The Origin of Matter – Suddhāṭṭhaka

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


1. Suddhāṭṭhaka is not even mentioned in even 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 a deeper explanation given in this post. The explanation in #8 and #9 was given by Waharaka Thero and cannot be found directly even in the Tipiṭaka. I will discuss that in the post, “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 “Thailand”), 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 gain more insight.
  • As I publish more posts on this issue, the picture will become increasingly apparent. Buddha Dhamma’s value 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.
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 of this at this point (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 the Big Bang.
  • 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” all of a sudden in a 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.
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 for 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 in the vicinity of our Sun blows up in a few billion years, that blast will destroy 10,000 other star systems in the neighborhood. Such a “star explosion” has a particular name, a supernova, in modern science.
(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). What science does not know yet is 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. That the Earth was at the universe and that the stars were embedded in a celestial sphere 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! At present, there is no end in sight to 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 light speed. 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.

6. 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 saṅkhata, is created by the mind. That may be surprising to many of you, but I will provide evidence that it is true as we progress. 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, 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 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.” 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 are the four “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” 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 mind first creates the four mahā 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” (“salena gatiya” or “සැලෙන ගතිය” 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.

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.

  • Now, 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 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 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.
Suddhāṭṭhaka – Eight Components Do Not Arise Individually

9. 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. 

  • These eight components never arise in isolation and thus are called “avinibbhōga rupa.” They always rise together and all eight are there in any suddhāṭṭhaka. The relative “amounts” of each component can vary, and thus some entities may be dominated by one of the eight. For example,  pathavi is dominant in a stone and āpo is dominant in water. Even then, all eight are present to some extent.
  • This very fundamental level is called the “bhūta” stage. Bhūta is another name for “ghosts” 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 Nikāya 49)“. I have discussed that part of the sutta in #12 of “Anidassana Viññāṇa – What It Really Means.”
  • And a  suddhāṭṭhaka can never be divided; thus, they are called “avinibbhōga rupa kalāpa.”
Critical Role of Gati

10. 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.

Stages of Matter – Bhūta, Mahā Bhūta, Dhātu

11. 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 together and 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 predominantly have 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 that are prone to move have more vāyo.
Other Implications

12. 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? Hinduism also uses terms like karma (which is the Sanskrit word for kamma), Nirvana (which is the Sanskrit word for Nibbāna), 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. 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
  • 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.”
Three Buddhas Before Buddha Gotama in the Present Eon

13. 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.

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

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