Loka Sutta – Origin and Cessation of the World

April 16, 2021

In the Loka Sutta, the Buddha explained the arising and cessation of the “world of an individual.” It does not directly refer to arising and cessation of the vast physical world.

Introduction

1. The “Sabba Sutta (SN 35.23)” explains everything belonging to the world as, “Kiñca, bhikkhave, sabbaṁCakkhuñceva rūpā ca, sotañca saddā ca, ghānañca gandhā ca, jivhā ca rasā ca, kāyo ca phoṭṭhabbā ca, mano ca dhammā ca—idaṁ vuccati, bhikkhave, sabbaṁ.

Translated: “And what, bhikkhus, is the all? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and odors, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile objects, the mind and mental phenomena. This is called the all.”

  • Here, “the all” refers to “everything in the world.” It is quite clear that the Buddha refers to the world per each individual. A given person has six sense faculties, and with them, he/she experiences the “world.” One’s world can be precisely stated as one’s own body (loosely speaking) and whatever is experienced with those sense faculties.
  • If you think carefully, you will see that this description is the same as saying that one’s five aggregates (pancakkhandha) are the same same as one’s world. The rupakkhandha includes one’s body and any “rupa” that is experienced. The four mental aggregates include all mental phenomena that arise as a result of such sensory experiences.
  • In both interpretations, one person’s world is different from another. In the Loka Sutta, the Buddha describes how that world repeatedly arises in the rebirth process. Of course, the world experienced in different births are very different. Most births are into suffering-filled worlds, and that is why one would want to stop this recurring process.
Loka Sutta – Arising of One’s World

2. Here is how the Buddha described the “arising of ones world” in the “Loka Sutta (SN 12.44)“: Katamo ca, bhikkhave, lokassa samudayoCakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ. Tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso. Phassa paccayā vedanā; vedanā paccayā taṇhā; taṇhā paccayā upādānaṁ; upādāna paccayā bhavo; bhava paccayā jāti; jāti paccayā jarāmaraṇaṁ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā sambhavanti. Ayaṁ kho, bhikkhave, lokassa samudayo.”

Translated: “And what, bhikkhus, is the origin of the world? In dependence on the eye and forms (rupa), eye-consciousness arises. That is followed by “contact with the three types of ‘san‘” or “samphassa.” With samphassa as condition, samphassa-jā-vedanā come to be; with samphassa-jā-vedanā as condition taṇhā; with taṇhā as condition, upādāna; with upādāna as condition, existence (bhava); with bhava as condition, birth; with birth as condition, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair come to be. This, bhikkhus, is the origin of the world.”

  • The word samudaya comes from “san” + “udaya” which rhymes as “samudaya.” There is “san” again! Now, “udaya” means to arise, and thus, “samudaya” means “arising due to san.” This really means not the arising of the whole world with trillions of stars/planets, but the re-arising of the world at death. If “san” (or the defilements of greed, hate, ignorance) were to have been removed, one would not be reborn and experience this suffering-filled world again.
  • Note that just a sensory experience CANNOT be the root cause of suffering. Rather it is the attachment to sensory experience with samphassa that is the root cause. That is the KEY POINT of this sutta. This is why I have bolded the verse, “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso.”
  • Let us discuss the time sequence stated in the whole verse. Then my point will become clear.
Time Sequence in the Above Verse – The first Step Happens to Anyone

3. The whole process starts with a sensory input through one of the six senses. The above verse describes what happens when someone sees an object that he/she attaches to (other 5 sense faculties work the same way.) That attachment (taṇhā) eventually leads to suffering in some form.

  • The process starts with “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ.” That means cakkhu viññāṇa arises when one sees an object. It just sees what that object is. No kamma generated here. That “seeing event” or cakkhu viññāṇa arises with the help of the phassa cetasika. This phassa (contact) is that between cakkhu and rupa.
  • As we have discussed, phassa cetasika is a universal cetasika that arises with ANY sensory event. Suppose you hear a sound or taste food; that involves the phassa cetasika. Any living being, including an Arahant, will experience all 6 sensory inputs.
  • The next step is “tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso.”
Tiṇṇaṁ Saṅgati Phasso – Misunderstood Key Verse

4. This short verse is commonly mistranslated as, “The meeting of the three is contact.” See the English translation of the Loka Sutta at Sutta Central: “The World (SN 12.44).”

  • It does not make any sense to say “the meeting of cakkhu, rupa, and cakkhu viññāṇa.” Rather, cakkhu viññāṇa (or seeing the object)” happens with the contact or meeting of cakkhu and rupa. There is no “meeting of the three.”
  • Instead, what happens at this second step is “contact with defiled gati” or “samphassa.” Here samphassa is san phassa“(“san” + “phassa,” where “san” are defilements (greed, anger, ignorance). It rhymes as “samphassa.” To learn about “san” see, “What is “San”?“). Thus samphassa (contact with defilements) is an internal process that happens in the mind.
  • There are three main “defiled gati“: lobha, dosa, moha. Those are the “three” referred to in the verse.
  • For details see, “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa.” Then we can see that “phassa paccayā vedanā” really meanssamphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vēdanā.” Some deep suttas are in “summary form” and need to be explained in detail; see, “Sutta Interpretation – Uddēsa, Niddēsa, Paṭiniddēsa.” 
“Phassa Paccayā Vedanā” Is “Samphassa Paccayā Samphassa Jā-Vēdanā.”

5. Therefore, the third step, “phassa paccayā vedanā” that comes after the steptiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phassois “samphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vēdanā.” This is a “mind-made vedanā” due to samphassa.

  • Now it is clear that the fourth step of, “vedanā paccayā taṇhā” really is “samphassa-jā-vēdanā paccayā taṇhā.” An Arahant has vēdanā, but not samphassa or samphassa-jā-vēdanā.
  • One would attach to that ārammana ONLY because it led to “samphassa” with the steptiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phasso.
Loka Samudaya” Will Not Take Place for an Arahant

6. Therefore, all steps after the first step of ‘seeing an object” will not arise for an Arahant because an Arahant would not generate samphassa. See #3 and #9 of the post “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa.”

  • Another way to state the same is to say that an Arahant does not have saṅgati (“san gati“) or “defiled gati.” An Arahant’s mind is pure and is devoid of greed, hate/anger, and ignorance. Note that “gati” is pronounced “gathi” like in “Thailand.”
  • For an Arahant, a ‘seeing event” is just that. No attachment. Thus, any sensory event would be limited to just experiencing that sensory input. The critical step of tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phassoWILL NOT take place for an Arahant. Thus all other steps following it would not be there!
  • That is why an Arahant is free from future suffering.
How Can Someone Get to the Arahanthood?

7. Now the question is: “How can someone attain Arahanthood, i.e., attain Nibbāna“?

The Buddha provided the answer in the second part of the sutta: “Katamo ca, bhikkhave, lokassa atthaṅgamoCakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṁ. Tiṇṇaṁ saṅgati phassoPhassa paccayā vedanā; vedanā paccayā taṇhā. Tassāyeva taṇhāya asesavirāganirodhā upādāna nirodho; upādāna nirodhā bhava nirodho …pe… evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hoti. Ayaṁ kho, bhikkhave, lokassa atthaṅgamo.”

Translated: “And what, bhikkhus, is the cessation/ending of the world? In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. That is followed by “contact with the three types of ‘san‘” or “samphassa.” With samphassa as a condition, samphassa-jā-vedanā come to be; with samphassa-jā-vedanā as condition taṇhā. But with the remainder-less fading away and cessation of taṇhā result in the cessation of upādāna; with the cessation of upādāna, cessation of existence (bhava); with the cessation of existence, cessation of birth; with the cessation of birth, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair cease. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering. This, bhikkhus, is the cessation/ending of the world.

  • Until one attains the Arahanthood, one COULD generate samphassa, depending on the sensory input. As one attains higher magga phala, there will be less and less ārammana that could lead to samphassa or “contact with defilements.” For example, after attaining the Anāgāmi stage, one would not “attach to” any sensual pleasures available in kāma loka.
  • An Arahant would have removed all defilements, and thus, the akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda process starting with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” would not be initiated. That is the cessation/ending of the world for that Arahant!
A Sensory Experience is a Trigger to Initiate a PS Process

8. As Loka Sutta points out, the accumulation of kammic energy to “power up” future existences starts with sensory experiences. Kamma generation in Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) process takes place in the “taṇhā paccayā upādānaṁ” step in #2 above. 

  • As discussed in the second part of the Loka Sutta, the critical point is the stopping of the sequence of events following a sensory experience at the arising of taṇhā due to “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” Obviously, we cannot control it at that moment since it happens within a split second.
  • (Additional information: Two critical things need to happen to reduce and eliminate taṇhā over time: (i) First, one must comprehend this whole process that we are discussing, and also how the Paṭicca Samuppāda process works. That is the “dassanā pahātabbā” step where a large fraction of wrong views are removed at the Sotapanna stage by getting rid of wrong views. (ii) Once getting to the Sotapanna stage, one needs to remove the tendency to attach to sensory pleasures with Ānāpāna and Satipaṭṭhāna Bhāvanā. One reaches higher stages of magga phala in this second stage of “bhāvanā pahātabbā” step. In the Sabbāsava Sutta (MN 2), “dassanā pahātabbā” is the “first removal” and “bhāvanā pahātabbā” is the “last removal.”)
  • We will discuss that in future posts again. But it has been discussed in some existing posts. See, for example, “Tanhā – The Origin of Suffering” and “Vipallāsa (Diṭṭhi, Saññā, Citta) Affect Saṅkhāra.”
Paṭicca Samuppāda process Initiates With a Sensory Experience

9. Therefore, the akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda process does not automatically start with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” No one would act with avijjā WITHOUT a cause. The cause for acting with avijjā is a TEMPTATION brought up by a SENSORY EXPERIENCE.

  • One can see that by combining the two suttas discussed in this post, the Sabba Sutta (SN 35.23) and the Loka Sutta (SN 12.44).
  • In fact, this is the theme that one can see in many suttas, including the Chachakka Sutta (MN 148). I have discussed that sutta in detail in another series of posts on the “Worldview of the Buddha.” Just take a look at the introductory post of that series; “Buddhist Worldview – Introduction.”
  • The current series looks at the same issue with a different approach: “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Essential Concepts.”
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Other posts in this series at “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Essential Concepts.”

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