The universe and dualistic perception


The term “sabba” or “the all” has a special meaning that comes from the Upanishads. When that term is introduced in SN35.23 it reveals special meanings. It may be helpful to translate that term as “the universe” when used with that meaning. It may also be helpful to translate the twelve sources as “the seer and the seen, the hearer and the heard, …” to draw out Buddha’s intended meaning.

The Universe

“The All” is a central topic in the Dhamma. Buddha’s teachings on the All are a refutation of the view of self and the world expressed in the Upanishads, and teach us how to attain liberation by meditating on the six sources to remove the apparent gap between the mind and its objects.

The six sources (ayatana) are one of the most important topics in the Dhamma, but their relevance and meaning is not obvious. The sense powers (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind) are known as the six internal sources and the objects of the senses (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, and mental phenomena) are known as the six external sources. Together, these are sometimes referred to as the twelve sources.

The fourth book in the Samyutta Nikaya, containing hundreds of Suttas, is fully dedicated to explaining the six sources. One Sutta in particular, “The All” (SN 35.23 - Sabba), is particularly relevant to understanding the importance of the six sources.

This Sutta is often misunderstood, leading to a cascade of problematic interpretations. “The All” Sutta is the first in a series of 30 consecutive Suttas (SN 35.23 - SN 35.52) that deal with “The All”. That so many teachings focus on this topic indicates the importance of understanding what “The All” (sabba) refers to.

“The All” Sutta is very short, and makes a seemingly simple point: “The All” refers to eyes and sights, ears and sounds, nose and smells, tongue and tastes, body and touch, and mind and thoughts.

Buddha concludes the Sutta with an important caveat: if someone were to reject this definition of the All and to propose an “All” other than this, such an assertion would be “based only on words” (vācāvatthukamevassa). That alternative interpretation would be impossible to defend because it would go beyond what someone could know.

Traditional Interpretations

On the surface, it is puzzling to say that eyes, sights, and so forth are the All. If we asked a typical person what was the scope of “the all”, they would probably answer that it’s anything and everything that exists, and everything that could possibly be named or known. Our sense organs themselves seem like an insignificantly small part of everything that exists. It’s easier to appreciate how the external sources might be “all”, but it still seems like a strange way of dividing the world. Why use these twelve sources as the definition of “all”?

The Abhidhamma interprets “The All” Sutta to mean that the six internal sources (eyes, etc.) and the six external sources (forms, etc.) are a comprehensive categorization of “all” phenomena. Accordingly, the Abhidhamma enumerates how all of the other phenomena mentioned in the Dhamma can be included in these. As Bhikkhu Bodhi introduces his translation to the Salayatanavagga,

To make the six bases capable of literally incorporating everything, the Vibhanga of the Abhidhamma Pitaka defines the mind base as including all classes of consciousness, and the mental phenomana base as including the other three mental aggregates, subtle nonsensuous types of form, and even the unconditioned element, Nibbāna.
[Bodhi, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, p. 1122]

The Abhidhamma is a later set of commentaries on the suttas that focuses on creating a comprehensive categorization of all the topics in the suttas, and on addressing debates about their meaning. The Abhidhamma generally has a focus on enumerating Dharma topics as lists and categories. But in doing that, those topics are often separated from their context, making it difficult or impossible to understand their meaning or relevance.

As Bhikkhu Bodhi continues,

the Nikāyas themselves usually present the six pairs of sense bases not as a complete phenomenological scheme but as starting points for the genesis of cognition.

Pre-Buddhist Context

To understand The All, we need to understand the spiritual context at Buddha’s time. The oldest Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, were written as early as 1500 BCE (source), focused on ritual, and established the foundations for Hinduism.

The Upanishads were a later collection of texts written around the same time as Buddha (700-400 BCE). These represented the contemporary spiritual views of the time, against which Buddha differentiated his teachings.

One of the main Upanishads was the Chandogya Upanishad. To understanding the meaning of “The All” Sutta we first need some understanding of this Upanishad. The very first passage in the Chandogya Upanishad states

Chandogya Upanishad

All is Brahman, as is declared in the Upanishads.
sarvam brahmaupanishadam [English source, Sanskrit source]

Sarvam, or sabba in Pali, means all phenomena. Like other Upanishads, the Chandogya Upanishad emphasized that the central goal of practice was to attain enlightenment by realizing that all is Brahman (God), and that we too are one with Brahman. The path to realizing this was to realize the Atman (soul) and to realize that this Atman is one with Brahman. Thus the basic formula is: everything is Brahman, your true self or Atman is one with Brahman, and since you are that true self, you are one with the All. This realization of the oneness of the universe and the self is summarized in the famous phrase Tat Tvam Asi, “you are that”.

The Chandogya Upanishad then goes on to explain how to be free from suffering. The language in the text is reminiscent of Buddhist texts, showing that similar spiritual goals drove both the Buddhist and non-Buddhist communities of that time. It begins by describing how we can be free from sin, aging, death, sorrow, hunger, and thirst. While we may desire many things, what we should desire is the self that is free from all of these sufferings.

[8.12.1] — The Incorporeal Self
"O Indra, this body is mortal, always held by death. It is the abode of the Self which is immortal and incorporeal. The embodied self is the victim of pleasure and pain. So long as one is identified with the body, there is no cessation of pleasure and pain. But neither pleasure nor pain touches one who is not identified with the body.

Crucially, the Upanishad explains how and where we can find this self or Atman. The self is to be found in the six sense powers: eye, ear, and so forth.

[**8.7.**4.] “The person that is seen in the eye—that is the Self. This is immortal, fearless. This is Brahman.”

[8.12.4.] "When the person in the eye resides in the body, he resides where the organ of sight has entered into the akasa (i.e. the pupil of the eye); the eye is the instrument of seeing.
He who is aware of the thought: ‘Let me smell this,’ he is the Self; the nose is the instrument of smelling.
He who is aware of the thought: ‘Let me speak,’ he is the Self; the tongue is the instrument of speaking.
He who is aware of the thought: ‘Let me hear,’ he is the Self; the ear is the instrument of hearing.

[8.12.5.] "He who is aware of the thought: ‘Let me think this,’ he is the Self; the mind is his divine eye. He, the Self sees all these desires in the World of Brahman through the divine eye, the mind and rejoices.

This whole progression is superficially similar to the Buddhist path. In both, we are seeking to become free from death and other sufferings through ceasing to identify with a self that is subject to death, pain, and fear. And just as the Buddhist path of the twelve dependent-related links leads us to investigate the six sources (eyes, ears, …), in the Upanishads practitioners are advised to look for this self in the sense powers.

This leads us to perhaps the most significant alignment between this Upanishad and the Buddha’s teachings: the eyes, ears, mind, and prana (associated with the nose) are referred to as “ayatana”. These are parts of Brahman, they are his foot which establishes his home in this world. This knowledge is an object of meditation that gives the person who realizes it great power.

The term ayatana is translated in various ways as “source”, “sense bases” (Bhikkhu Bodhi), or “sense fields” (Bhante Sujato). The Chinese translation for the term is Ip Chu (入處), in which ip means “entering” and chu means “abode”. In some suttas only Ip or Chu is used, while others use both characters. Both of these characters have the connotation of a door or entryway leading into a home.

The idea here is that these six sources are both the openings through which the self cognizes the world, and they are also the place where Brahman (in the form of Atman) enters and abides in this mortal body.

[4.8.3] “Dear friend, I will declare to you one foot of Brahman.” … "The prana [breath, nose] is one quarter, the eye is one quarter, the ear is one quarter, the mind is one quarter. This, dear friend, is one foot of Brahman, consisting of four quarters and this foot is called Ayatanavat (having support).

[4.8.4.] “He who knows this and meditates on the foot of Brahman consisting of four quarters as Ayatanavat, possesses a support (i.e. home) on this earth. He conquers the worlds which offer a home—he who knows this and meditates on the foot of Brahman consisting of four quarters as Ayatanavat.”

The characteristics of these sense powers are likened to the wind, clouds, lightning, and thunder. They are not substantial forms, but are a kind of subtle energy abiding in space. This subtle energy is the form of Atman.

[8.12.2—3.] "The wind is without body; the cloud, lightning and thunder are without body. Now, as these, arising from yonder akasa (space) and reaching the highest light, appear in their own forms, "So does this serene Being, arising from this body and reaching the Highest Light, appear in His own form. In that state He is the Highest Person. There He moves about, laughing, playing, rejoicing—be it with women, chariots, or relatives, never thinking of the body into which he was born. "As an animal is attached to a cart, so is the prana (i.e. the conscious self) attached to the body.

Evidence that Buddha meant the ‘All’ in this context

SN 35.103 contains an interesting passage in which Buddha makes reference to his former teacher, Uddaka Ramaputta. He quotes a saying of his teacher and points out that Uddaka Ramaputta didn’t correctly realize it’s meaning:

‘This for sure is the knowledge master!
‘idaṁ jātu vedagū,
This for sure is the conqueror of all!
idaṁ jātu sabbajī
This for sure is the tumor’s root dug out,
idaṁ jātu apalikhataṁ
never dug out before!’
gaṇḍamūlaṁ palikhaṇin’ti.

A knowledge master (vedagu) is someone who fully understands the meaning of the Vedas (“knowledge”), the scriptures that are the basis for Hinduism. Such a person is the conqueror of all (sabbaji), or a “universal conqueror” as Bhikkhu Bodhi translates. Buddha says that his teacher used to repeat this phrase, but that he had not actually fully understood this essential knowledge, and thus he had not actually conquered the All.

Buddha goes on to say that one becomes a master of the vedas by fully understanding the six sources, their six objects and so on. And one becomes a master of all when one has abandoned craving through these. Clearly from this point of view, Buddha is a veda master since he says in SN 35.13-15 (among many other places) that he has fully understood these six sources.

A number of articles like clarify that Buddha does not appear to have been trained in the traditional Vedas (he was not a Brahmin). So his intention is not to claim that he has understood the traditional Vedic teachings or practices. Instead, he appropriated this terminology and gave it a new meaning that was in line with direct experience.

Unpacking the Meaning

Understanding this context shows us why Buddha goes to such lengths to introduce “The All”, and why those Suttas were gathered into the Vagga on the Six Sources in the Samyutta Nikaya. Buddha is drawing a parallel to the Upanishads while refuting their essential belief in a permanent, partless self. The Upanishads defined “The All” as Brahman, and say that Brahman can be realized by looking in the abode (ayatana) of the sense powers. Buddha affirms that indeed “The All” can be discovered in these six sources (the source of all human consciousness) together with their objects of knowledge, but in a different way.

Buddha’s presentation of the All implies three critical points: it is impossible to assert the existence of something that is not known through the six consciousnesses; the distinction between subject and object they create is the source of all suffering; and since the six sources and their objects are ever-changing we cannot assert a permanent self or atman.

The first point is revealed in SN35.23 where Buddha rejects all views that assert something that is known merely through words. In a sense he’s rejecting much of the approach of the Vedas and Upanishads which assert things like how the universe was formed, the role of the gods, and so forth. Instead he’s saying that if we are to attain liberation and become a master of the All, we must begin by investigating our direct perception, and understand how we each construct a view of the universe in that way.

The second point is revealed in SN35.24 when Buddha says “the eye is to be abandoned, forms are to be abandoned … the ear is to be abandoned, sounds are to be abandoned …”

What does this mean? Although Buddhists gradually become inured to such language, as translated it makes no sense. Would cutting out our sense organs bring us closer to liberation?

It’s clear that what Buddha is saying is that there is something fundamentally problematic in how the senses function. To help draw out this meaning, it’s helpful to translate the six sources differently to avoid the interpretation that there’s a problem with the sense organs themselves.

When referring to these six sources it seems more clear to translate these as “seer and seen, hearer and heard, …”. SN35.24 would then read “the seer is to be abandoned, the seen is to be abandoned … the hearer is to be abandoned, the heard is to be abandoned …”

“The eye” and “sights” are both nouns, and the terms imply something that exists. “The seer” and “the seen” are the active and passive sides of a single action. That action is seeing or eye consciousness. There is a dependent relationship between these three: the agent, the object, and the action. If any of them cease, they are all impossible.

Dependent-related compositional actions (the second of the 12 links) are contaminated because the action is carried out with the concept of a self as agent and the world as its object. So too, “old kamma” (the six sources) are contaminated because the sense powers generate a sense of seer, seen, and seeing that all appear to be real and independent.

The duality of self and world is rooted in the way the senses operate. Visual perception seems to imply a seer and a seen, a hearer and a heard, a smeller and a smelled, a taster and a tasted, a toucher and a touched, a thinker and a thought. Direct perception is a steady stream of appearances, but there seems to be a division between subject and object. That apparent division generates a consciousness that appears separate from the forms it perceives, leading naturally to a perceived gap between the mind and the objects we crave. This in turn ripens into a sense of a self who exists, is separate from the world, and is somehow born into it and remains vulnerable only to eventually die and cease.

This leads to the third point, Buddha is pointing to the ayatanas not to reveal a self, but to reveal selflessness. The Upanishads state that these sources are where the self can be found. Buddha’s primary focus is eliminating our mistaken conception of self, and his explanation of dependent-relationship shows that these six sources are an early stage in the development of that sense of self. These six sources are fundamentally problematic, they are a source for delusion. In particular, these are a source for the sense of an independent, unchanging self.

Should “The All” be Treated as a Special Word?

The Pali term sabba (Skt: sarwa) is a common term in the Suttas, just as the term “all” is comparably common in English. The term can be used as a casual adjective, but there are many indications that many uses of sabba in the Suttas are intended to point to this very specific meaning.

The set of Suttas mentioned above are the first indication. There are many later Suttas in SN35 that also make reference to “The All” in a way that hearkens back to this meaning. But another key indication of the importance of this term is that The All is called out as one of the 24 topics in MN1 that need to be understood completely to attain liberation. These include the four elements, beings, different gods including Brahma and Pajapati (the father of the gods and the primary speaker of the Chandogya Upanishad), the four formless realms, the objects of the senses, singularity, plurality, the All, and Nibbāna.

There are a number of terms in the Pali Canon that have both a general/common meaning but also a very specific meaning: dhamma can mean “thing” / phenomenon or it can refer to Buddha’s holy teachings; dukkha can refer to unpleasant feelings, but also has the broader meaning as the first Noble Truth of “suffering” and all of the factors that contribute to it. There are many similar examples such as loka for world, and atta for self.

For example, in SN 35.81, the word dukkhaṁ is translated in two different ways to draw out this meaning:

“What is suffering (dukkhaṁ)? … The eye is suffering (dukkhaṁ) … [and the] painful feeling (dukkhaṁ) that arises conditioned by eye contact is also suffering (dukkhaṁ).”

Seeing this, does it make sense to draw attention to the Pali term sabba when it’s used to refer to all phenomena? I think it does, since it helps the reader make an association between teachings that otherwise may not seem to be connected. For example, Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of Sutta SN 35.27 says

“By directly knowing and completely understanding the all (sabba) … you can end suffering.”
Sabbaṁ, bhikkhave, abhijānaṁ parijānaṁ … bhabbo dukkhakkhayāya.

But given an almost identical passage in SN 35.80, Bhikkhu Bodhi uses a more conversational interpretation of sabbam dhammam to mean “everything”.

“Having directly known everything, he fully understands everything”
sabbaṁ dhammaṁ abhiññāya sabbaṁ dhammaṁ parijānāti

That choice of words is inconsistent and obscures the relationship between that later Sutta and the extensive section on “the All” earlier in that same text. Bhante Sujato’s translation preserves the term “all” but uses the more conversational translation “all things” for “sabbe Dhamma”.

“Directly knowing all things, they completely understand all things.”

The English in these passages reads smoothly, but the most obvious interpretation for a reader of “directly knowing all things” is that they need to understand everything in the world. It’s easy to forget Buddha’s injunction just a few Suttas earlier in SN35.23 that “the all” is only the twelve sources, and that anyone asserting otherwise is just making things up. In context, it’s clear that Buddha’s saying that we need to know directly the twelve sources if we want to be free from suffering.

This meaning is made clear in the next verses when he says:

Completely understanding all things, they see the signs of the all in a different way. They see the eye and sights in a different way, …
sabbaṁ dhammaṁ pariññāya sabbanimittāni aññato passati, cakkhuṁ aññato passati, rūpe …

All of this is to argue that, like other Dhamma terms with significant meaning, we need to take care in our understanding of the All, to draw out Buddha’s intended meaning.

How to Translate the All

The next challenge is how to translate sabba when it seems appropriate to draw out this meaning.

English allows for a variety of ways to distinguish a term that’s used in a special way. Do any of these methods seem appropriate: All, “the all”, the All, The All, or The All™? Should we use another term that has a comparable meaning of vastness, like “the universe”, “everything”, “all things”, “the whole”?

Translations are always open to debate since there are tradeoffs between readability and precision. But I propose using “the universe” as a translation for sabba in places where it seems to be pointing to this specific meaning.

“The universe” is common in modern vernacular to refer to all things. The term is readable and can be used casually. The most likely alternative would be to capitalize “the All”, but using “All” as a proper noun might lead to people reifying the All as a specific thing, the way people might reify “the One” to refer to God.

The universe also has some mystical connotations when people say “it feels like the universe is trying to tell me something”. Many people who feel a spiritual inclination but want to avoid references to deities may refer to “the universe” as in “feeling one with the universe” and so forth.

The goal here is not to reify that the universe is a specific thing, or that it is sentient like a god. The point is that just as the term “sabba” would have a resonance with divinity to people of Buddha’s time, so “the universe” is a term often used by modern English speakers to refer to something beautiful, mysterious, incomprehensibly vast, and potentially benevolent.

Here are some examples of how that would read:


Monks, I will teach you the universe. …
And what is the universe?
It’s just the eye and sights, the ear and sounds …
This is called the universe.
Monks, suppose someone was to say:
”I’ll reject this definition of the universe and describe the universe differently.” This assertion would be based only on words…

SN 35.27:

“By directly knowing and completely understanding the universe … you can end suffering.”
Sabbaṁ, bhikkhave, abhijānaṁ parijānaṁ … bhabbo dukkhakkhayāya.


The Dhamma is profound and subtle. The early Suttas are rooted in a historic context that we need to understand if we are to grasp Buddha’s meaning. But the fundamental problems and solutions Buddha was revealing are as relevant and urgent today as they’ve ever been. Some small adjustments to wording may be helpful to make Buddha’s intention more clear.


No need for adjustment, it’s already clear, the All is one thing, the unconditioned another. There remains always duality, nibbana and samsara are always separate:

“There is the case, monk, where a monk has heard, ‘All things are unworthy of attachment.’ Having heard that all things are unworthy of attachment, he directly knows every thing. Directly knowing every thing, he comprehends every thing. Comprehending every thing, he sees all themes[2] as something separate. [3]”—Samyutta Nikaya 35.80

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I don’t understand why it might be necessary to translate sabbam/ the all as “universe”.
They seem two different things.

The Rohitassa Sutta (Anguttara 4.45) might be helpful.

(Na cāhaṁ, āvuso, appatvāva lokassa antaṁ dukkhassa antakiriyaṁ vadāmi.

Btw, what does tl dr mean?

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According to scholarly opinion, vedic philosophy has, since at least the Brahmanas, been able to include the “unmanifest.” There is a case for Prajapati/Brahma being considered close to God, since he is the creator of the manifold, and scholars have long held that if Varuna, from the archaic layer of the vedas, had been waxing in the vedas, rather than waning, Indian theology may have developed into a monotheism. I don’t frankly believe that would have been the case, but whatever; not here to dispute these things. However, we should be careful not to equate Spinoza, and his idea of God as immaterial mind and attribute (thought-extension), with what is expressed in Indian philosophy.

As well, I think in the Brahmanas, there is development of atman, from its basic meaning of body, into the sacrifice. First of all, the sacrifice, of course, is Prajapati, who is also the sacrificer (per RV 10.90 I think it is). The gods learned sacrifice from Prajapati, did it right, and thus obtained immortality. And then we have the priest with the capacity to open up realms in this world, connected to both the divine (through fire and soma the two sakṣad devata, divine present for all to see) and the unmanifest. The host of the sacrifice has a role to play in this, but let’s not go there.

Maybe it is a provocative thing to say, but atman developed out of contemplation of the role of the priest in the sacrifice, which by the time of the Brahamana was the total regulator of the cosmos. Rite was tied to annuity. It had to be performed in order to maintain the immortality of the devata, and perpetuation of the creative cycle.

All of this business is within sruti. According to Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā, probably the oldest of the darsana, sruti is eternal revelation not of man (apauruṣeya) that is self-evident (svataḥpramāṇa) perfect, infallible and all-knowing (viśvavid). It comes through the ṛṣi, the “hearers” and “seers” of sruti.

So we have to be careful about what we think “thou art that” means in the Upanisads. And to be blunt, I don’t think it means, “you are the universe.” It’s a far more egocentric view than that.

That might be an argument for identification with the Devi, who is also considered the One, but even then, she’s summum bonum. :shushing_face: People can tell me I’m wrong, and maybe I’m influenced by more contemporary thinkers re: vedic wisdom, but I don’t think it (wisdom) comes through the senses. Nor has necessarily been communicated as having come that way, to give credence to Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā. It’s derived through mystical experience.

The Upanisads are famous for their correspondences (bandhu), and of course, Indian tradition accepts all of this as sruti. Right, the Upanisads are the vedas. Vedanta, the last of the veda. But each of them is attached to a samhita; there are different strains that can be, and have been, carried up and developed in many different ways.

So thank you for presenting so much interesting thought. But, it’s just that I would rather be more careful with the material, that’s all.


According to Gonda the “All” can refer to Brahman, as in vedic literature it can refer to that which is “whole, complete, healthy” as opposed to that which is made of parts and so is "not-whole, incomplete, ill-health (dukkha?). Olivelle mentions this in his footnotes in “The Early Upanishads: Annotated Texts and Translations”

4.9-10 the Whole: the exact sense of the term sarva, here translated as “the Whole,” has been much debated. As Gonda 1955a has shown, the term in its earliest usage did not mean “everything” but carried the sense of completeness, wholeness, and health. It is, thus, opposed to what is partial, broken, sick, or hurt. In the Upanisads the term is used to indicate not all things in the universe but a higher-level totality that encompasses the universe. Gonda (1955a, 64) observes that the phrase sarvam khalv idam brahma at CU 3.14.1 does not mean “‘Brahman is everything here,’ but ‘Brahman is the complete here, this whole (one),’ or: ‘Brahman is what is the whole, complete here, is what is entire, perfect, with no part lacking, what is safe and well etc., i.e. Completeness, Totality, the All seen as the Whole.’” Unless the context dictates otherwise, I translate sarvam throughout as “the Whole” and the phrase idam sarvam as “this whole world.” To the English reader the term “whole” should evoke the senses of totality and completeness (all there is), as well as perfection, soundness, and wholesomeness.

If so this sheds new light on some suttas

But if—when it comes to this attraction, grasping, mental fixation, insistence, and underlying tendency—you don’t get attracted, grasp, and commit to the notion ‘my self’, you’ll have no doubt or uncertainty that what arises is just suffering arising, and what ceases is just suffering ceasing. Your knowledge about this is independent of others.

This is how right view is defined.

‘All exists’: this is one extreme.

‘All does not exist’: this is the second extreme.

Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One teaches by the middle way:

‘Ignorance is a condition for choices. Choices are a condition for consciousness. … That is how this entire mass of suffering originates.

SN 12.15

Here the middle way is between the two views of “The Self exists vs The Self doesn’t exist” i.e. eternalism and annihilationism. Also this sutta

“I, good Gotama, speak thus, I am of this view: All is not pleasing to me.” “This view of yours, Aggivessana: All is not pleasing to me, does this view of yours not please you?” “If this view were pleasing to me, good Gotama, this would be like it too, that would be like it too.” “Now, Aggivessana, when those, the majority in the world, speak thus: ‘This would be like it too, that would be like it too’, they do not get rid of that very view, and they take up another view. Now, Aggivessana, when those, the minority in the world, speak thus: ‘This would be like it too, that would be like it too’, they get rid of that very view and do not take up another view.

MN 74

So Aggivessana’s view is “The Self is not accepted by me”, as in he is sceptical of the eternalist’s claims. Interestingly, the commentaries also make the connection between “The All” and the views of eternalism and annihilationism.

So, if true the “All” doesn’t mean “everything” or “everything is Brahman” but rather it means that complete totality which transcends everything, is behind or beyond everything. This makes sense, since to say Brahman is everything is to say it is name & form, but in the Upanishads Brahman/Ātman is said to be beyond name & form, it exists prior to and behind or above it. This is consistent with the substance metaphysics that underlie the Upanishadic thinking. In comparison, for the Buddha, there are no substances in experience because everything we experience is dependently originated. Therefore, there is no substance such as Brahman/Ātman beyond it all.


“tl;dr” is playful Internet-speak for “too long; didn’t read”. It’s sometimes used to preface a long post/message like this one to offer busy readers a quick summary.

Yes, AN4.45 is making an equivalent point: “The world (loka)” is not something external. The world is the sum total of our minds contaminated by ignorance and the world that appears to them. When we cut ignorance and craving that world (of things that appear to exist independent of the mind) disappears.
These Suttas on The All (SN35.23 …) are making the same point, using the term sabba instead of loka.

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Yes, I think so.
But when we hear the word “universe”, we think of stuff out there, not

“the sum total of our minds contaminated by ignorance and the world that appears to them”, as you say.

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I am reminded of the section of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus that deals with solipsism.

“The I occurs in philosophy through the fact that the ‘world is my world’.
The philosophical I is not the man, not the human body or the human soul of which psychology treats, but the metaphysical subject, the limit- not a part of the world. “

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Exactly. But that’s also true when we hear “the world”, and “the all”. The statement that we need to abandon the all (or abandon the eye, forms, etc) all sound very strange to us initially. That seems to be a big part of Buddha’s intention: he’s telling us that what we think of as external is not truly external (it can cease if we abandon ignorance) and that what we think of as internal (ex: suffering) is interwoven with the world we perceive.

I’m not familiar with Wittgenstein’s view. I agree with the point you quoted that our experience of “I” (inner) is the inverse of our experience of the world (outer). I don’t think you were making this point, but to avoid any doubt: Buddha’s not teaching a solipsistic view.

Yes I agree that the Buddha did not teach what we might refer to as ‘solipsism’ today.
Nor do I think he was interested in what we call ‘ontology’. It’s tempting to look for answers to modern day western philosophical conundrums, but I think the Buddha was much more interested in addressing dukkha and its ending.

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I would have been more careful with the material if I were as knowledgeable as you are :slight_smile:

My knowledge of vedic philosophy is quite limited, so I’m not at all surprised if it comes off as clumsy. I’m very grateful that there are people like you here to help clarify these points.

You touch on many points, and I’ve been chewing on them, reading and thinking. I was trying to craft a response, but I’ve run out of energy before the right words and thoughts have come together. So I’ll take another whack at that soon.

There’s some famous comment about what person who’s looked into the vedas hasn’t discovered himself drawn into eons of time. So don’t worry. Don’t keep yourself up all night.

There’s definitely secondary material out there that thinks about what you’re thinking about, but I can’t think of anything easy off hand.

I was probably mean. In retrospect you did a fabulous job … you know what … people may groan, because he’s such an old chestnut, but you should have this if you don’t already.

I liked it when I first read it because he’s firm about the radical difference between Buddhism and vedanta. This is philosophy, and dealing with the “inter-school” of Madhyamika, so it’s coming from a different approach, but he has such an interesting view that I think you will get the message that Buddhism was radically different. Right from the start. I just worry that we don’t subsume Buddhism into greater Indian thought, so to speak. Or think that there are any real parallels in Western philosophy, either.

Thank you for being so courteous.