The Origin of Matter – Suddhātthaka

November 27,2015; December 17, 2017; May 17, 2019

I have deliberated for some time whether this post is premature. This post requires understanding of basic concepts that I have discussed so far (as of November, 2015).

  • Please don’t read it, unless you have thought about the basic concepts of “san“, gati (or gathi), āsava, paticca samuppāda, etc. It may not make much sense, and thus it could discourage people from proceeding any further thinking, “this stuff does not make sense”.
  • On the other hand, for who have some understanding of those concepts, this could help gain more insight.
  • As I publish more posts on this issue, the picture will become increasingly clear. Please be patient. The value of the Buddha Dhamma will also become clear, and that is the best way to cultivate saddhā (faith based on understanding).
  • This topic is discussed in detail in the “Nāma & Rūpa to Nāmarūpa” subsection of the “Living Dhamma” section.

1. Anything has to be either sankata or asankata.

  • A sankata has a beginning, transforms in unpredictable ways during existence (viparinama), and eventually ceases to exist; see, for example, “Root Cause of Anicca – Five Stages of a Sankata” and “Does any Object (Rupa) Last only 17 Thought Moments?“.
  • An asankata has no beginning, does not change during existence, and has no end point. An asankata lasts forever. Nibbana is the only asankata dhamma, and it does not belong to “this world of 31 realms”.
  • There is nothing in between. Please think carefully of the truth of that.
  • Everything in this world is a sankata, i.e., has a beginning and an end. And this has been confirmed by science during the past 100 years or so. Einstein thought our universe was in a steady state, and if proven that way, could have contradicted Buddha Dhamma. But now it is clear that nothing in this universe will last forever. And everything is changing, in flux.
  • All the matter in the universe is thought to have created some 14 billion years ago, in a “Big Bang”. Even though this has not been fully confirmed yet, there is no doubt that any type of matter has a finite lifetime. Thus Buddha Dhamma has been shown to be correct in this fundamental aspect.

2. Now, if we accept that all the matter in this world has been created in some way, what caused it to appear?

  • Scientists have no clear explanation on this at this point in time (November, 2015). They can calculate the evolution of the universe from a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, but physics is unable to explain what happened before the Big Bang.
  • And, of course, the “Big Bang theory” has not yet fully confirmed, even though most scientists believe it. Still, there are some scientists who do not believe everything “popped up” all of a sudden in a Big Bang. They believe that universes are cyclic, i.e., they transform and evolve; see, for example, “Endless Universe – Beyond the Big Bang”, by P. J. Steinhardt and N. Turok (2007).

3. Buddha Dhamma of course says all living beings living at present have existed forever.

  • What is meant here is that “all existing lifestreams” have existed forever. In each life, a given “lifestream” gets a physical body (coarse or fine depending on the realm of existence), and that physical body is, of course, a sankata. When that physical body is destroyed, the lifestream takes hold of a new body; see, “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream“.
  • What “propagates” from life-to-life (while continually and incessantly changing), are the āsava, anusaya, and gathi (mental properties) that makes up a dynamic (ever-changing) lifestream.
  • Thus, the universe is never completely destroyed and it does not start with a “Big Bang” as many scientists believe right now. Remember that only 100 or so years ago, scientists believed the universe was in a steady state. Scientific theories change to “fit the existing data”. But pure Buddha Dhamma has not changed at all since Buddha Gotama taught it 2500 years ago; see, “Historical Background“.

4. Even though the Buddha discouraged people from investigating the properties of the universe in detail (which would be an impossible task, and would take one’s precious time away from striving for Nibbāna), he has talked about uncountable “planetary systems” in the universe like our Solar system, which also has been confirmed by science.

  • In any case, whatever the model that science eventually clarifies WILL BE consistent with Buddha Dhamma, i.e., that model will have living beings in existence somewhere in the 31 realms. Actually, this has been discussed in detail in a few suttas, especially the Aggañña sutta (but don’t bother to look it up on the internet, because all current translations are embarrassingly bad). I have written an introductory post: “Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27)“.
  • In that sutta, the Buddha explains how conglomerates of “planetary systems” blow up and are re-formed in time scales of “mahā kappas“. He has given a simile to get an idea of the length of a mahā kappa and it is approximately several billion years; see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“. And this destruction of a “star system” seems to be what scientists have observed as a supernova. Supernovae are of common occurrence; about three of them can be expected to happen every century in our Milky Way galaxy.
  • We will slowly go through the Aggañña sutta as enough background material is added to the website. And I expect this topic will take us more than a year, and many essays, to complete. However, mind is the precursor: “Manōpubbangamā Dhammā..“.

5. However, now we have enough background material on the website to get an idea about how all the sankata in this world originate and die off, AT THE VERY FUNDAMENTAL LEVEL.

  • Here we will discuss only the origin of the smallest unit of matter, called a “suddhātthaka“. It is also written as suddhāshtaka.
  • This unit of matter is billion times smaller than “an atom” in modern science. One time, not long ago, science believed that an atom was the smallest unit of matter. Now atoms have been shown to be composites of many “elementary particles” and even many of those “elementary particles” are shown to have more structure! At present, there is no end in sight how smaller a “basic unit of matter” can get. Actually, now science is unable to distinguish between “matter” and “energy”.
  • For example, a “Higgs boson” is just a packet of energy.
  • Matter and energy are of course related by the famous equation, E (energy) = m (mass) x c2, where c is the speed of light. Thus any small unit of matter is indistinguishable from a “packet of energy”. For example, the light we see comes in “packets” called photons. Thus photon is matter in this sense, and thus everything in this world at the basic level can have the label “matter” or “energy”.
  • The distinction between “matter” and “energy” is blurred at this fundamental level.

6. A suddhātthaka is a “packet of energy” and is THE basic unit that all matter is made out of. It is much smaller than in energy compared to a light photon that we see. A humongous number of suddhātthaka would have the energy of a light photon.

  • A suddhātthaka, being a sankata, is created by the mind. This may be surprising to many of you, but as we progress, I will provide evidence that it is true. This is why the Buddha said, “manō pubbangamā dhammā…”, i.e., “everything has mind as the precursor…”.
  • However, almost all of the matter around us was created by this “mind process” a very long time ago. That is story in the Aggañña sutta. At the present time also, suddhātthaka are being created by us all the time (via javana citta), but in very minute quantities.
  • Anyone with higher abhiññā powers is supposed to be able to create significant amount of matter, like a flower or even larger entities. Matter (at the level of suddhātthaka) is created by javana citta, and someone with abhiññā powers can maintain a citta vithi with javana citta flowing continuously to generate “significant amounts of matter”, as I briefly discussed at the end of the post, “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs“.
  • But most of the time what we are doing now is to “remake” different types of sankata using the “raw material” (suddhātthaka) that was created billions of years ago. These original suddhātthaka have lifetimes of close to 20 antakkappa (or antarākalpa), where 80 such antakkappa are in a mahā kappa.
  • Thus instead of having a lifetime of 17 thought moments, as some people erroneously believe, suddhātthaka have very long tifetimes. Again, modern physics has confirmed that some of the elementary particles (e.g., electron) have very long lifetimes. Therefore, this idea of “everything arising and ceasing rapidly” is a misconception; see, “Does any Object (Rupa) Last only 17 Thought Moments?“. We will discuss this in more detail in the future.
  • Please don’t hesitate to ask questions at this early stage. There is a lot of information in this post to digest, and some of them will become clearer as we proceed.

7. Suddhātthaka (“suddha” for “pure” or fundamental” + “attha” or “eight”) means a unit of matter consisting of eight fundamental entities. It is usually translated as the “pure octad”.

  • Four of these are the “satara mahā bhūta“: patavi, āpo, thejo, vāyo. These are truly the most fundamental units of matter, but they cannot be detected by themselves. It may be hard to believe for many at this stage, but those are created by “gathi” that I have discussed in several posts; see, the introductory post: “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Asavas)“. By the way, Nibbana is attained via getting rid of “āsava” and “gathi” and they go together: “The Way to Nibbāna – Removal of Āsavas“. This is why I said one needs to have an understanding of these concepts to grasp the material in this post.
  • These satara mahā bhūta are first created by the mind with four basic “gathi” of humans: “thada gathiya” (in Sinhala) means the “coarseness”, corresponding to patavi; a defiled mind is “hard” and “coarse” and correspond to “patavi” nature.
  • The word āpo comes from the tendency to “attach or get attracted to worldly things” (“bandena gathiya” means the “bind together” which leads to liquidity in science). Tejo comes from “fiery or energetic” (“théjas gathi” in Sinhala) and vāyo refers to “motion” (“salena gathiya” in Sinhala). They are all created in javana citta that arise in the mind (of course in minute quantities that cannot be detected; however, those with abhiññā powers can create large of matter like a flower).

8. Those most fundamental four units (satara mahā bhūta) are supposed to be created by the mind due to avijjā or ignorance. We like to have possession of things made out of these units, because we do not comprehend the “unfruitful nature” of such impermanent things.

  • This is discussed briefly in the “Mahā­hatthi­pa­dopa­ma Sutta (MN 28)“. An English translation; “The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint (MN 28)“. Thanks to Dr. Sein Myint for pointing this out.
  • Now, the craving for these material things lead to four more gathi due to tanhā: Due to our tendency to think highly (“varnanä karanava” in Sinhala), another gathi of “varna” is created as different manifestations of the satara mahā bhūta. Similarly, three more units called gandha, rasa, and oja are created due to tanhā corresponding to our desire to be in touch with them, keep them close (rassa), and to re-generate them. It will take too much space to explain these in detail, but I hope you get the basic idea.

9. Therefore, four basic units of patavi, āpo, thejo, vāyo arise due to avijjā, and the other four of varna, gandha, rasa, and oja arise due to tanhā. The latter four also arise due to patavi, āpo, thejo, vāyo (actually they are just different modes of vibration of patavi, āpo, thejo, vāyo). We will get into more details in the future, so that even physicists would be able to appreciate the value of Abhidhamma.

  • These eight can never be detected in isolation; thus they are called “avinibbhoga rupa“. They always rise together; all eight are there in any suddhātthaka. The relative “amounts” of each component can vary and thus some suddhātthaka can be dominated by one component, for example. Even then, all eight are present to some extent. This is tantamount to saying that wherever there is avijjā there is tanhā, and vice versa.
  • This very fundamental level is called the “bhūta” stage. Bhūta is another name for “ghost” and is thus called because of their elusive nature. They can never be detected and can only be “seen” by a Buddha. The Buddha explained this to Mahā Brahma, who thought he knew everything about the world: “Brahma­niman­tanika Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 49)“. I will explain this sutta in detail later.
  • And a suddhātthaka can never be divided; thus they are called “avinibbhöga rupa kalapa“.

10. Thus “gathi” lead to “bhūta“, the first phase of rupa that can be seen (only by Buddha). This is the suddhātthaka stage. This is where mental energy is converted to matter at the very fundamental stage. Just keep that in mind as we proceed.

  • When enormous numbers of these suddhātthaka coalesce together they get to a more condensed state of “mahā bhūta“. The fine bodies of brahmas and some gandhabbas are made of these mahā bhūta. Rupa of this higher density can be seen by brahmas. This level of “solidification” can be compared (in energy) to electromagnetic radiation at long wavelength range; thus we cannot “see” those entities with our eyes.
  • Only when huge amounts of these mahā bhūta coalesce together to become even more condensed, that we can see them. At this highly condensed state, matter is called “dhātu“. Bodies of devas are made of finer dhātu. This is why we cannot see devas, but brahmas can see them.
  • Thus our bodies are made of more dense dhātu that we can see. This is why solid objects are called “patavi dhātu“; suddhātthaka in such objects have predominantly patavi. In liquids, things are bound together and flow together because they mostly have āpo dhātu. Not only fire, but also those objects that have “energetic appearance”, have more tejo. And not only the wind, but also things that are prone to move, have more vāyo.

11. Therefore, we can see that patavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo have much deeper meanings than just earth, water, fire, and wind. Why did the ancient Greeks also used the same terms? That is due to the same reason that Hindu religion also uses terms like karma (which is the Sanskrit word for kamma), Nirvana (which is the Sanskrit word for Nibbana), anapana, etc.

  • There have been three Buddhas in this mahā kappa (i.e., during the existence of our Solar system) before the Buddha Gotama; that is how those terms came to usage before Buddha Gotama. Those concepts by the previous Buddhas were transmitted down through successive generations, but the true meanings got lost.
  • The human history is much longer than tens of thousands of years, as believed by many today. Whole continents can submerge, wiping out entire populations; this is not being considered seriously yet, but there is evidence: see, Anyway, that is a topic to be discussed later when more evidence become available. It will be proven that one region that has definitely not changed since the formation of the Earth is Asia encompassing Sri Lanka, India, and China. Archeologists should be doing more archeological work in that region rather than in Africa; see, “Ancient teeth found in China challenge modern human migration theory“.
  • As I mentioned above, there were three Buddhas before Buddha Gotama, and that is how some of the key terms like patavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo and kamma and Nibbana (nirvana) have been in use even before the Buddha Gotama: They had been transmitted down through generations, but of course their true meanings had been lost.
  • Losing the true meanings in the Tipitaka happened at least a few times even during this Buddha sāsana, within the past 2500 years. The best example is the misinterpretation of san, sansara, anicca and anatta during just the past hundreds of years; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)” and “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta – Wrong Interpretations“.
  • But the Buddha Gotama has said that his Buddha sāsana will last for 5000 years. We are only half way through. That is why it is making a comeback now. And this time it will have staying power due to the presence of the internet. This is one reason why we should all be forever grateful to modern science, much more than for all other technological wonders it has brought about.


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