What is the World and the Universe according to Buddhism?
In other words, what is reality, according to the Buddha?
But the Buddha offered an alternative way of looking at the world/the universe and the reality that we experience everyday. He called it Sabba or Sabbe – the All.
“Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”
“As you say, lord,” the monks responded.
The Blessed One said, “What is the All? Simply:
- The eye & forms,
- Ear & sounds,
- Nose & aromas,
- tongue & flavors,
- body & tactile sensations,
- intellect & ideas.
This, monks, is called the All.  Anyone who would say, ‘Repudiating this All, I will describe another,’ if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.”
What this means is that the world that we live in, the universe, the reality that we experience – is basically our 6 senses.
We perceive and experience this world, this reality through the filter of our 5 senses and the information gets integrated in the 6th sense of the thinking, intellectual mind.
Considering it this way, the world and reality is actually a subjective world created from sense impressions interacting to form our experience of the world.
- Any object that can be known through the senses is called a phenomenon.
- So the world as we know it is actually just the phenomenal world – as known through our senses.
This phenomenal world is called Sabbe dhamma.
- Our ears need sound for the sensation of hearing to occur
- Our eyes need light and images to perceive forms
- Our nose needs odours to register smell
- Our tongue needs some sort of taste to give the experience of flavour
- Our body needs a physical object to contact it to register the sensation of touch
- Our mind needs thoughts to be able to think
So every day, we live through our body, through our senses to give everyday reality of the phenomenal world. This is sensory reality.
But sensory reality is not all there is to it – there is also a reality beyond the range of the 6 senses, that is not dependent upon the workings of the senses to exist.
For example, if we were to keep our 6 senses quiet (like in meditation or even in sleeping), so that:
- Our eyes are closed – so sights are not seen
- Sit in a quiet place – no sounds are heard
- No smells or tastes are registered
- The body is not moving – no sensations are felt
- We are letting go of thoughts – so the mind is not thinking of anything
So even though are “sensations” have ceased, we have not ceased – we are still present. The phenomenal world that we live in everyday has been disappeared. By keeping the sense organs quiescent through sitting still in a quiet place:
- All sensations have been temporarily extinguished
- But we have not been extinguished.
This means that there is reality is beyond the phenomenal world. This is a very important point to understand.
So whereas phenomena are known through the 6 senses, noumenon is not dependent upon the senses. And in the Shurangama Sutra, the Buddha goes through this complete nature that is beyond the senses, not dependent upon the senses – but that is a discussion for another time.