What are rūpa? – Dhamma are rūpa too!

May 13, 2017

Any and all our conscious thoughts start with one of the six senses getting an input from the external world that is made up of rūpa.

1. Many people think rūpa mean just “material things” that we can see out in the world. But EVERYTHING that we sense through our six senses are rūpa. I will explain this in a systematic way.

  • Those things that we detect with our five physical senses are what we can call “dense rūpa“; they are made of suddhashtaka, i.e, they are made of satara maha bhuta (patavi, apo, tejo, vayo).; see, “The Origin of Matter – Suddhashtaka“.
  • Those rūpa that we detect with the mana indriya are called “dhamma. These are just energies and have not condensed to the suddhashtaka level, i.e., they are below the suddhashtaka stage.
  • Let us discuss those two types in detail first.

2. All things that we experience through our SIX senses are rūpa, but the first FIVE types of sense inputs come through five “sensors” obvious to everyone (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body). The SIXTH one called mana indriya (located in the brain) is not known to science.

  • All six types  are eventually EXPERIENCED by the mind, i.e., with citta (thoughts) with cetasika (mental factors) in them.
  • For details how the sense inputs that come through the six “sense doors” are experienced by the mind, see, “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body“.

3. Those that we experience through  our FIVE physical senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the body) are “dense rūpa“, meaning they are made of suddhashtaka, which are made of the four great elements or the “satara maha bhuta“.

  • Those five kinds of rūpa are all in our “rūpa loka“, which is what we are quite used to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and making bodily contacts with.
  • What we touch with our body or see with our eyes are the rūpa that are familiar to everyone; they are sometimes called “rūpa rupä” or “vanna rūpa” (varna rūpa in Sinhala or Sanskrit) to distinguish from other four types.
  • However, we need light to “see” those “rūpa rupä“. Light consists of tiny particles called photons; they have very small masses due to their energies.

4. Let us look at the other four types of rūpa that we detect with our ears, noses, tongues.

  • It is easy to see that what we taste are also “rūpa rupä“, i.e., solid food or liquids.
  • What we detect with the nose are scents, which are really very small particulates. So, they are also “rūpa rupä“.
  • When we hear sounds, our ears detect disturbances in air due to that sound. Sound therefore involves energy, just like light. Sometimes sound energy is attributed to energy packets called “phonons”.

5. Therefore, detection of rūpa in the “rūpa loka” involve matter or energy, and all those are above the suddhashtaka stage.

  • Yes. The light particles or photons are also made of suddhashtaka.
  • They are above the suddhashtaka stage, so one can see how minute a suddhashtaka is; it is much, much smaller than an atom in modern science.
  • For example, a photon in the visible range (which is a suddhashtaka) is a billion times less massive than an hydrogen atom, the smallest atom. That is like the mass difference between a grain of sand an average airplane.
  • suddhashtaka could be a billion times smaller than that photon.

6. This is actually another example of how Buddha was ahead of modern science 2500 years ago. He had categorized all five “objects” sensed by the five physical senses as “rūpa” made up of suddhashtaka. It was only about 100 years ago that science identified photons as particles, with the advent of quantum mechanics.

7. Now let us think about what else we experience, other than those detected with the five physical senses. Imagine someone trapped in a cell with soundproof walls with no light inside, and nothing in that room except its walls.

  • That person can only touch the walls. He cannot see, hear, smell, or taste anything.
  • But touch is not the only sense experience he has. He can think about anything he wants to. He can think about past events and he can think about what can take place in the future.
  • Those thoughts do not come at random, but due to kamma vipaka. Of course one can willingly recall them too. They are his memories and future hopes, among others. This is the part that most people don’t even consider.

8. As we discussed above, those are the finer rūpa detected by the mind lie below the suddhashtaka stage. They are detected by the mana indriya in the brain (another fact unknown to science), and subsequently sensed by the mind.

  • Kamma beeja — that are generated by our minds (via our thoughts) — are also part of dhamma, as we discuss below in #8. They bring kamma vipaka back to from time to time. These are what we think of as “random thoughts” that come to us about things and people.
  • Those dhamma are not coarse enough to be “seeing” even with abhinna powers, and do not make contact with other five coarse senses. Thus they are called, “anidassan appatighan dhammayatana pariyapanna rūpan“.
  • Here, “anidassana” means “cannot be seen” and “appatigha” means “cannot be touched or sensed with even the finest instrument”. And, “dhammayatana pariyapanna rūpan” means “can make contact only with the dhammayatana or mana indriya”; see, “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis“.

9. We see a person when light reflected off of that person comes to our eyes. We hear a sound when the air disturbances due to that sound reach our ears. We smell a scent when tiny particulates of scent reach our noses. We taste food when food particles make contact with our tongues.

  • So, we have five physical “sensors” on our bodies to detect those five five sense inputs. They are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and our bodies. They are called cakkhu, sota, ghana, jivha, and kaya indriya.
  • The sixth sense that we have is called the mana indriya. It is located in the brain, but I have not yet been able to identify it with the known components in the brain. Of course, scientists do not think about it that way. This is how the Buddha described it.

10. We detect “dhamma” with the mana indriya, which is not the mind, i.e., that is not where thoughts arise. As we have discussed elsewhere, thoughts arise in hadaya vatthu located close to the physical heart.

  • These dhamma are also rūpa in Buddha Dhamma, but  they are even more fine than those light particles or photons.
  • Dhamma” are just energies that lie BELOW the suddhashtaka stage. They cannot be detected with even the finest scientific instrument.
  • That person locked up in an isolated room generates thoughts about his past or future, when dhamma that represent such past events or future hopes make contact with the mana indriya.

11. Just like the dense rūpa that we detect with our five physical senses are in our “rūpa loka“, these dhamma are in our “mano loka“; see, “Our Two Worlds : Material and Mental“.

  • This mano loka is also called “bhava“, because that is where one’s kamma beeja are, as we mentioned above in #8. We all have numerous kamma beeja that can give rise to a variety of bhava at the cuti-patisandhi moment, when a new bhava is grasped (the strongest kamma beeja corresponding to an appropriate bhava is selected).
  • Of course, kamma vipaka during a given life also arise due to smaller kamma beeja, as mentioned above.
  • When these kamma beeja lose their energy over long times, they become just “records” , i.e., they cannot bring any more vipaka, but become just “memories”.

12. So, these dhamma are rūpa that are below the suddhashtaka stage, and are in our “mano loka” or “mental world”, as opposed to those dense rūpa that are in our “material world” or “rūpa loka“.

  • The “mental world” is all around us, just like the “material word”, but of course we cannot “see it”, just like we cannot “see” all those radio, television, and cell phone signals that are all around us.
  • But we do know that those radio, television, and cell phone signals are there, because we can receive them with our radios, TVs, and cell phones. Just the same way, we receive those “dhamma” with our mana indriya.
  • One may be engaged in some task, say washing dishes in the kitchen, but all of a sudden a thought may come to mind about a friend far away, or some incident at work. That is due to “dhamma” impinging on mana indriya due to kamma vipaka.
  • In addition, we can recall such memories at our will too.

13. Those who are familiar with Abhidhamma know that a “seeing event” is a sense input through the eyes: “cakkunca paticca rupeca uppaddati cakkhu vinnanan“, i.e., “eye consciousness arises when a rūpa rupä (with the aid of light) impinges on the eyes”.

  • Similarly, hearing is due to: “sotanca paticca saddeca uppaddati sota vinnanan“, etc. for other physical senses of ghana (smell), jivha (taste), and kaya (body).
  • Finally, detection of dhamma with the mana indriya is stated as, “mananca paticca dhammeca uppaddati mano vinnanan“.

14. We also need to realize that “dhamma” can have somewhat different meaning too, depending on the where used.

  • Dhamma/adhamma mean “good dhamma” and “bad dhamma“.
  • Buddha Dhamma means that dhamma which leads to the stopping of the rebirth process; “buddha” there means “bhava” + “uddha“, or removing bhava. Of course it also means dhamma delivered by the Buddha.
  • All those are included in “dhamma” in the general sense. When the Buddha said, “sabbe dhamma anatta“, i.e., “all dhamma are without essence at the end” and must be given up. He said even the Buddha Dhamma needs to be used only to get to Nibbana and then abandoned. Even though a raft can be useful in getting across a river, there is no point in carrying the raft once one gets to the other side. Similarly, he said, one needs to use Buddha Dhamma to reach Nibbana, but there is no point in clinging to it once one gets there.
  • So, we need to take the appropriate meaning of a given word depending on the context.

15. We can state the above with Abhdhamma language as follows, for those of who are familiar with Abhidhamma: According to Buddha Dhamma EVERYTHING in existence can be put into four ultimate realities (paramatthatha):

  • Thoughts (citta)
  • Thought qualities or mental factors (cetasika)
  • Matter (rūpa)
  • Nibbana

16. As we will see later, it is these dhamma that eventually lead to the formation of those dense rūpa that we enjoy with our five physical senses.

These dense rūpa have finite lifetimes (impermanent), but in addition, change unpredictably during their existence; this is called viparinama lakkhana.

  • But no matter how hard one tries, one is unable to maintain those dense rūpa to one’s satisfaction. Thus, one ends up being subjected to suffering much more than any pleasure one can gain from enjoying those dense rūpa.
  • Five types of dense rūpa are in in our “rūpa loka“, the less dense dhamma are in our “mano loka“; see, “Our Two Worlds : Material and Mental“.
  • A living being exists to experience those dense rūpa and hopes to enjoy them with the mind (with citta and cetasika). That is the basis of existence in a sentence.

17. The Buddha said, “sabbe dhamma anatta“, i.e., “all dhamma are without essence at the end” and must be given up in order to attain Nibbana. But that cannot be done by sheer will power: One has to comprehend the true nature — Tilakkhanna — in order to see the real nature of all rūpa, including dhamma.

  • We make our own world, starting with making our own dhamma. This is a critical point that I will try to explain in future posts in this “Living Dhamma” section.
  • The basis for making dhamma are out thoughts with javana. Those javana generate “kamma beeja” and they give rise to future kamma vipaka. So, those kamma beeja are really dhamma. They are very tiny packets of energy below the suddhashtaka stage.
  • But some javana (especially in jhana samapatti) can create energies above the suddhashtaka stage, i.e., they can create tangible rūpa. That is how one with abhinna powers can “create” physical objects.

18. That is because any rūpa (including those kamma beeja) that one makes for oneself, cannot be maintained to one’s satisfaction.

  • Any type of rūpa with energy will eventually be destroyed or that energy will wear out. Furthermore, they can and will change unexpectedly while in existence too; that is the viparinama characteristic and is a root cause of suffering.
  • The only dhammas that are “permanent” are nama gotta, records of our sankhara, which do not have energy in them; “Nama Gotta, Bhava, Kamma Beeja, and Mano Thalaya (Mind Plane)“.

19. When one sees the perils of this rebirth process (after one grasps the Tilakkhana), one stops making those causes, and also gives up the craving for them, which leads to Nibbana.

  • Nibbana results when all those causes are removed and no rūpa can arise, and hence it is permanent. One will be permanently removed from the suffering-filled world.

A deeper analysis of dhamma is at, “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis“.

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