Bhūta and Yathābhūta – What Do They Really Mean

December 28, 2017

1. Yathābhūta is normally translated as “true nature” (which is a bit close to the true meaning). From that, it seems, bhūta is translated as “nature”; sometimes bhūta is translated as “becoming”. Both are wrong.

  • These words are also associated with yathābhūta ñāna. By the end of this discussion one will know what that ñāna or wisdom is about.

2. Bhuta is a Sinhala word as well as a Pāli word. It literally means a “ghost”. The deeper meaning is associated with the “satara mahā bhūta”: patavi, āpo, tējo, vāyo.

  • One cannot ever see those satara mahā bhūta individually. The smallest unit containing any of them is a suddhāshtaka, which consists of those four AND varna, gandha, rasa, ōja. Thus a suddhāshtaka (“suddha” + “ashta” where “suddha” is pure or fundamental and “ashta” is eight) means “pure octad” or “pure unit of eight”. How a suddhāshtaka is formed is discussed in “The Origin of Matter – Suddhāshtaka”.
  • It should also be noted that satara mahā bhūta are the primary rūpa. All others, including varna, gandha, rasa, ōja, are derived from them and are called upādaya rūpa.

3. As mentioned in that post, bhūta have their origins in “gati”. When one cultivates a certain gati and when they become strong, they can lead to the creation of bhūta (suddhāshtaka) produced via their javana citta.

  • So, in order to get a good understanding of these key words, one needs to know about gati (I have sometimes spelled as gati), which is discussed in many posts at the site. For example, see, “Gati, Bhava, and Jāti“.

4. Scientists have now verified the illusive nature of matter at very small scale. Atoms were thought to be the smallest possible division of matter until 1897 when J.J. Thomson discovered the electron. Then it was realized that an atom is made of smaller units (protons, neutrons, and electrons), and then those were found to have structure too, but they sub-units (quarks, etc) cannot be detected individually).

  • With the advent of quantum mechanics, the distinction between matter and energy has become blurred. The mass of a particle depends on its speed, and its mass when it is at rest is the smallest. Photons or “particles of light” have zero mass at rest, i.e., zero rest mass. It is now typical to state the mass of an elementary particle in terms of energy units.
  • It has become clear that matter has an illusive nature when tried to figure out the “smallest units” from which all matter is composed of.

5. Furthermore, it is not possible to determine the exact position of an elementary particle at a given time. For example, it is only possible to say that an electron can be within a certain region of space. Thus, an electron is like a ghost. It cannot be pinned down to be at a certain location.

  • The situation is even worse for a photon, a particle of light. When a photon is released, one can only find it at a later time by stopping it at a detector. It is IMPOSSIBLE to state the exact path of the photon from the source to the detector. It could have been anywhere in between. The same applies to an electron too, even though it has a non-zero rest mass.
  • This has been referred to as “quantum weirdness”. Those small particles are as elusive as ghosts.

6. That is exactly what the Buddha said. A suddhāshtaka is much smaller than even a photon, and the Buddha said that satara mahā bhūta are the true “smallest units of matter”. This is why he called them bhūta. One can NEVER see them or detect them individually. As we mentioned above, the smallest unit of rūpa, or a suddhāshtaka consists of eight sub units.

  • Furthermore, these bhūta arise from gati of living beings (mostly human and above); see, “The Origin of Matter – Suddhāshtaka”. A person with rough character qualities is likely to create suddhashataka with higher proportion of patavi, etc.

7. No one will be able to “see” or figure out how gati are transformed to bhūta or suddhāshtaka stage. Only a Buddha can discern that.

  • Billions of billions of suddhāshtaka are combined to lead to the mahā bhūta stage of rūpa. Brahmā  have bodies made of mahā bhūta. Only Brahmā can see such fine rūpa.
  • When large number of mahā bhūta combine, that leads to the dhātu stage of rūpa. Bodies of devas are at fine dhātu stage. Our human bodies are made of much denser dhātu stage of rūpa.

8. All mater that we see are made of such dense dhātu. Rocks have dhātu that have mostly patavi. Water mostly has āpo. Fire mostly has tējo, Wind mostly had vāyo. That is why earth, water, fire, wind are loosely referred to as patavi, āpo, tējo, vāyo.

9. When someone comprehends what we discussed above about the true nature of matter that exists in this world, one is said to have the yathābhūta ñāna. However, just reading about them is just the start. That ñāna grows as one comprehends the finer details.

  • Yathā means the true nature. Yathābhūta means the true nature of matter or true nature of bhūta, which arise via the MIND. Of course, more finer details need a good understanding of Abhidhamma.
  • However, for most purposes, it is sufficient to have the above discussed rough idea. As one learns more, the details will be automatically filled in.

10. This is also why the Buddha said, “manō pubbangamā dhammā, manō settā manōmayā” in the famous Dhammapada gāthā.

  • It means “everything in this world has its origins in the mind, all are set by the mind and prepared by the mind”.

11. Suddhāshtaka by themselves are inert. They acquire “life” when energized by the mind in the formation of “kammaja rūpa”. This energy in embedded as rotation (paribramana) and spin (bramana). When that embedded energy runs out, rotation and spin stop and they again become inert.

  • For example, a hadaya vatthu for a new existence comes into being as a kammaja rūpa at the cuti-patisandhi moment. During its lifetime, the hadaya vatthu maintains its spin and rotation. When the kammic energy embedded is exhausted, its motion stops and the bhava ends. At that time, a new hadaya vatthu for a new bhava is formed by kammic energy.

12. The hadaya vatthu is also called “vatthu dasaka” where dasaka means ten. This is because the hadaya vatthu or vatthu dasaka has two modes of energy (spin and rotation) in addition to the 8 parts in the inert suddhāshtaka. That why it is called a dasaka (made of ten units).

  • This added spin and rotation is what gives life to an inert suddhāshtaka. That power of energy is given by javana citta (mind). The more energy given to a kamma bīja, it will sustain a bhava (hadaya vatthu) that arises from it for a longer time.
  • Same is true for the five pasāda rūpa (cakkhu,sōta, ghana, jivha, kāya) formed at the moment of cuti-patisandhi. There are two bhava rūpa which are also dasaka, and jivitindriya rūpa which is a navaka (just spin or bramana). How different modes of rotation and spin give rise to these nine “life forming” basic units is discussed in the post: “Gandhabba Sensing the World – With and Without a Physical Body“.
  • By the way, the word kammaja comes from “kamma” + “ja” where “ja” means birth. Therefore, those nine kammaja rūpa are created by kammic energy.

13. Now we can clearly see that our heavy physical body, by itself, is totally inert. The real life is in the gandhabba with the hadaya vatthu and the five pasāda rūpa. Our body movements are controlled by the kāya dasaka of the gandhabba and it is spread like a very fine mesh over the whole body.

  • At the death of the physical body, this life-carrying gandhabba leaves the body and the body becomes inert and starts decaying.
  • In the case of an out-of-body experience (OBE), even though the gandhabba leaves the physical body, it is still connected to the physical body (by a “silver cord” in the terminology of astral projection) and that is why the body does not start to decay: “Manomaya Kaya and Out-of-Body Experience (OBE)“.

14. Therefore, in all life forms in the 31 realms, the real life is in the ultra-fine life form of a hadaya vatthu accompanied by up to five pasāda rūpa. In arupavaccara brahma realms, there is only the hadaya vatthu. In rupavacara brahma realms, hadaya vatthu is accompanied by cakkhu and sōta pasāda rūpa. In all other realms, five pasāda rūpa exist with the hadaya vatthu.

  • The only exception is asañña realm, where only the kāya dasaka is maintained by the jivitindriya (no hadaya vatthu, since thoughts are not generated).
  • This is another critical factor in the yathābhūta ñāna: All life forms are like bhūta (ghosts); in essence, life is maintained by a ultra-fine body that is impossible to see and have temporary existence. Any life in any realm is short-lived in the samsāric scale. In the samsāric scale trillion years is like a drop of water in the ocean.

15. This yathābhūta ñāna about the real nature of our body also helps to get rid of the “ghana saññā” about our bodies. One values one’s dense body so much because one believes that there is a “self” in the physical body.

  • Those with uccēda diṭṭhi (like most current scientists and philosophers) believe that our physical body (and its brain) is all that is there.
  • Those with sāssata diṭṭhi believe that there is a mental body that lives forever.

16. Buddha discovered that both those are wrong views. There is a mental body, but it drastically changes from bhava to bhava. One could be a deva or a human for a time being, but the next bhava could be in the apāyā.

17. Now we see that the precursors for all matter in this world, satara mahā bhūta, are mind-made and have a transient existence. They are “bhūta” or “ghosts”. And since everything else is made of them, what we consider to be “solid, tangible things” in this world are really “ghost-like”.

  • The knowledge of this real “ghost-like” nature is called “yathābhūta ñāna“. When one has that knowledge, one looks at the world according that correct view, which is called “anu bhūtam“.
  • When one is not aware of this true nature, it is called “na anu bhūtam” which rhymes as “ananubhūtam”. It is to noted that many key Pāli words are composed that way: anatta is “na” + “atta“; see, “Anatta – the Opposite of Which Atta?“.
  • Anantariya is “na” + “an” + “antara“. Words like this cannot be analyzed grammatically. This is why current Pāli experts are wrong in interpreting such words (and are unable to interpret many key words).
  • This word “ananubhūtam” comes in several key suttā, including the ones mentioned above in #16.

18. One good example is the famous Brahma­niman­tanika Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 49): “Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃ, taṃ pathaviyā pathavattena ananubhūtaṃ, āpassa āpattena ananubhūtaṃ, tejassa tejattena ananubhūtaṃ, vāyassavāyattena ananubhūtaṃ, bhūtānaṃ bhūtattena ananubhūtaṃ, devānaṃ devattena ananubhūtaṃ, pajāpatissa pajāpatittena ananubhūtaṃ, brahmānaṃ brahmattena ananubhūtaṃ, ābhassarānaṃ ābhassarattena ananubhūtaṃ, subhakiṇhānaṃ subhakiṇhānaṃ subha­kiṇ­hattena ananubhūtaṃ, vehapphalānaṃ vehap­phalat­tena ananubhūtaṃ, abhibhussa abhibhuttena ananubhūtaṃ, sabbassa sabbattena ananubhūtaṃ..”

Translated:Viññāna is unseen, infinite, and leads to the rebirth process for all. With viññāna one cannot comprehend the real nature of patavi, āpo, tējo, vāyo, bhūta, deva, pajapti brahma, abhassara brahma, subhakinha brahma, vehapphala brahma, etc. and everything in this world (sabba)”.

  • One has a defiled consciousness or viññāna until one attains the Arahantship. Until then one cannot fully comprehend the real “ghost-like” nature of everything in this world, i.e., one’s yathābhūta ñāna is not complete.
  • We will discuss the first part of the verse Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbatō pabhaṃ..” in the next post. This short phrase is commonly mistranslated.  

19. Another major sutta where it appears is “Saḷāya­tana­ Vibhaṅ­ga Sutta (MN 137)“: “Rūpānaṃ tveva aniccataṃ viditvā vipari­ṇāma­virāga­nirodham, ‘pubbe ceva rūpā etarahi ca sabbe te rūpā aniccā dukkhā vipari­ṇāma­dhammā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya passato uppajjāti somanassaṃ“.

Loosely Translated: Any rūpa that has existed or in existence now, has the “ghost-like transient nature”. That is the reason why they change unexpectedly (viparinama) and have the anicca nature. When one comprehends this true nature, it leads to joy in one’s mind (somanassa)“.

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