (1) our environment is becoming increasingly impure because of pollution; (2) our water, air and food are becoming increasingly impure, also because of pollution; (3) our body is becoming increasingly impure because sickness and disease are now more prevalent; (4) our mind is becoming increasingly impure because our delusions are getting stronger and stronger; and (5) our actions are becoming increasingly impure because we have no control over our delusions.”

Excerpt From Modern Buddhism – Volume 1: Sutra by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

From statistical mechanics, we know that in an isolated system, the entropy will always increase with time, which means that the system will get more disoriented. Here, the physical entropy is analogous to the spiritual impurity. Actually, the first three impurities listed here belong to the physical realm. The next two describe the mind, and they also follow the rule of physical law, our thoughts get impure over time, and since our actions are governed by our thoughts, actions also get impure over time. One hypothesis is that the substance that controls our mind, brains, are made of physical matter. However, I know there are people that would object to this, so I will not make further comments.

To get rid of the impurities, the book pitches this idea:

“Because of these five impurities, suffering, problems and dangers are increasing everywhere. However, through Lamrim practice we can transform our experience of all these impurities into the spiritual path that leads us to the pure and everlasting happiness of liberation and enlightenment.”

Without knowing anything about lamrim practice, we can deduce what it does via the analogous statistical mechanics. Imagine a physical system, sometime after the initial conditions, the particles will have moved and the system have become more chaotic. How would one goes about decreasing its entropy? You can hypothetically move backwards in time, but it is highly unlikely. Or you can exert force to mechanically force the particles towards their initial positions, while moving forward in time.

Now that we have established this, we can use the same logic to develop a similar mechanism for the mind. To un-clutter the mind, we need to put in effort and move our mental state to how it was at initial conditions, which is about the time of our birth. The external effort we put in will be the lamrim practice.

This deduction is validated by:

“we should develop and maintain the strong wish to abandon the root of suffering – attachment and self-grasping ignorance. This wish is called ‘renunciation’, and arises from our wisdom.”

when we were born, we had no attachments to anything. But attachments build up very quickly, to family members, to food, to clothes, toys, and so on. The more attachments we make, the more roots of suffering we gain. Buddhism believes the only way to reverse this and gain true happiness, is by reversing our spiritual state to a new born (via lamrim). Minimum roots of attachment yields maximum happiness. Similarly, minimum entropy yields maximum orderliness.

The goal of this blog is not to evaluate the methodology or effectiveness of Buddhism, but rather establish a connection between physical entropy and spiritual impurity, which I have achieved.

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