EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Buddhist thoughts on frustration of the desire the know in Geoscience

Hoseung Jung1,2
Hoseung Jung
  • 1Leichtweiss Institute for Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources, Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany (
  • 2Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

We desire to know out of different motivations. According to Aristotle, scientists can feel happy or eudaimon when they fulfill the final cause of humans, reasoning, by providing knowledge. Freud argued that infants start to learn in order to distinguish between conditions that cause them pain or pleasure. We want to increase chances of achieving desired outcomes and avoiding undesired outcomes of our decisions by understanding causalities between events and predicting future events. In Geoscientific contexts, we may want to understand nature in order to satisfy different desires such as physical and psychological comforts, ethical dignity and continuation of existence, which are inseparable from but also conflict often against each other. We seek optimal decisions by means of the Geoscientific knowledge amidst the conflicting desires and natural conditions that hamper the desires.

All formations in the universe and all our perceptions are impermanent. Buddhism views that the course of life in which one is born, ages, gets ill and dies is suffering, if one clings to satisfactions, existence or non-existence as they are impermanent. A human being is seen in Buddhism as an ever-changing flux comprised of body (rupa in Pali language), senses (vedana), perceptions (sanna), volitions (sankhara) and consciousness (vinnana), or the five aggregates (khandha). Lasting peacefulness can be experienced when one understands the impermanence of its five aggregates, or selflessness (sunnata), which is a goal of Buddhist practices.

From this Buddhist perspective, satisfactions of material needs provided by Geoscience do not last permanently. Geoscience may help humans satisfy their basic needs, but the standards of basic needs seem to be ever-growing, influenced often by materialism which overlooks spiritual sources of happiness and technocentric hopes for sustainability in the future. According to Buddhism, our experiences and actions (kamma) condition our perceptions, volitions and habits, and reifying them as constant or substantial leads us to assume that certain desires ‘ought’ to be met as basic living standards. However, such standards are subjective judgements that cannot be justified by factual propositions in ‘is’ forms.

It can be satisfying for scientists to perform their professional tasks of providing knowledge required for fulfilling the human needs. However, epistemic and aleatory uncertainties in Geoscience can frustrate their desire to know. Geoscientists may suffer from the frustration, if they cling to their tasks and desires, failing to see satisfactions as impermanent and uncertainties as natural processes.

It is important to note that Buddhism does not compel dogmatically ascetic life styles or nihilistic worldviews but suggests ways to cease suffering. The Threefold Training (ethics, mindfulness and wisdom), the practice methods of Buddhism, can be applied in pursuing Geoscience as opportunities to experience lasting peacefulness. Scientists can create peaceful conditions by helping others with their knowledge, and let go of their reification and desires through mindfulness and the Buddhist ontology. Studying human desires and providing honest information about uncertainties and physical boundaries of satisfying the desires would be also parts of the practice.

How to cite: Jung, H.: Buddhist thoughts on frustration of the desire the know in Geoscience, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-17116,, 2023.