The Origin of Matter – Suddhāṭṭhaka

November 27,2015; Revised December 17, 2017; re-written August 31, 2022; September 3, 2023


1. Suddhāṭṭhaka is not even mentioned in many Thēravada Texts. It is discussed in “Bhikkhu_Bodhi-Comprehensive_Manual_of_Abhidhamma,” by Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000); see pp. 246, 253-254. However, it does not have the more profound explanation given in this post. Waharaka Thero explained that in his discourse mentioned in #10 below. That explanation cannot be found anywhere else in that form, even in the Tipiṭaka. Of course, it is fully consistent with the Tipiṭaka. It is possible to “make connections” and clarify such issues if it is consistent with the Tipiṭaka. I frequently use new information from modern science to clarify some concepts. That is discussed in “Interpretation of the Tipiṭaka – Gandhabba Example.”

  • Please don’t read it unless you have thought about the basic concepts of “san,” gati (pronounced “gathi” as in “theme”), 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 understand those concepts, this could help them gain more insight.
  • The picture will become increasingly apparent as I publish more posts on this issue. Buddha Dhamma’s value will also become apparent, which 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.
Origin of Matter – Scientific Theory

2. If we accept that all matter has been created somehow, what is the origin of matter?

  • Scientists have no clear explanation for this (November 2015). They say they can calculate the universe’s evolution from a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, but physics cannot explain what happened before it.
  • Of course, the “Big Bang Theory” has not yet been fully confirmed, even though most scientists believe it.
  • Still, some scientists do not believe everything “popped up” suddenly in the Big Bang.  See, for example, “Endless Universe – Beyond the Big Bang” by P. J. Steinhardt and N. Turok (2007).
  • By the way, English astronomer Fred Hoyle coined the term “Big Bang” to ridicule the concept. See “Fred Hoyle – Rejection of the Big Bang.”
Buddha Dhamma – Universe Evolves

3. The Buddha discouraged people from investigating the universe in detail. However, he has taught that uncountable “planetary systems” like our Solar system exist in the universe. 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 (DN 27). I have written an introductory post: “Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27)“.The following are some key points.

(i). The universe has no traceable beginning, just like life.
(ii). The universe has “clusters or groups” of stars. Our Solar system is one of 10,000 “star systems” (cakkavāla or planetary systems; chakrawāta in Sinhala). There is an infinite number of such cakkavāla in the universe.
(iii). When a star near our Sun blows up in a few billion years, that blast will destroy 10,000 other star systems in the neighborhood. In modern science, such a “star explosion” has a particular name: a supernova.
(iv). Such a cluster of 10,000 world systems blows up from time to time in the universe. Again, scientists observe such supernovae every year.
(v). Science does not know yet that those destroyed star systems re-form over billions of years.

4. Whatever the model that science eventually clarifies WILL BE consistent with Buddha Dhamma.

  • Thus, the universe did 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.”
  • Just 400 years ago, “science” believed in the geocentric model of the universe. The Earth was in the middle of the universe, and the stars were embedded in a celestial sphere around it far above. See “Geocentric model.”
  • But pure Buddha Dhamma has not changed since Buddha Gotama taught it 2500 years ago; see “Historical Background.”
  • 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.
Suddhāṭṭhaka – The Smallest Unit of Matter

5. 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 a 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! There is no end to how smaller a “basic unit of matter” can get, i.e., there is no clear distinction between matter and energy.
  • For example, a “Higgs boson” is just a packet of energy. The light was in the energy category; see “Photons Are Particles Not Waves.”
  • Matter and energy are essentially the same, related by the famous equation, E (energy) = m (mass) x c2, where c is the light speed. Thus, any small unit of matter is indistinguishable from a “packet of energy.” For example, the light comes in “packets” called photons. Thus, photon belongs to matter in this sense.
  • Thus, in science, the distinction between “matter” and “energy” is blurred at this fundamental level.

6. However, the Buddha made a clear “demarcation boundary” between matter (rupa) and kammic energy that “bears things” (dhammā.) Dhammā (or kamma bija/kamma bhava) arise via Paṭicca Samuppāda (“avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” leading to “upādāna paccayā bhavō.) See “What are Rūpa? – Dhammā are Rūpa too!

A suddhāṭṭhaka is a “packet of energy” and the basic unit of matter. It is much smaller in energy compared to a light photon. A single light photon would be made of a large number of suddhāṭṭhaka.

  • A  suddhāṭṭhaka, being a saṅkhata, is created by the mind. The Buddha said, “Manōpubbangamā Dhammā..” i.e., “everything has a mind as the precursor…”.
  • However, almost all of the matter around us was created by this “mental process” long ago. That is the story in the Aggañña Sutta: “Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27).” At present, suddhāṭṭhaka are being created by us (via javana citta), but in very minute quantities.
  • Anyone with higher abhiññā powers can create significant matter, like a flower or 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.” See the end of the post, “Citta Vithi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”
What is a Suddhāṭṭhaka?- Roles of Avijjā and Taṇhā

7. Suddhāṭṭhaka (“suddha” for “pure” or fundamental” + “aṭṭha” or “eight”) means  a unit of matter consisting of eight fundamental entities (usually translated as the “pure octad,” for example, in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book per #1 above)

  • Four of these belong to the “bhūta” stage of pathavi, āpo, tejo, and vāyo arising due to avijjā. These are the fundamental units of matter, and they cannot be detected by themselves. It may be hard to believe for many at this stage, but those arise due to our “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, the removal of “āsava” and “gati” leads to Nibbāna: “The Way to Nibbāna – Removal of Āsavā.” One needs to understand these concepts to grasp the material in this post.
  • The mind first creates the four bhūta with four basic “gati” of humans: “thada gatiya” or “තද ගතිය” (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” or “බැඳෙන ගතිය” in Sinhala means the “bind together,” which leads to liquidity in science). Tejo comes from “fiery or energetic” (“théjas gati” or “තේජස් ගතිය” in Sinhala), and vāyo refers to “motion/vacillation” (“salena gatiya” or “සැලෙන ගතිය” in Sinhala). They are all created in javana citta that arise in mind in minute quantities that cannot be detected. However, yogis with abhiññā powers can generate large amounts of matter like a flower.

8. There is a deeper explanation: According to the above explanations, āpo, pathavi, and tejo can be attributed to lobha, dosa, and moha. Vacillation in vāyo represents uncertainty — representing mundane alobha, adosa, amoha. Mundane amoha is the ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. See “Six Root Causes – Loka Samudaya (Arising of Suffering) and Loka Nirodhaya (Nibbāna).”

  • Thus, we can say that vāyo is the “better element” compared to āpo, pathavi, and tejo. The latter three can be attributed to the “kāma loka,” and vāyo can be taken to represent transcending the kāma loka. Jhānās represent the mental states in Brahma realms that lie above kāma loka.
  • Thus, we can connect to anariya yogis getting into anariya jhāna with breath mediation (by temporarily overcoming lobha, dosa, and moha, i.e., without removing anusaya.)

9. The mind creates four types of gati (pathavi, āpo, tejo, and vāyo) 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.

  • The craving for 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 four primary bhūta of pathavi, āpo, tejo, and vāyo. Similarly, three more units of gandha, rasa, and oja are created due to taṇhā. Those correspond to our desire to be in touch with them and be “fooled” (gandha), keep them close (rassa), and re-generate them (oja).
  • It will take too much space to explain these in detail, but I hope you get the basic idea. Further information at “Bhūta and Yathābhūta – What Do They Really Mean.” See #5 there, clarifying the transition from “gati” to “bhuta” to “mahā bhūta” stages.
Suddhāṭṭhaka – Eight Components Do Not Arise Individually

10. Therefore, four basic units of pathavi, āpo, tejo, and vāyo, arise due to avijjā, and the other four of vaṇṇagandha, rasa, and oja arise due to taṇhā. 

Critical Role of Gati

11. 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 fundamental stage. Just keep that in mind as we proceed.

Stages of Matter – Bhūta, Mahā Bhūta, Dhātu

12. When enormous numbers of 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 mahā bhūta fuse and become even more condensed can we see them. In 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 denser dhātu, which we can see. That is why solid objects are called “pathavi dhātu.Suddhāṭṭhaka in such solid objects predominantly has 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 an “energetic appearance” have more tejo. And not only the wind but also things prone to move have more vāyo.
  • For details: “Bhūta and Yathābhūta – What Do They Really Mean.”
Other Implications

13. Therefore, we can see that pathavi, āpo, tejo, and vāyo have much deeper meanings than the earth, water, fire, and wind. Why did the ancient Greeks also use the same terms? Hinduism also uses terms like karma (the Sanskrit word for kamma), Nirvana (the Sanskrit word for Nibbāna), etc. The teachings of the previous Buddha, Buddha Kassapa, got distorted with time to become Vedic teachings. I need to write about that, but see #8 of “Arōgyā Paramā Lābhā..

  • There were 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 into usage before Buddha Gotama. The previous Buddhas’ concepts 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. That is not considered seriously yet, but there is some evidence: see
  • 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 on that region rather than on Africa. See “Ancient teeth found in China challenge modern human migration theory.”
Three Buddhas Before Buddha Gotama in the Present Eon

14. As I mentioned above, there were three Buddhas before Buddha’s Gotama. That is how key terms like pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo, kamma, and Nibbāna (nirvāna) have been used even before the Buddha Gotama. They had been transmitted through generations, but 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 we should all be forever grateful to modern science, much more than all other technological wonders it has brought.

15. Buddha Dhamma is profound, but once one gets some traction, it can be an exhilarating experience to “dig deeper.”

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