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The Buddhist Concept of World
BhanteDhammanag

What is the World? In the history of man, there have been many philosophers and scholars who have had developed theories, speculations, imaginations and reasons of the "worlds".But, what they talked of were mere reproductions of the earth and the heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon and the stars. When we think of world we talk about countries, ocean, mountains and so on. There are many definitions, or meanings of the world. If you look up "world" in a dictionary, you come across many meanings. In the Oxford Dictionary there were at least 9 meanings. Of those definitions there were 3 that are somewhat close to the real meaning of world however there is still a gap in the accuracy. Here are the three definitions:


1) The earth with all its countries, peoples and natural features.

2) A planet likes the earth; there may be other worlds out there.

3) The state of human experience; this world and the next. (This is the closest to the Buddhist concept of world).


In the Buddhist texts, the word used to denote the "world" or "cosmos" or the "universe" is loka. The Buddha has used the term on many occasions. At the end of his first sermon it is said that ten-thousand world system heard of this and there was an effulgence light in the world. According to the Discourse of Great Assembly (MahaSamaya), for the great assembly held in the Great Wood in Kapilawastu many millions of deities came from ten thousand world systems. So according to Buddhist scriptures, there are thousands anywhere from 1000 to 2,000 and 3,000 to 10,000 world systems.

To help us to now understand how the Buddha has talked about the world; there is a definition he once shared with a certain monk named Samiddhi. This monk went to the Buddha and asked, "Lokolokotibhantevuccatikittavatanukhobhantelokotivuccati?" (Bhante world, world it is said, what is the meaning of world?). Then the Buddha replied, "Lujjatitikhobhikkhutasmalokotivuccati" (Monk, it is breaking up, it is disintegrating, therefore, it is called the world). The terms: Lujjati, palujjati, bhijjati, nirujjati have more or less the same meaning. That is breaking, evanescent nature of all animate or inanimate things. In other words, this is impermanency. In accordance with the teaching of the Buddha everything is impermanent. So the world is nothing but disintegration. Before his death Albert Einstein himself accepted that everything is in a vibration. This whole system of the universe is nothing but a vibration. And the Buddha said further, "What is disintegrating? The eye is disintegrating, forms are disintegrating, eye consciousness is disintegrating, eye contact is disintegrating, and whatever feeling arises with eye-contact as condition that too is disintegrating. Then ear....nose.... tongue.... body...mind is disintegrating bhikkhu, therefore, it is called the world." (S.N. 35.82.9).

What are the Internal and External Worlds? According to the Buddha, there are two worlds, the internal world and external world. Most of the time the Buddha has talked about the internal world. If one can understand the internal world one can understand the external world too. How can you understand the external world when you understand the internal world? Because, what we find in the internal world is the same with what we come across in the external world. In the discourse of the Exposition of Elements (M.N. 140) and the Discourse of the Three Tenets (A.N.3), the Buddha clearly said, that this man is nothing but six kinds of elements


The six kinds of elements are:

1) Earth, 2) Water, 3) Heat, 4) Air, 5) Space, & 6) Consciousness.

In the whole systems of the world we do not find anything apart from these six elements. That is why we have to understand ourselves first. Once we understand ourselves we can understand the world as well.

It is important to note here that when we say "ourselves", some of our good friends strive to find a "Self" with us. According to Buddhism there is no Self or permanent entity to be grasped as a soul or Self within or without. It is empty of Self. Once Ven. Anandaasked "bhante it is said, "Empty is the word, empty is the world. In what sense it is said so? "The Buddha said, " It is, Ananda, because it is empty with Self and of what belongs to a Self that it is said, empty is the world."(Attenavaattaniyenavasunno).



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