Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ultimate Materiality: "Particles" (kalapas)

Encyclopedia: Kalapas
Expanded definition initially derived from

Kalapas ("particles of perception"), according to the Buddha, are the tiniest of particles which ultimately constitute mind and matter. Foreshadowing modern physics by two and a half millenia, they are said to arise and pass away trillions of times in the blink of an eye.

Kalapas are formed out of the eight basic properties or qualities of matter: solidity, cohesion, vibration, and calorific content. (They are also referred to as the cardinal elements of earth, water, air, and fire) together with color, smell, taste, and nutriment.

The first four are called primary qualities and are predominant in kalapas. The other four are secondary (or "derived") properties that come from the primary qualities.

The description of the Four Elements (maha-bhuta) of earth, water, air and fire by the Buddha predates similar descriptions in ancient Greece. The Buddha had sent out 60 arahants around 587 BCE (an estimate) to all known lands, including the Greek empire, to spread his Teachings (known as the Dharma).

  • PHOTOS: Of course, "photographing" a kalapa would be far more difficult than capturing a classic "atom" or more modern "quanta" in physics. Nevertheless, to appease enquiring mind, these images ( are offered. It is not only possible to see ultimately material phenomena during meditation (after having attained the jhanas, thus sharpening the mind, it is necessary to the attainment of liberating insight. This process is known as vipassana preceded by serenity (samatha). It is the Buddha's ancient gradual path to the goal of Nirvana ("complete freedom from suffering").
Theravada (the oldest surviving form of Buddhism) looks to two dominant sources for discussion of kalapas ("the particles of perception"), namely, material in a collection known as the Abhidhamma ("Higher Teachings") and a compendious tome of practical meditation instructions known as the Path of Purification (Vissudhimagga). Both are available in English translation through the Pali Text Society (London, England) and the Buddhist Publication Society (Kandy, Sri Lanka).

Cohesion may mean cohesion (chemistry): the intermolecular attraction between like-molecules. Heating value (or calorific value) is used to define the amount of heat released during the combustion of a fuel or food. These were modified in later Buddhist conceptions (Mahayana in China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan): Fire, Earth, Metal, Water. In Japanese Zen: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Wind, Void, Sky, Heaven.

However, these conceptions are taken from much older works in Hinduism and Buddhism describing: Vayu, Pavan Air/Wind, Agni/Tejas (Fire), Akasha, Aether, Prithvi/Bhumi (Earth), Ap/Jala (Water). Water has been important to all peoples of the earth, and it is rich in spiritual tradition.

Water Air is one of the classical elements. Color like form is an important part of visual ability. Odor receptors detect odors as chemicals dissolved in air, generally at a very low concentrations, which are perceived by the sense of olfaction. Taste is one of the traditional five senses and refers to the ability to detect the flavor of foodstuffs and other substances (any substance, usually composed primarily of carbohydrates, fats, water, and/or proteins, that can be eaten or drunk by an animal for nutrition and/or pleasure).

Ancient Greece is a period in Greek history thought to have lasted for around three thousand years. An "enlightened being" in Buddhism is known as an arhat (Sanskrit and English), also arahat or arahant (Pali); Chinese: aluohan; Tibetan: dgra-bcom-pa.

Why Talk about Invisible Particles?

Kalapas are not discussed in Buddhism for the sake of physics (a scientific or analytical understanding of physical phenomena or the world of space and time). They are discussed in relation to meditation.

The relationship is this: unless one understands the world, both physically and psychologically, there is no enlightenment or liberation from the suffering inherent in it. The following is a discussion by Goenka's teacher, U Ba Khin, on the importance of "realizing" the Three Marks of Existence that characterize our experience.

For it is the liberating-wisdom (vipassana) that results that actually distinguishes Buddhism as a path of ethics, serenity, and insight-wisdom apart from other very advanced Indian traditions.

Essentials of Buddha-Dhamma in Meditative Practice
Sayagyi Thray Sithu U Ba Khin (Access to Insight)

Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta — Impermanence, Suffering, and Egolessness — are the three essential characteristics of [conditioned phenomena, dhammas, dependently-originated "things"] in the Teaching of the Buddha.

If you know Anicca correctly, you will know Dukkha as its corollary, and Anatta as ultimate truth. It takes time to understand the three together.

Impermanence (anicca) is, of course, the essential fact which must be first experienced and understood by practice. Mere book-knowledge of the Buddha-Dhamma will not be enough for the correct understanding of Anicca because the experiential aspect will be missing.

It is only through experiential understanding of the nature of Anicca as an ever-changing process within you that you can understand Anicca in the way the Buddha [taught for the sake of liberation from suffering]. As in the days of the Buddha, so too now, this understanding of Anicca can be developed [even] by persons who have no book-knowledge whatsoever of Buddhism.

To understand Impermanence one must follow strictly and diligently the Eightfold Noble Path, which is divided into the three groups of Sila, Samadhi, and Pañña — Morality, Concentration, and Wisdom.

Sila, or virtuous living, is the basis for Samadhi, control of the mind leading to one-pointedness. It is only when Samadhi is good that one can develop Pañña [liberating wisdom]. Therefore, Sila and Samadhi are the prerequisites for Pañña.

By Pañña [liberating wisdom] is meant the understanding of Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta through the practice of Vipassana, that is, insight meditation. More>>

No comments: