I have recently started reading about Buddhism and I wonder what the world view of Buddhism is -- is it the world view that there is not one world as we think, and instead we each have our own world? When it is said in Buddhism, let's say the sense organ of the eye and its sense object: does the "sense object" here refer to the object seen (for instance a chair that is seen), or is what is meant with "sense object" the picture that I see? Same with tactile objects: is it for instance the bed I am laying on, or is it the sensation of touching the bed?

Also one question that I have regarding the sense organ of mind. It is said that the "external" sense object of mind is thoughts -- how can they be external if thoughts is happening inside the mind, or am I missing something? The view of 6 sense organs and 6 sense objects: is it meaning that there is nothing outside them, in other words there is only our experience not a world outside?

  • Good to look for oneself, out of remorse, having faultless virtue, required concentration will arise: Okkanta-samyutta — Entering. Philosophy only causes suffering.
    – user11235
    Sep 8, 2019 at 7:39

3 Answers 3


In different Buddhist traditions, this may be interpreted differently. My answer here is mainly from the perspective of the Theravada tradition.

In our minds, we have the idea of "I am the thinker" i.e. the idea of the self. That's the primary object in existence in our reality. We also have the idea of non-self objects i.e. everything else. We objectify and classify everything around us, into non-self objects, according to their relationship to the self. For e.g. my hand, my car, not my friend, not my country.

When you look at the waters of the sea from up close in a boat, you may feel fear and insecurity, especially if you don't know how to swim and have motion sickness. To the sailor, it's a source of joy and adventure. To the fisherman, it's a source of livelihood and he sees it like a mine or oil field. To fish deep in the sea that has never left the waters, the concept of water doesn't occur to it at all, as it does not know any other reality.

Another example - a piece of cooked meat appears like delicious food to the meat eater, and it appears repulsive to the vegan. To a honey bee, it appears like dirt because it's not its food.

These examples go to show that objects do not have the inherent essence or meaning given to it by the mind.

What's a body of water to me is nothing at all (or perhaps everything) to the fish. The waters of the great sea, as a place to sail and swim, and as a body of liquid, doesn't really exist, except in my mind. It certainly doesn't exist in that way to the fish.

What's delicious food to me, is dirt to the honey bee. So, the delicious food doesn't really exist, except in my mind. The dirt doesn't really exist, except in the honey bee's mind.

This concept is called papanca in Theravada, which is objectification plus classification, also known as reification. And it's related to anatta (the teaching that all phenomena is not self), because papanca is when non-self things are reified into objects and they are classified relative to the self. The idea of the self is also papanca.

This does not mean that things don't exist, except in my mind. It means that things don't exist as how my mind thinks it does.

What about the Mahayana tradition?

Nagarjuna taught that all things are empty of inherent essence or "own being" (svabhava) including emptiness itself. Somebody tried to say that just like people are empty of a self of people, the chair is empty of a self of chairs. In my opinion, this is equivalent to papanca of Theravada.


This question is bordering on one of the fourteen unanswered questions in buddhism (avyākata), meaning that, pondering to much about the world put us at risk to dwell on things that leads us away from liberation.

"So, Malunkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared. And what is undeclared by me? 'The cosmos is eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is not eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is finite'... 'The cosmos is infinite'...


"And why are they undeclared by me? Because they are not connected with the goal, are not fundamental to the holy life. They do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That's why they are undeclared by me.


Buddhism briefly touches on the nature of things describing it as "the all" (sabba). However, the characteristics of "the all" is not dealt with in very much detail, and is (arguably) described as inseparable with our perceptions/phenomena.


Further, our perceptions can be classified as ayatanas or dhatus:

When it comes to the first five triads of sense bases (dhatus) they can be understood as a chain of phenomena like this:

External sense bases: Our intitial perception of the object, perceived by:

Internal sense bases: The sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue and body), represented by:

Mind objects: Mental representations of the above.

The sixth sense, describing mind and mental objects is a bit of a different story. See:

How can the sixth channel of dhatus be understood?

  • I put some effort into presenting the gist of the suttas here. If i'm mistaken, i'd be happy if someone could briefly mention why, so that everyone has a chance to learn. Also, not sure if it's kosher to link to a different SE topic, but it seemed relevant here...
    – user11699
    Sep 8, 2019 at 11:43
  • 1
    Also, not sure if it's kosher to link to a different SE topic, but it seemed relevant here Yes it's kosher, and especially with a question like this one (which has two parts to it).
    – ChrisW
    Sep 8, 2019 at 11:55

Yes. The “world” refers to our own world but these worlds are not created by sense objects but created by our cravings and personal views about the sense objects.

In Pali Buddhism, “the world” does not mean sense objects. The term “the world” refers to “becomings”, “identities” and the various creating of concepts of “beings”, “groups of beings”, “societies”, etc, which are born from craving & attachment.

In SN 12.44, you can read how “the world” is defined in Buddhism as arising from craving the objects of the senses and how the world ceases, not when sense objects cease, but when craving for sense objects cease.

There are many scriptures that discuss the meaning of “the world” in Buddhism. As stated in the Pali sutta AN 4.45, the term “the world” is used synonymously with the word “suffering”.

Other relevant sutta are SN 35.82 and AN 8.6.

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