The assumption and notion of natural substance and material of Buddhism, especially from Theravādin School, is described in profound interpretation and meaning. They, slightly, differ from that of modern science in which it is being viewed and rendered differently. However, herein since we have merely discussed Buddhist matter, views of modern science on natural substance and material [which I believe we all well acknowledge through our experiences in life] would not be explicitly discussed. Therefore, today, I would love to draw some notions and views on such matters from the pālī canon and various scriptures of Asian sources to share and discuss in this very space. Technically one of the most recognized and acknowledged fundamental principles of human-being and the world of Theravādin view is ‘rūpa’.
According to the Buddhist discourse, the term ‘rūpa’ is vividly described in ‘anggutranikāya/ pan᷂cakanipāta = the collection of discourses arranged in accordance to numbers/ fifth-category’, and some description of the team also appear in ‘dighanikāya = the collection of long length discourse’. The term is literally translated ‘corporeality; materiality; and matter’. ‘rūpa’ itself is categorized in several groups and numbers rendering from 2 to 60. It is believed that original terminology might have been discovered and preached by Buddha possibly a few. Then, later after his demise, Buddhist commentators and monastic pundits, who may have succeeded in profound practice and discovered deeper insight, interpreted and added in much later sources they have composed. Its trait and behavior is also described as ‘conditions or substances which are unstable, unsustainable, impermanent, and vulnerable conditioned by natural factors; body and constituents which consist of both behavior and traits’. Therefore, the precise definition seems very descriptive and, at the same time, vague. Nonetheless, herein, we ought to begin merely with the ‘rupa 2’;
- ‘mahā-bhūtarūpa’ or ‘bhūta-rūpa 4’ – literally means ‘the Four Primary Elements; primary matter’. Theravādin traditions believe to hold the views that the world [material and mental world, or whatever] is consisted and composed from these four primary elements or matters. Thus, there are believed to eventually decompose and decay at certain stage, as well as are subjected to unsustainable, impermanent conditions and the demise. The Four Primary Elements are;
1.1 ‘pat᷂havīdhātu’ – Element which possesses extensional and solid condition, takes up space, and provides foundation for other substance, generally called ‘element of soil, or earth’.
1.2 ‘āpodhātu’ – Element which possesses cohesive and liquid condition. It absorbs; infiltrates; expands; and flows freely. It is general called ‘element of water’.
1.3 ‘tejodhātu’ – Element which possesses heat or radiated condition. It is general well acknowledged as ‘element of fire; or heat’.
1.4 ‘vāyodhātu’ – Element which possesses waving, vibrating, and motioning condition. It is generally well acknowledged as ‘element of wind; or air’.
2. ‘upādāya-rūpa 24’ – It is literally interpreted ‘materiality that depends on one of those mentioned primary elements in order to emerge and occur in several conditions; or it is called ‘derivative materiality’. Notably, these views on materials and conditions of substances may have been freely interpreted, composed and added to scriptures in various own Buddhist traditions. Therefore, the term of ‘derivative materiality’ are categorized and vividly rendered in Buddhist discourses both in a so-called primary source like ‘dhīghanikaya= the collection of long length discourses’, and in secondary sources like ‘visuddhimagga’ scripture which was composed by ‘Buddhaghosa’ – the prominent Buddhist commentator – in the 10th century B.C.E. The 24 kinds of ‘upādāya-rūpa’ appear in details as follow;
A. ‘pasāda-rūpa 5’ – Material or element which possesses sensitive conditional qualities;
1. ‘cakkhu’ – the eye
2. ‘sota’ – the ear
3. ‘ghāna’ – the nose
4. ‘jivahā’ – the tongue
5. ‘kāya’ – the body
B. ‘gocara-rūpa; or visaya-rūpa 5’ – Material or element which is described as sources or material qualities of those sensual fields;
6. ‘rūpa’ – form
7. ‘sadda’ – sound
8. ‘gandha’ – smell; scent; odour
9. ‘rasa’ – taste
*** ‘phot᷂t᷂habba’ – Generally it is known as ‘tangible objects’. However, it is not counted or included in this context by some traditions because of it is clearly annexed with ‘mahā-bhūtarūpa 3; pathavī, vāyo and tejo’.
C. ‘bhāva-rūpa’ – Materiality or element which is considered as ‘material qualities of genders or sex’.
10. ‘itthatta’ – femininity
11. ‘purisatta’- masculinity
D. ‘hadaya-rūpa 1’ – It is considered a mental form or element and/or physical basis of mind, which appears merely one element in Theravādin view.
12. ‘hadaya-vaddhu’ – The foundation or basement of the heart; heart base. This is obviously seen as more physical than ‘mind’ in Buddhist view.
E. ‘jīvita-rūpa 1’ – It is considered a material quality of life. It merely appears by itself in this category which is;
13. ‘jivitindriya’ – the faculties of life; vitality; or vital force. It is considered physical force or energy which strives for survival of all beings in this worldly life. It also appears by itself in this context.
F. ‘āhāra-rūpa 1’ – Literally means ‘material quality of nutrition or food’. It seems, however, the definition of this category is vaguely or flexibly preserved. Possibly, some of elements may have been left out because merely this form appears below;
14. ‘kaval᷂ingkārāhāra’ – literally means ‘edible or staple food; nutriment’. As mentioned, Buddhists categorize liquid or soften form of food in other unit.
G. ‘pariccheda-rūpa 1’ – It is considered a material quality of delimitation. It is categorized by itself in this context as;
15. ‘ākāsa-dhātu’ – This element is also categorized in the ‘vāyo-dhātu’ of ‘mahā-bhūtarūpa’ as ‘space-element’. Speaking of which, as we may have observed that the categorization may been overlapped or annexed without any way out in some stages of translation through various texts which freely composed and interpreted throughout Buddhist traditions to fit best with cultural, social and environmental context.
H. ‘viňňatti-rūpa 2’ – It is interpreted as ‘material quality of communication’ here which is divided into two elements as follow;
16. ‘kāya-viňňatti’ – Material quality of communication which entails bodily intimation; or a gesture.
17. ‘vacī-viňňatti’ – Material quality of communication which entails verbal intimation; or speech.
I. ‘vikāra-rūpa 5’ – It is interpreted as ‘forms or elements which are flexible and subjected to transformation’. Material quality of plasticity or alterability is also accepted.
18. ‘rūpa-lahutā’ – It is a condition of ‘lightness; agility’
19. ‘rūpa-mudutā’ – It is a condition of ‘pliancy; elasticity; malleability’
20. ‘rupa-kammaňňatā’ – It is a condition of ‘adaptability; wieldiness’
J. ‘lakkhan᷂a-rūpa 4’ – This element is considered a trait or behaviour of material quality of salient or notable features which is rendered in details as follow;
21. ‘rūpa-upacaya’ – Condition or element of growth and integration.
22. ‘rūpa-santati’ – Condition or element of continuity.
23. ‘rūpa-jaratā’ – Condition or element of decay or demise.
24. ‘rūpa-aniccatā’ – Condition or element of impermanence.
These are views and assumption of natural substances, elements and material which form and determine our world [both physical and mental]. It is noteworthy to observe that the principle simply begins with few major figure of descriptive terminology then vividly rendered, explained, categorized and displayed. However, it seems, notably, all vivid and descriptive elements described above eventually fit into one condition which is considered the core-teachings of Buddhism in which they are all subjected to ‘aniccatā; tukkhatā; and anattatā = impermanent; subjected to alteration or change; and being no self’.