Our Two Worlds: Material and Immaterial

May 14, 2016; Revised November 25, 2016 (#3); September 30, 2019

Material World and Immaterial (Subtle) World

1. Our “human world” is made of two types of worlds: Material world (living beings and inert objects, sounds, smells, tastes, and body touches) that we experience with the five physical senses. Then there is the “immaterial world” (dhammā, which includes concepts, memories, etc in addition to kamma beeja with energy) that we experience with our minds. Here we use the phrase “immaterial world” to describe those dhammā that can only be experienced with the mind.

  • These two worlds co-exist; all 31 realms share the immaterial world. The immaterial world is like a fine fabric that connects all living beings. It is just that we cannot “see” the immaterial world, while we can see most of the material world. There are many things that we cannot “see” but we know to exist. For example, we know that radio and television signals are all around us, but we cannot “see” them. The immaterial world is just like that.
  • In the four realms of the Arūpa lōka, “dense matter” formed by suddhāshtaka are absent (except for the hadaya vatthu of the arūpa brahmas). Beings in the arūpa lōka experience only dhamma. They do not have any of the five physical senses and have only the mind (hadaya vatthu).

Click to open in pdf format: Two Types of Loka

  • Thus the “material world” is accessible only to living beings in the kāma lōka and rūpa lōka.
  • Arūpa lōka means there are no “condensed rūpa” (like those in kāma lōka and rūpa lōka), but of course, dhamma are there (those arūpa beings can think and recall past events just like us).
  • Furthermore, even in the rūpa lōka only fine and subtle matter exists. There are no “solid objects” like trees. If we visit a rūpa lōka, we may not see anything.
Rūpa and be Dense or Fine (Subtle)

2. Rūpa in Buddha Dhamma cannot be translated into English as “matter” or “solid objects.” Our minds can make very fine rūpa. The mind can also detect such fine (or subtle) rūpa that are in the mind plane or the immaterial world.

  • In Buddha Dhamma, those very fine rūpā are called “dhammā” (of course the word “dhamma” is used in other contexts too, like in Buddha Dhamma). They are “anidassanan, appatighan,” meaning they cannot be seen or detected by our five physical senses; see, “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis.”
  • Those rūpā that the five physical senses detect are made of the smallest “unit of matter” in Buddha Dhamma, called suddhāshtaka. (A suddhāshtaka is a billion times smaller than an atom in present-day science). The 28 types of rūpa consist of these “dense types of rūpa“; see, “Rūpa (Material Form)” and “The Origin of Matter – suddhāshtaka.”
  • The fine rūpas are normally not called rūpa but are called dhammā to make the distinction. Dhammā are very fine rūpa which are below the suddhāshtaka stage. They are the rūpa are grasped only by the mana indriya or dhammayatana: “anidassanan, appatighan, dhammayatana pariyapanna rūpan.” For a more in-depth analysis, see, “What are Rūpa? – Dhammā are Rūpa too!.”

3. Let us briefly discuss the main points depicted in the above chart. Everything in this world is made of 6 dhātu: patavi, apo, tejo, vayo, akāsa, and vinnana. Five of them constitute the “material world” and the vinnana dhātu represents the “immaterial world”.

  • By the way, akāsa is not merely “empty space”. We will discuss this later.
  • The basic building block for the material world is suddhāshtaka. Not long ago, scientists thought that atoms were the building blocks, but now they say that even those elementary particles have structure. A suddhāshtaka is much finer than any elementary particle.
  • In the immaterial world (or the mental plane), there are the mental precursors to suddhāshtaka. They are dhamma, gati, and bhava. Based on our gati, we make suddhāshtaka in our javana citta; see, “The Origin of Matter – suddhāshtaka“.
Five Physical Senses Detect Dense Rūpa

4. We have five sense faculties to experience the material world: eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and the body. They pass down the sensory inputs to the five pasada rūpa located in the gandhabba or the manōmaya kāya, that overlaps our physical body); see, “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)“. By the way, gandhabba is not a Mahayāna concept: “Gandhabba State – Evidence from Tipitaka“.

  • On the mental side, we have a mana indriya in the brain to sense the immaterial world; see, “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body“.
  • Based on those five physical sense contacts with the material world and the contacts of the mana indriya with the immaterial world, our thoughts arise in the hadaya vatthu (also located in the gandhabba or the manōmaya kāya); see, “Does any Object (rūpa) Last only 17 Thought Moments?“.
  • That is a very brief description of the chart above. One could gain more information by clicking on the links provided and by using the “Search” button. Don’t worry too much if all this does not make complete sense yet.

5. Thus it is important to understand that there are two types of rūpa in our human world:

  • Tangible matter in the material world that we experience with the help of the five physical senses.
  • Then there are unseen (anidassana), intangible (appatigha) rūpa such as thoughts, perceptions, plans, memories. They are dhammā, mano rūpa, gati, bhava, nāma gotta. It is the mana indriya in the brain that helps detect those subtle rūpā.
  • Both types of rūpa are eventually detected and experienced by the mind (hadaya vatthu). The hadaya vatthu is not located in the brain but in the body of gandhabba and overlaps the physical heart region of the physical body; see, “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)“.
  • Comprehending this “wider picture” may need a little bit of effort. The world is complex and most of the complexity is associated with the mind. The seat of the mind is not in the brain but in the fine body (manōmaya kāya) of the gandhabba.

6. Another part of our nāma lōka or the immaterial world is the dream world.

  • When we dream, we “see” people and material objects. But we cannot say where those are located. They do not have a physical location; they are in the mano lōka or the immaterial plane. And we do not “see” those dreams with our eyes, but with the mana indriya.
  • When we sleep, our five physical senses do not function. But the mana indriya in the brain does. Scientists do confirm that our brains are active during sleep.
  • What is experienced in Arūpa lōka is somewhat similar to seeing dreams. Of course, one has the ability to contemplate in the arūpa lōka. However, one is unable to read or listen. Therefore, one cannot learn Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta) from a Noble Person. Thus, one is unable to attain the Sotapanna stage of Nibbāna in the arūpa lōka. But if one had attained the Sotapanna stage prior to being born there, one is able to meditate and attain higher stages of Nibbāna.
Dense Rūpa for “Rough” Sensory Contacts

7. There is another way to look at our sense experiences. Living beings are attached to this world because they expect to gain pleasure from this world. Such pleasures are obtained by making contact with rūpa. Those rūpā come at various densities.

  • Bodily pleasures are achieved by the strongest contacts (touch). Then come taste, smell, vision, sounds, becoming less dense in that order.
  • The softest contact is via dhamma. This is our immaterial world; we think, plan for the future, remember things from the past, etc: We do this all the time, and we can do it anywhere. Another way to say this is to say that we engage in mano, vaci, and kāya sankhara.
  • Thus, contacts by the mana indriya with dhamma in the mano lōka constitute a significant portion of sense experience. That involves mano rūpa (dhamma, gati, bhava, nāma gotta) in the mind plane or the immaterial world.

8. The way a living being experiences and enjoys (or suffers) sense contacts is different in the three main categories of existence: kāma lōka, rūpa lōka, and arūpa lōka.

  • Most “rough” or “ōlārika” sense contacts are available only in the kāma lōka. Even here, they are roughest in the niraya (the lowest realm) and in general reduces in “roughness” as moving up to the human realm, the fifth. The 6 deva realms are significantly “softer” than the human realm; deva bodies are much finer (like that of a gandhabba) and a normal human cannot see them.
  • The roughest sense contacts (touch, taste, and smell) are absent in the rūpa lōka. Only visual and sound contacts are available for the brahmas in the 16 rūpa lōka realms, in addition to the mind.
  • Those arupi brahmas in the 4 arūpa lōka realms have only the mind, with which they experience only the finest rūpa (dhamma) that are below the suddhāshtaka stage.
  • Those brahmas in both rupi and arupi lōka have seen the perils of “kāma assāda” that are available in the kāma lōka. They had enjoyed jhanic pleasures as humans and value those more than the “rough” sense pleasures. They have given up the craving for those “rough” sense pleasures that are available via touch, taste, and smell.

9. We can get an idea of such “soft” and “rough” sense contacts with the following example. Suppose someone (a grandmother is a good example) watching her grandchild laughing and dancing around having a good time.

  • At first, she may be watching from a distance and enjoying the sight of the little baby having fun.
  • Then she goes and hugs the child. It is not enough to just watch from a distance; she needs to touch the child.
  • If the child keeps on wiggling and having a good time, the grandmother may start kissing the child. In some cases, the grandmother may start tightening the hold on the child, even without realizing it and may make the child cry out in pain.
  • This last scenario is an example of how the craving for extreme sense pleasures can instead lead to suffering. Of course, it is the craving for ōlārika sense pleasures that leads to most suffering.
  • But suffering is there even in the rupi and arupi realms. Even at the level of arupi brahmas — where the attachment is only to pleasures of the softest of the rūpa (dhamma) — there is inevitable suffering at the end when they have to give up that existence and come back down to the human realm.
Less Suffering in “Less-Dense” Realms

10. Therefore, the level of inevitable suffering goes hand in hand with the “denseness” of the sensory contact.

  • Pains, aches, and illnesses are there only in the lowest 5 realms (including the human realm) where there are dense physical bodies. In the higher realms those are absent. This is the price even the humans pay for being able to experience “rough contact pleasures” such as a body massage, sex, eating, and smelling.
  • We humans in the kāma lōka like to enjoy close and “rough” sense pleasures. In addition, most times, just enjoying sense pleasures is not enough; we like to “own” those things that provide sense pleasures. For example, people like to “own” vacation homes; it is not enough to rent a house in that location just for the visit.
  • This tendency to “own” pleasurable things also go down in higher realms. There are fewer material things to “own” in brahma lōkas, especially in the arupi brahma realms.

11. As one attains higher stages of Nibbāna, craving for “rough” sense pleasures, as well as the desire to “own” things go down.

  • A Sotapanna has only “seen” the perils of kāma assāda; he/she still enjoys them.
  • A Sakadāgāmi may still enjoy “kāma assāda“, but has no desire to “own” those things that provide pleasures. It is enough to live in a nice rented house, and there is no desire to own a nice house. In fact, a Sakadāgāmi can clearly see the burden of “owning things”.
  • An Anāgāmi has no special interest in enjoying kāma assāda. He/she eats to quench the hunger (but will eat delicious foods when offered), and will never give priority to any sense pleasure over the “pleasure of Dhamma” (of course, Dhamma here means Buddha Dhamma). He/she also likes jhanic pleasures and thus will be born in the rūpa realms reserved for the Anāgāmis upon death.
  • An Arahant has no desire for even jhānic pleasures, and will not be born anywhere in the 31 realms upon death.

Each habitable planetary system (cakkavāla) has all 31 realms of existence, even though we can only see two realms (human and animal) in ours.

This is discussed next: “31 Realms Associated with the Earth“, ………

Print Friendly, PDF & Email