Mind and Matter – Buddhist Analysis

 August 15, 2020; revised August 16, 2020

 Mind and matter go together in Buddha Dhamma. It is one meaning of “nāmarupa.” It starts at a level much finer than the atomic level in modern science. It is even below the elementary particle level.

The Three Basic Building Blocks of Buddha Dhamma

1. Everything in this world arises out of three building blocks: citta, cetasika, and rupa.

  • An analogy in modern science is to start with electrons, protons, and neutrons (elementary particles would be even more fundamental). A tasty cake, an oak tree, or a nuclear bomb all have origins in those fundamental particles.
  • In the same way, Buddha Dhamma (the theory) can start with those three fundamental entities. They can describe all mental phenomena as well as material phenomena.
  • On the other hand, modern science can describe ONLY material phenomena. It just ASSUMES that mental phenomena come out of material phenomena. But that assumption has NOT been validated. See the previous post, “Theories of Our World – Scientific Overview.”
  • Modern science cannot explain how a living-being is born. It seems to say that “it just happens.” We will discuss that below.
Connection Between Mind and Matter

2. In Buddha Dhamma, analysis of rupa directly provides the connection between mind and matter.

  • In Abhidhamma, there are 28 types of rupa. However, there are only a few types of rupa that are sufficient to start our discussion here.
  • We will start with six types of rupa directly related to the mind and are essential in sensing the external world. First, there is hadaya vatthu, the “seat of the mind,” where thoughts (citta) arise. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and body touching sensations are sensed at five pasāda rupa: cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya. 
  • We are accustomed to the idea that we see things with our eyes, hear with our ears, etc. But all those five physical sense faculties just have inert matter. Inert matter cannot “sense” or “feel” anything.
  • Scientists go one step further and say that eyes, ears, etc., only capture the corresponding visual, auditory,..signals. They say that it is in the brain that those sensations are processed and “detected.” But they have no idea how such a “feeling” or “sensation” can arise in a brain. After all, the brain itself is made of inert atoms and molecules!
Brain Sends Those Signals to the “Actual Sensing Units”

3. It is correct that the brain processes those sensory signals captured by eyes, ears, etc. However, there is nothing in the brain that actually “detects” or “experiences” those signals.

  • As mentioned above, those actual sensing units are the hadaya vatthu and the five pasāda rupa. I will stick to these Pāli terms, and you will see that it is necessary to do so. The English vocabulary does not have corresponding words.
  • Now, we need to discuss two issues. Where are those six “sensing units” located? Also, how can they “feel” or “sense” those signals? Let us consider the latter question first.
  • It is kammic energy that creates those six elementary sensory units (hadaya vatthu and the five pasāda rupa of cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, kāya) at the beginning of a new existence. For simplicity, let us call those six entities “sensing units.” In some existences, there are less than six. For example, a rupāvacara Brahma has only three, and an arupāvacara Brahma has only one (just hadaya vatthu.) 
  • ONLY kammic energy can create those special types of rupa. They have a trace of matter (suddhāṭṭhaka) AND also the ability to “feel” or “experience” the sensory inputs. That is the FUNDAMENTAL connection between mind and matter.
Kammic Energy – Origin of Life

4. the kammic energy created by a STRONG previous kamma leads to a new existence as a result (vipāka) of that kamma.

  • For example, if person X kills another person, then that person X would have created a kammic seed (or a kamma bija) that can germinate and give rise to existence in hell. If the kamma were a rape, that would create a kammic seed to be born an animal. The vipāka (result) is according to the kamma. That is described in detail in “Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
  • At the beginning of a new existence, kammic energy creates a set of “sensing units” appropriate for that existence. All living beings in the kāma loka (six Deva realms, the human realm, and the four apāyā) have all six units listed in #3 above.
Examples of Various Existences

5. Without getting deeper into Paṭicca Samuppāda, let us try to get the basic idea of that process. It just says that an existence corresponds to the kamma that gave rise to that existence.

  • Someone who cultivates one of the four highest jhāna (arupāvacara jhāna) will be born as an arupāvacara Brahma. Someone in such an arupāvacara jhāna does not experience any of the five sensory inputs (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching). As a result (vipāka) of cultivating such a jhāna, one would be born in the corresponding arupāvacara realm (there are four such realms.) An arupāvacara Brahma cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or touch anything. He has only a hadaya vatthu and, thus, can only think (just like the experience in an arupāvacara jhāna.) A hadaya vatthu is the LEAST bit of matter that can sustain the mind (mental activity.)
  • Therefore, existence as an arupāvacara Brahma is the simplest. One is free of the burdens of making a living to buy houses, cars, or even food. There is no need to eat. That “Brahma body” only has a hadaya vatthu, which is so small that a Brahma cannot be seen even with the finest microscope scientists have. Kammic energy sustains that “body” with just an unimaginably small amount of “matter.”
  • At the next higher level of “complexity” are the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms. As you can guess now, birth in a rupāvacara Brahma realm is a vipāka of cultivating rupāvacara jhāna. A human can get into a rupāvacara jhāna by suppressing or removing the cravings for close-contact sensory pleasures (eating, smelling, and touching.)  The bottom line is that a rupāvacara Brahma can only see and hear in addition to being able to think. Thus, a rupāvacara Brahma would have only cakkhu and sota pasāda rupa in addition to hadaya vatthu. Thus, he would have only three “sensing units.”
  • Only in the kāma loka (six Deva realms, the human realm, and the four apayās) do living beings have all six “sensing units” listed in #3 above. Births in kāma loka are much more complex, and that is where one needs a better understanding of Paṭicca Samuppāda to describe various births, such as animal and hell beings. Of course, those births in the four apayā are due to akusala kamma.
A Human Gandhabba Is a Set of Six “Sensory Units”

6. At the beginning of human existence, kammic energy creates a human gandhabba (or a manomaya kāya) with a hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rupa. Mind and matter overlap (nāmarupa) in a human.

  • Just like it is impossible to see a Brahma, it is impossible to see a gandhabba. A gandhabba is almost like a Brahma but with a full set of pasāda rupa.
  • After being created by kammic energy, a gandhabba stays with that “invisible body,” maybe for many years. When a “matching womb” becomes available, it is pulled into that womb by kammic energy.
  • Modern science can explain a baby’s growth, starting with an embryo in the womb. But it CANNOT explain how that baby became CONSCIOUS.
  • The conception of a human baby (i.e., creating an embryo from an inert zygote) happens when a gandhabba comes into the womb and merges with the zygote. For details, see “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception.”
Many Physical Bodies For a Single Mental Body (Gandhabba)

7. Therefore, a human does not start with a physical body, i.e., with physical eyes, ears, etc., or the brain. As the Buddha explained, a physical body is a temporary residence for a human gandhabba. Within a human existence (that may last thousands of years), a gandhabba may acquire MANY different physical bodies. See “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”

  • When the gandhabba is trapped inside a physical body, it has to get external sensory signals indirectly. The eyes, ears, etc., capture those sensory signals, which are then processed by the brain. We will discuss how the brain transfers that information to the gandhabba in a future post.
  • It is a human existence (bhava) that is hard to get. But within a human bhava, one may be born many times with different human bodies. That is why we have so many rebirth stories where one is reborn within several years.
  • For the duration of a human bhava, one will have ONLY ONE mental body (manomaya kāya), also known as gandhabba. Of course, that gandhabba may undergo some changes. But it will last the whole duration of that human bhava.
Pāli Word for Eye Is Not Cakkhu – It Is Nayana or Akkhi

8. Most people do not realize the following critical fact. Pāli words for eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the body are nayana (or akkhi), kaṇṇa, nāsā (or nāsikā),  jivhā, and sarīra or deha or kāya.

  • The Pāli words cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya refer to the five pasāda rupa associated with the manomaya kāya (gandhabba).
  • Thus, two words could be used to refer to a physical sense faculty or a pasāda rupa (jivhā and kāya).
  • While inside a physical body, a gandhabba is shielded from the external world. We will discuss how pasāda rupās receive signals from the physical sensory faculties in the next post.
  • In the Abhidhamma analysis of rupa, the five pasāda rupa are listed as five fundamental types of rupaThus, it is clear that cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya DO NOT refer to eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the physical body!
  • On p. 236 of Ref. 1, they are listed as “sensitive phenomena”. If you look at p. 237, the Pāli term is “pasāda rupa“. The five types of pasāda rupa are #5 through #9 in Table 6.1 on p. 237. I tried to make that clear in the post, “Rupa (Material Form) – Table.”
  • In Ref. 1, the description of rupa is in Chapter VI (pp. 234-263.)
  • By the way, I will use Ref. 1 as the standard text on Abhidhamma for this series of posts. I have provided a link to the free PDF version. Ref. 2 is good as well.
Summary – Special Types of Rupa With Ability to “Sense”

9. There are six “sensing units” (created by kammic energy) that can “sense’ or “experience.” Kammic energy is created with citta and cetasika.  Therefore, it is a cyclic process (and why the rebirth process has no beginning!). We will discuss that intricate mind-and-matter connection in upcoming posts.

  • We started the post by pointing out that citta, cetasika, and rupa can describe EVERYTHING in this world.
  • In the above, we described the arising of a living being with a set of “sensing units.” That particular living being will do more kamma and create the seeds for future births.
  • That is how the rebirth process continues.
  • However, we can avoid “bad births” and attain Nibbāna by understanding this relationship between mind and matter. We will get into details in future posts.

1. “Comprehensive_Manual_of_Abhidhamma,” by Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000.)

2. “Buddha Abhidhamma – Ultimate Science,” by Dr. Mehm Tin Mon. Both are free publications. Click the link to open the pdf.

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