Buddhist Worldview – Introduction

August 26, 2019; revised May 1, 2023; August 18, 2023 


1. The Buddhist worldview is somewhat complicated but is self-consistent. In the previous three posts, we discussed the two dominant world views of evolutionism and creationism. The Buddha categorized them respectively as uccheda diṭṭhi and sassata diṭṭhi in the “Brahmajāla Sutta (DN 1)“. When one removes both those wrong views, one would have removed sakkāya diṭṭhi and attained the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna.

  • In both those world views, there is the idea of an “existing person.” Evolutionists say that “a person” ends with the death of the physical body. Creationists say that the “soul” or the “ātma” of “a person” will get an “everlasting life” at some point. See the discussion so far at “Origin of Life.”
  • The Buddha taught that such “a person” is illusory. At each moment, an experience arises due to past causes AND based on prevailing conditions. That “conditional cause and effect” or the Principle of Causality is called Paṭicca Samuppāda. However, those experiences and any physical suffering are real.

2. Thus, in the Buddhist worldview, “a person,” at a given time, may be defined as a “set of gati” or “character qualities.” Those gati are the conditions to bring about the results (vipāka) of past actions (kamma). When one gets rid of those “gati,” that will lead to stopping those sense experiences burdened with suffering; that is Parinibbāna or “full release from suffering.” However, the perception (saññā) of such “a person” will be there until one attains Arahanthood.

  • That is a very brief summary. With this post, we will start discussing the details.

3. The “material or physical world” takes precedence in current dominant world views of evolutionism and creationism. Evolutionists consider mental aspects to be secondary and to arise from inert matter. Thus, they believe the mind is an emergent phenomenon.

  • Even the creationists do not pay much attention to the diverse mind phenomena. They believe that the mind is separate from matter and that the Creator created both.
  • Buddha briefly mentioned material aspects but focused on the mind in great detail. Furthermore, he has explained that the opposite of materialism is the correct worldview. Instead of mind phenomena arising from inert matter, the mind is the precursor to matter.
  • That may sound astounding. That is why we need to go through the steps slowly. But it is essential first to remind ourselves that it is impossible to create a brand-new “life-stream” or a “new living being.”
A Life-Stream (Rebirth Process) Has No Beginning

4. All living beings (an infinite number of them) have lived from a time that has “no traceable beginning.” That is a cornerstone of the Buddhist worldview.

  • The Buddha declared that as,  “Anamataggoyaṃ, bhikkhave, saṃsāro.” That means bhikkhus, there is no discernible beginning to the rebirth process.”  This statement is in every sutta in the “Anamatagga Saṃyutta” in Saṃyutta Nikāya (SN).
  • You and I have existed “forever.” We will continue to live in one of the 31 realms until we attain the Arahanthood and then attain Parinibbāna. Parinibbāna means “complete Nibbāna.” That is completely separating from this world of 31 realms. No more rebirths in this world. No more suffering.
  • I have discussed this in detail in the post “Origin of Life – There is No Traceable Origin.”

5. The above statement of a life existing from a time with no traceable beginning may seem contradictory to the fundamental concept that nothing in this world lasts forever. There is no contradiction.

  • At any time, a given “lifestream” has a hadaya vatthu (seat of mind) and several pasāda rūpa ranging from zero (in arūpavacara realms or planes) to five (in kāma realms). Hadaya vatthu and a set of pasāda rūpa are the “manōmaya kāya” that every living having. It is unimaginably small (smaller than an atom in modern science). That manōmaya kāya keeps changing as the life-stream moves among the 31 realms.
  • The manōmaya kāya is a “mental body.” But “body” here means a “collection,” the collection of hadaya vatthu and a set of pasāda rūpa. One’s “mental body” weighs much less than a mustard seed. In fact, at the moment of conception (“patisandhi viññāna descending to the womb), our “physical body” consists only of a single cell (zygote), as we discussed in “Clarification of “Mental Body” and “Physical Body” – Different Types of “Kāya.”
  • In humans and animals, this manōmaya kāya is the same as gandhabba. For Brahmā, manōmaya kāya is all they have!
  • The “mental body” (gandhabba) controls the massive physical body of a human or an animal.
A Worldview Based on Experience 

6. The Buddhist worldview is not a theory or speculation. The Buddha could “see” each of the 31 realms of this world. He could “see” how a lifestream moves from one realm to another based on kamma vipāka and prevailing conditions, i.e., Paṭicca Samuppāda.

  • Many suttā describe Buddha’s and his disciples’ visits to Brahma and Deva planes. Others describe visits of Brahmā and devas to the human world (mainly to listen to the discourses of the Buddha and to ask questions from the Buddha). In the latter category, there are 81 suttā in the “Devatā Saṃyutta” and 111 suttā in the “Devaputta Saṃyutta” in the Saṃyutta Nikāya.
  • For example, in the Vinaya Piṭaka, it is described that billions of devas and Brahmā were there to listen to the first discourse of the Buddha, Dhammacappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11). The Brahma­niman­tanika Sutta (MN 49), describes how the Buddha visited the realm of the Mahā Brahma to explain to him that his existence is not eternal; see “Anidassana Viññāṇa – What It Really Means.”
  • Once, a brahmin came to the Buddha and asked whether the Buddha believed in the existence of devas, Brahmā, apāyās, etc. The Buddha told him he “sees” them and communicates with them. If someone comes across the name of that sutta, please let me know: [email protected]. I will add that reference here.
  • August 28, 2019: Reader Siebe sent me the following reference: “Devadūta Sutta (MN 130),” which describes “hells” or “niraya.” A translation at: “Devaduta Sutta: The Deva Messengers.” A similar sutta about some realms located close to Earth is described in the “Āṭānāṭiya Sutta (DN 32)“. A translation there, “The Āṭānāṭiya Discourse (DN 23)“. Also, see my post on August 28, 2019, at the discussion forum on “Questions on Posts in the “Origin of Life” Subsection“. It discusses “life in hell.”
  • More information on hells at: “Does the Hell (Niraya) Exist?“. I revised and updated that post on August 29, 2019.

7. More than 2500 years ago, the Buddha described the “physical world” as consisting of billions of galaxies with billions of stars in each galaxy (with different names, of course).

  • On the other hand, even a few hundred years ago, modern science’s view of the universe was that it included only the Solar system.
  • In the early 1600s, Galileo invented the telescope. He first saw that the Moon is similar to the Earth in composition and that the stars are no different from our Sun. With more powerful telescopes, we now know an unbelievable number of stars (with planets around them) out there.

8. However, the Buddha taught that studying the physical structure of the universe is not beneficial. While it is an exciting subject, studying that would not solve the “problem of suffering.” We have only a limited time in this life, and we must focus on removing future suffering.

  • Regarding that aspect, one should focus on one’s inner world. In particular, on the issue of how suffering-filled rebirths materialize due to one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. We do not need telescopes or other fancy instruments for that. We can use our minds.
  • By the way, by focusing on mental phenomena, one can also find much more about the physical world with billions of galaxies WITHOUT any scientific instrument. That is how the Buddha knew more about the universe than modern scientists.
  • Therefore, the Buddhist worldview can provide a complete description of our world. The Buddha explained how infinite “lifestreams” take different forms in a rebirth process that has no beginning.
What is One’s World?

9. A given person’s world is what he/she experiences. What exactly do we experience?

  • We see forms with our eyes, hear sounds with our ears, taste with tongues, smell with the nose, body touches with physical bodies. Those are the five physical sense faculties and the five types of “external entities” experienced by them. Modern science still thinks the mind is an “emergent phenomenon” arising from the brain.
  • However, in Buddha Dhamma, the mind is much more critical than those five physical senses, and we will see why.

10. With the mind, we remember past events, think about concepts like mathematics or Buddha Dhamma, and plan for the future. That latter is the most crucial task of the mind. We think about, plan, and initiate activities by generating saṅkhāra in mind.

  • Most such activities start due to ignorance (avijjā) about the real nature of this world. That is why the akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle begins with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” We create good/bad kamma via saṅkhāra, which lead to defiled viññāna via “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna.” 
  • When viññāna become strong enough, they can become patisandhi viññāna that fuel the rebirth process. We will discuss this later. In the Buddhist worldview, that is how the mind creates future existences.
Our World Consists of Twelve Āyatanas

11. TheChachakka Sutta (MN 148)” describes in detail the sensory experience in the Buddhist worldview. See “The Six Sets of Six (MN 148)” for an English translation. We will discuss this sutta in detail.

  • In that sutta, the Buddha labeled our six types of internal sense faculties as six “internal āyatana” (ajjhattikāni āyatanāni). Furthermore, he called the six external entities sensed by them “external āyatana” (bāhirāni āyatanāni). From now on, we will use the terms “internal āyatana” and “external āyatana.”
  • As I emphasize often, it is best to learn what is meant by some critical Pāli words and use those Pāli words. In many cases, there are no exact English translations. Note that in the above English translation of the sutta, the word “āyatana” translated as “base.” When we start discussing Paṭicca Samuppāda, you will see why it is better to use the Pāli term, āyatana.
  • In summary, our world consists of twelve āyatana. Material-wise, there is NOTHING ELSE in the world. The Buddha called those twelve “sabba” or “all”; see Sabba Sutta (SN 35.23).

12. The “Āyatanavibhaṅga” provides details on the twelve āyatana. For example: “Tattha katamaṃ cakkhāyatanaṃ? Yaṃ cakkhu catunnaṃ mahābhūtānaṃ upādāya pasādo attabhāvapariyāpanno anidassano sappaṭigho, yena cakkhunā anidassanena sappaṭighena rūpaṃ sanidassanaṃ sappaṭighaṃ passi vā passati vā passissati vā passe vā, cakkhumpetaṃ cakkhāyatanampetaṃ cakkhudhātupesā cakkhundriyampetaṃ lokopeso dvārāpesā samuddopeso paṇḍarampetaṃ khettampetaṃ vatthumpetaṃ nettampetaṃ nayaṃampetaṃ orimaṃ tīrampetaṃ suñño gāmopeso. Idaṃ vuccati “cakkhāyatanaṃ.”

Translated: “What is cakkhāyatana? It is based on cakkhu pasāda (cakkhu indriya) derived from the four great elements. It is invisible (anidassano), makes contact (sappaṭighena) with visible (object).” (Only partially correct translation at Sutta Central: “Analysis Of The Sense-bases.”) But all such cakkhu pasāda ever experienced, to be experienced, or now being experienced is included.

  • I have just translated the first part with an important fact: One cannot see the cakkhāyatana or even cakkhu indriya. Cakkhāyatana is a “mental construct” based on cakkhu indriya or cakkhu pasāda rupa. When the mind gets attached to a visual object, it uses cakkhu indriya as cakkhāyatana. An Arahant has cakkhu indriya but not cakkhāyatana.
  •  We will discuss in the next post how eyes act like cameras, just capturing the signal from the object. The picture taken by the eyes is processed by the brain, which then is passed on to the cakkhu pasāda rupa.
  • In the same way, sotāyatana, ghānāyatana, jivhāyatana, and kāyāyatana arise in a defiled mind (based on sota, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya pasāda rupa; all invisible.) Those five pasāda rūpa are in the manōmaya kāya, around the hadaya vatthu (seat of mind). Also, see “Rupa (Material Form).”
  • The hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rūpa are in the manōmaya kāya overlap the heart in the physical body. That is why the manōmaya kāya comes out when the heart is stressed, like during some heart operations; see “Out-of-Body Experience (OBE) and Manōmaya Kāya.”
Internal and External Indriya

13. The six INTERNAL indriya (cakkhu, sōta, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, and mana) are responsible for detecting sensory inputs.

  • They are all very fine rūpa (traces of matter) at the suddhāṭṭhaka level, i.e., they are the smallest units of matter.
  • However, their ability to detect external rūpa comes from the kammic energy embedded in them. Those kammic energies induce rotation and spin modes, i.e., those suddhāṭṭhaka start turning and spinning just like electrons in an atom. That is why they called units of ten or dasaka. For example, cakkhu rūpa is called a cakkhu dasaka. It has a suddhāṭṭhaka (eight units of matter) and two units of energy (one in rotation and one in spin). See “The Origin of Matter – Suddhāṭṭhaka.”
  • Yes. The Buddha knew about rotation and spin before modern science. “Energy” can be in spin (bramana in Pāli; bramana or බ්‍රමණ in Sinhala) and rotation  (paribbramana in Pāli; bramana or පරිබ්‍රමණ in Sinhala). See “31 Realms Associated with the Earth“.

14. There are six types of EXTERNAL indriya (vaṇṇa rūpa, sadda rūpa, gandha rūpa, rasa rūpa, pottabbha rūpa, and dhamma rūpa or dhammā).

  • Most times, vaṇṇa rūpa are called rūpa rūpa or just rūpa. In the Chachakka Sutta, they are just called rūpa. Those are the ones we see with our eyes. Many people assume that those are the only rūpa. That is because they do not perceive sound as a form of rūpa, for example. But a sound wave carries energy.
  • Even modern science accepted that energy and matter are indistinguishable only after Einstein found the connection between energy and matter with his famous equation, E = mc^2.
  • Gandha, or smell, is associated with fine particles of odor that flow through the air and get into our noses. Rasa or taste comes from the food we eat. Potthabba or touch is with solid matter. So, those are also rūpa.
  • Yes. Some dhammā rūpa or dhammā (sensed by the mind) are also rūpa. Dhammās are called sukuma rūpa because they are below the suddhāṭṭhaka stage. See, “What are Rūpa? – Dhammā are Rūpa too!“. Also, the mind can detect memories (nama gotta) and concepts (like mathematics).

15. We have discussed all types of matter (and energy) in our world within the Buddhist worldview. In the next post, we will discuss how our mental experience (through vedana, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna) arises when internal āyatana come into contact with external āyatana.

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