The Origin of Matter – Suddhāṭṭhaka

November 27,2015; Revised December 17, 2017; May 17, 2019; August 21, 2019; February 24, 2020


1. Suddhāṭṭhaka is not even mentioned in even many Thēravada Texts. I have deliberated for some time whether this post is premature. This post requires an understanding of the 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 gati), āsavaPaṭicca 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 those 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 apparent. Please be patient. The value of the Buddha Dhamma will also become apparent, and that is the best way to cultivate saddhā (faith based on understanding).
  • This topic discussed in detail in the “Nāma & Rūpa to Nāmarūpa” subsection of the “Living Dhamma” section.

2. 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 endpoint. An asankata lasts forever. Nibbāna is the only asankata dhamma, and it does not belong to “this world of 31 realms”.
  • There is nothing in between. Please think carefully about 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 has become 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.” Buddha Dhamma has a different explanation. However, there is no doubt that any matter has a finite lifetime. Thus Buddha Dhamma is correct in this fundamental aspect.
Origin of Matter – Background

3. If we accept that all matter has been created in some way, what is the origin of matter?

  • Scientists have no clear explanation of 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, some scientists do not believe everything “popped up” all of a sudden in a Big Bang. They think 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).

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

  • In other words, “all existing lifestreams” have existed forever. In each life, a given “lifestream” gets a physical body (coarse or subtle depending on the realm of existence), and that physical body is, of course, a sankata. When that physical body dies, the lifestream takes hold of a new body; see, “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream“.
  • What “propagates” from life-to-life (while continually changing), are the āsava, anusaya, and gati (mental properties) that make up a dynamic (ever-changing)  lifestream. 
  • Thus, the universe does not start with a “Big Bang,” as many scientists believe right now. Remember that only 100 or so years ago, scientists thought 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.”

5. The Buddha discouraged people from investigating the properties of the universe in detail. However, he has taught that uncountable “planetary systems” like our Solar system exist in the universe. That also has been confirmed by science.

  • In any case, whatever the model that science eventually clarifies WILL BE consistent with Buddha Dhamma. That model will have living beings in existence somewhere in the 31 realms. This has been discussed in detail in a few suttā, 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 kappā.” 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 frequent 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 because that needs enough background material. I expect this topic will take us several years, and many essays, to complete. However, the mind is the precursor: “Manōpubbangamā Dhammā..“.
Origin of Matter – The Mind

6. Yet, 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 “suddhāṭṭhaka.” (sometimes 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. But they are composites of many “elementary particles.” 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. 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 essentially the same, 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 belongs to matter in this sense, and therefore everything in this world at the primary level can have the label  “matter” or “energy.”
  • The distinction between “matter” and “energy” is blurred at this fundamental level.

7. A suddhāṭṭhaka is a “packet of energy” and is THE basic unit of matter. It is much smaller than in energy compared to a light photon that we see. A humongous number of suddhāṭṭhaka would have the energy of a single light photon.

  • A  suddhāṭṭhaka, being a sankata, is created by the mind. That may be surprising to many of you, but as we progress, I will provide evidence that it is true. That is why the Buddha said, “manō pubbaṅgamā dhammā…”, i.e., “everything has a mind as the precursor…”.
  • However, almost all of the matter around us was created by this “mental process” a very long time ago. That is the story in the Aggañña Sutta. At present also, suddhāṭṭhaka 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 a significant amount of matter, like a flower or even larger entities. Matter (at the level of suddhāṭṭhaka) 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.” I briefly discussed that at the end of the post, “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”

8. But most of the time, what we are doing now is to “remake” different types of sankata using the “raw material” (suddhāṭṭhaka) created billions of years ago. These original suddhāṭṭhaka have lifetimes of close to 20 antakkappa (or antarākappa in Sinhala), where 80 such antakkappa are in a mahā kappa.

  • Thus instead of having a lifetime of 17 thought moments, as some people erroneously believe, a suddhāṭṭhaka has a very long lifetime. 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.
What is Suddhāṭṭhaka?

9. Suddhāṭṭhaka (“suddha” for “pure” or fundamental” + “āṭṭha” or “eight”) means  a unit of matter consisting of eight fundamental entities (usually translated as the “pure octad.”)

  • Four of these are the “satara mahā bhūta“: Pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo. These are indeed 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 arise due to our “gati” (or “gati“) that I have discussed in several posts; see, the introductory post: “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Āsavas)“. By the way, removal of “āsava” and “gati” lead to Nibbāna: “The Way to Nibbāna – Removal of Āsavā.” One needs to have an understanding of these concepts to grasp the material in this post.
  • The four mahā bhūta are first created by the mind with four basic “gati” of humans: “thada gatiya” (in Sinhala) means the “coarseness,” corresponding to Pathavi; a defiled mind is “hard” and “coarse” and correspond to “Pathavi” nature.
  • The word āpo comes from the tendency to “attach or get attracted to worldly things” (“bandena gatiya” means the “bind together,” which leads to liquidity in science). Tejo comes from “fiery or energetic” (“théjas gati” in Sinhala), and vāyo refers to “motion” (“salena gatiya” in Sinhala). They are all created in javana citta that arise in mind, of course, in minute quantities that cannot be detected. However, those with abhiññā powers can generate large amounts of matter like a flower.

10. 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.

  • That is discussed briefly in the “Mahā­hatthi­pa­dopa­ma Sutta (MN 28)“. Translation to several languages available there. Thanks to Dr. Sein Myint for pointing this out.
  • Now, the craving for these material things leads to four more gati due to taṇhā. Due to our tendency to think highly (“varnanā karanava” in Sinhala), another gati of “vaṇṇa” is created as different manifestations of the satara mahā bhūta. Similarly, three more units called gandha, rasa, and oja created due to taṇhā. Those correspond 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.

11. Therefore, four basic units of Pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo arise due to avijjā, and the other four of vaṇṇagandha, rasa, and oja arise due to taṇhā. The latter four also occur due to Pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo (actually they are just different modes of vibration of Pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo). We will get into more detail in the future so that even physicists would be able to appreciate the value of Abhidhamma.

  • These eight never arise in isolation and thus are called “avinibbhoga rupa.” They always rise together; all eight are there in any suddhāṭṭhaka. The relative “amounts” of each component can vary, and thus some suddhāṭṭhaka can be dominated by one element, for example. Even then, all eight are present to some extent. That is equivalent to saying that wherever there is avijjā, there is taṇhā, and vice versa.
  • This very fundamental level is called the “bhūta” stage. Bhūta is another name for “ghost” 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  suddhāṭṭhaka can never be divided; thus they are called “avinibbhöga rupa kalapa.”
Critical Role of Gati

12. Thus “gati” leads to “bhūta,” the first phase of rupa that can be seen (only by Buddha). That is the suddhāṭṭhaka stage. That 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 suddhāṭṭhaka fuse, they get to a more condensed state of “mahā bhūta.” The subtle bodies of Brahmā and some gandhabbā are made of mahā bhūta. This level of “solidification” can be compared (in energy) to electromagnetic radiation at the long-wavelength range; thus, we cannot “see” those entities with our eyes.
  • Only when vast amounts of these mahā bhūta fuse together to become even more condensed, that we can see them. At this highly condensed state, the matter is called “dhātu.” Bodies of devas are made of finer dhātu. That is why we cannot see devas, but Brahmā can see them.
  • Thus our bodies are made of more dense dhātu that we can see. That is why solid objects are called “Pathavi dhātu“;  suddhāṭṭhaka in such solid objects have predominantly Pathavi. 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.
  • Details of gati at, “Gati, Bhava, and Jāti“.
Other Implications

13. Therefore, we can see that Pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo have much deeper meanings than just earth, water, fire, and wind. Why did the ancient Greeks also use the same terms? That is due to the same reason that Hinduism also uses terms like karma (which is the Sanskrit word for kamma), Nirvana (which is the Sanskrit word for Nibbāna), 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.
  • 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 the evidence: see, Anyway, that is a topic to be discussed later when more evidence becomes available. It will be proven that one region that has not changed since the formation of the Earth is Asia encompassing Sri Lanka, India, and China. Archeologists should focus more in that region rather than in Africa. See, “Ancient teeth found in China challenge modern human migration theory.”

14. As I mentioned above, there were three Buddhas before Buddha Gotama. That is how some of the key terms like Pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo and kamma, and Nibbāna (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 Tipiṭaka happened at least a few times, even during this Buddha sāsana, within the past 2500 years. The best example is the misinterpretation of san, saṃsāraanicca, 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 halfway 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. That 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.

August 2019: I recently started a new series of posts on “Origin of Life“.

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