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Buddhist Cosmology

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#41

That’s a bit off topic and I haven’t properly think and gather enough information from the phenomenon studies and sutta references to psychic powers yet. So here is a short answer for what I currently think. Sorry it became long.

I think current physics would say psychic powers without the usage of advanced technology to replicate the effects is in general impossible. Take for example duplication of food offered to the Buddha for the whole Sangha to eat. To make food out of thin air, lots of energy is needed to transform the atoms into different atoms, that’s under nuclear physics, and to make new bonds for chemical energy stored inside the food. In general there is not enough energy within a person’s chemical energy reserves to make that kind of transmutation. Not to mention that the degree of precision and manipulation of matter is extraordinary difficult. Thus, it’s outright a magic trick, not possible to be real.

Here is a possible way for advanced technology to do that: have a 3d printer to scan and print the food. The energy source can be from solar or a high power superbattery in the future. Or something like the star trek matter replicator. Make the tech invisible and just print out the food from stored raw organic materials. Thus it looks like the food comes out of nowhere. A bonus is to link the controls of the matter replicator to the mind, so thoughts alone can switch it on.

A more natural way to explain it is that the mind is more fundamental than the laws of physics and thus a well trained, powerful mind can in a limited way manipulate the laws of nature in a region to be whatever it can imagine it to be.

I will include a chapter on psychic powers in my physics and Buddhism book, follow this for more updates. https://www.facebook.com/PhysicsandBuddhism/


#42

Thanks for your thoughts again. I think it being no problem if we digress in a minor fashion on a somehow related topic. As to the quote: Would this not require rigorous testing of individuals who report these capabilities? I think one problem here is that these are quite rare and also that these research interests are still quite marginal and even terrorized, to put in the words of one researcher in this field.

These are precisely the tenets which underlie actually successful experiments as to psychokinesis, distant viewing, mediumship, and other phenomena as described in the suttas. Thanks also for the link to your forthcoming book. Would you mind to direct me to some material relating to other universes with different physical laws which were mentioned by you?

Mettā


#43

I am not sure that I mentioned universes with other physical laws. Anyway I don’t think people had purposely seriously create model universes with different physical laws and change them in a systematic way just to see what happens.

What is more common in research is the study of toy models. It can be solutions to existing accepted theories, the solution not describing our universe, eg. Google Godel universe. Or toy models of simplified or complicated forms of existing theories just to test the theory out. Eg. ADM-CFT, 2 dimensional Quantum field theories.

Also another thing is the proposal of multiverses with different physical laws. Google: string landscape multiverse, tegmark mathematical ultimate multiverse.


#44

Thanks for your reply, venerable, to me and to others. And before I address your argument about omniscience and rebirth, I want to stress that my concern is predominantly to speak what is beneficial rather than what is harmful. And the confusion and superstition that is now forced upon this pure Dhamma is seriously widespread, and as I already mentioned, while we know and understand the pure Dhamma, this is not the case for those who either doubt it or follow it blindly. And forgive me but, the connection between what you argue in this essay and that pure Dhamma will be established and is rightly establishable! Not because people confuse mundane concerns (such as the universe is!) with Dhamma (which, as you mention, a confusion that you can clear for them), but rather because the “nature of the Buddha’s Gnosis” will emerge for a practitioner or Dhamma seeker as a subject of contemplation, and an important and tricky and confusing one; such that may even either facilitate or obstruct progress in practice, I believe. So in as much as I may have read too much into the essay, perhaps you also may have read too little, given possibly our different experiences and contacts with other Dhamma farers, and our different concerns. What is sure however is that both your essay and my comments on it are done with clear intentions, so please let us leave strawmen aside!

I wasn’t suggesting that you believe the Buddha was omniscient; I was only showing that the kind of gnosis which you attribute to him respecting the physical universe is not really all that much dissimilar from omniscience; especially as you attribute this gnosis exclusively to him. For had this gnosis been a natural, even unintentional result of past-lives recollection, then anyone with this skill of recollection could likewise discern the intricate and wondrous patterns of the universe, and not just the Buddha. If you do believe this is the case, then i’m afraid you haven’t expressed it in your essay, neither explicitly nor implicitly. And while I would still consider purely speculative a statement like: “anyone who can recollect past lives long enough may understand the universe!”, I wouldn’t then be concerned about whether the statement confounds the enlightenment of Buddha, because it is no longer exclusively about him, and I would probably not have written any comment at all!

But the truth is that the essay rather hints that the Buddha’s recollection of past lives was such a unique miraculous feat of samadhi, to the extent of enabling him to “remember” how the universe changes and evolves. So much similar to omniscience it seems to me, is the description you give of the Buddha’s “experiential” gnosis regarding the universe, as he witnesses cosmological events with the senses of higher beings, far and above the events, both vast-scale as all-universe expanding and crunching, and small-scale as solar aging and ocean evaporation; and only now, born as Gotama, does he recollect those past sensorial experiences all in all and report them in the language of ordinary, terrestrial humans. Is this really all that much different from omniscience? The problem is not only in disbelieving rebirth, venerable, the problem is also in believing in too much rebirth!

And in the end is there really any such proof of rebirth in all this? And even if there was, is it really beneficial for one to grow convinced of rebirth thereby? Or is it necessary for a human being to absorb it gradually and naturally through observing and contemplating the continual renewal of body and mind as they unfold in this very one life, right here and right now, so that he may then see, directly and intuitively, their inherent momentum and their inevitable continuation, in a following life?

:anjal:


#45

When I was reading this I thought of the Buddha and indeed anyone else who can remember sufficiently long enough past lives might recall the ancients having developed theories of physics on their own. Maybe even in the previous cycle of the universe these theories survive ling enough for those scientists to observe directly the end of their sun and planet, thus verifying their physics, to observe the universe contracts, thus verifying one of their cyclic cosmological models. It would be cool if this is the case. So this allows the Buddha to know physics without being omniscient.

Well, we should note that with cyclic universe in the picture and even with 3 previous Buddhas in our current aeon but totally wiped off human historical records, the past need not be technologically or scientifically backwards, but it is all erased by time.

I do agree that it is dangerous to make predictions on how physics would develop based on the suttas. There can be many ways to intepret the suttas as physics changes. Currently it is unlikely that physics would change so much drastically from what is currently mainstream and verified, but physicists all know that this is not yet the end of physics, new physics are ahead, it may revolutionize our current concepts of almost everything, it may not.

Regarding the aliens look like humans, I think it’s better to approach this from an evolutionary xenobiologist view. It may very well be possible that humanoid form is the optimal for intelligent species which can develop technology, but not the only form. It might also be that beings in one world system (solar system) generally incline to be reborn in the same system. Maybe in the future if we discover and established contacts with aliens, we might discover cases of past life memories of aliens being a human on earth who was obsessed with living on that alien planet ever since contact was made. This would be conclusive proof of rebirth can go across world systems. And then proper measurement can be conducted to measure the speed of transfer of information via such rebirth. It should be maxed out at speed of light or physics is in trouble.

Yes, ultimately we all have to see dependent origination to truly know rebirth for ourselves. Bonus if we can train to see past lives. In the meantime, for those who might have some faith to strengthen their faith and to challange materialists scientific minded people, these kind of indirect evidence for rebirth can help in generating more faith and thus more motivation to practise.


#46

I have always wondered what happened in the seven days of unbroken absorption that the Buddha dwelled in after attaining Nibbana. We are told that paticca-samuppada was discovered by him during that time, but maybe there was more…


#47

You make some good points about the scant information in the suttas and the difficulty in interpreting it. It is too easy to read these ancient texts in light of our present knowledge by unconsciously adding bits of information to the gaps in the ancient texts. I think this is a problem with the idea of the expansion/contraction of the cosmos, which is expressed in very bare bones form in the suttas, and one can reasonably be sceptical about what exactly it refers to.

The biggest challenge to me remains the Seven Suns Sutta, in which the description is unusually detailed. I still find it hard to see how this can be anything other than an accurate prediction of the Earth being incinerated by a warming sun.

And it is sufficient to have one such unexplained phenomenon in the suttas. Even if almost all sutta descriptions of a cosmological nature can be regarded as mythology or the consequences of fertile speculation combined with basic observations of nature, it is the unexplained exception that is interesting. This is no different from science, for which the unexplained exceptions provide grist for refining and altering existing theories. A single exception to a rule is sufficient to render the rule inadequate or false.


#48

It’s difficult to find a convincing stand on this one. But the idea of ‘seven suns’ as such is older than the EBT, even though not in an eschatological context.

In Rigveda 1.14.3 seven Ādityas, i.e. sun gods are mentioned

Indra and Vāyu, Br̥haspati, Mitra (and Varuṇa), Agni, Pūṣan, Bhaga, the Ādityas, the Marutian flock (have the Kaṇvas called).

Atharvaveda 13.3.10 also just mentions seven suns, in connection with Kasyapa

Kasyapa, thou hast refulgent, what brightly-shining lotus-flower collected, Wherein are gathered seven Suns together

Finally the the Taittiriya Aranyaka 1.7.1-5 goes into more details with Kasyapa and the seven suns:

Aroga, Bhraja, Patara, Patahga, Svarnaro, Jyotisimat and Vibhasa: all of these radiate heat in the sky for this world. It is said that they do not withdraw, and that they yield strength. Kasyapa is the eighth; he does not depart from great Mt. Meru. There is this verse about them: “That which is skilful in you, O Kasyapa; possessed of brilliance, possessed of strength and eminent, O Citrabhanu; that in which the seven suns are set together; by that may he [the sacrificer] obtain kingship”. All of those (seven suns) receive light for this world from Kasyapa; the moon purifies them (deriving its light or power) from Kasyapa. The seven pranas are in the head; the Acaryas [spiritual teachers] say that they are the suns.

So the seven suns in ancient mythology are either seven deities with a sun-characteristic, or the seven Rshis. All the above texts are pre-EBT. Finally we get the seven suns burning everything down again in the Puranas in a much more consistent story - the Puranas being post-EBT.

Personally I find it more probable that an ancient myth found isolated entry into the EBT than the Brahmins incorporating an obscure eschatology from the disliked Buddhist texts into their tales. But here we are merely on the level of opinion.


#49

I think it’s number 2, and 1, because philosophically, there are a limited number of ways to think about how the universe evolves.

The universe is either 1. Static or not. 2. Have a beginning or not, 3. Allowed to look differently at different times or not.
If the universe is static, that is not changing, then it can only have no beginning, and look the same at all times. This is what Einstein and many other thought before Hubble discovered the Hubble law.
Since the universe is not static (currently expanding), there are 3 possibilities. The possibility of having a beginning, looks the same can be discarded as it is impossible.

  1. Have no beginning, looks the same, this is the steady state theory which competed with the Big Bang theory in the mid 20 century. Now it has been discredited.
    For the universe that can look differently, there is either
  2. A beginning: Big Bang theory with a real beginning. Or God created the universe in 7 days.
  3. Or not. Cyclic universe, eternal inflation, etc.

As inflation is a pretty complicated model to make, we cannot really expect the ancients to stumble upon it by mere philosophy. Same goes for Big bang, steady state etc if they don’t know for sure that the world is expanding.

So for the ancients, we should compare the static universe before hubble and the non static version.

By requiring the world to be beginningless and allowing change, one of the most natural conclusion with symmetry is for a cyclic universe. This fits in with a cyclic view of time instead of linear view. Possibly by seeing patterns repeating, the ancients believed that it is time itself which cycles around, thus cyclic universes model holds a unique beauty in allowing the universe to exhibit patterns. In this way, there is really very little viable model of cosmology for the ancients to choose from. Thus, coincidences may happen that the greeks and Buddha happen to have the same cosmological model. Especially considering that the Buddha’s cyclic universe is just a vague expanding, contracting for a long time each. Compared to current physical cosmology models, that is simple. Current models have to account for how entropy can be reset to so low a value for each bang, what is the role of dark energy, etc…

Of course it is possible that the Buddha really does know his stuffs and reality accords with it.


#50

Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu :pray:


#51

World systems…not “we” as beings.
It is the subject in discussion?..perhaps you don’t see the subtle differences between the two?..as per your previous text/response.
Hence the question:

But you choose to lump them together under the word "impermanence "

Surely you can see that the teachings refers to the escape of (not-self) and nothing beyond and yet as you have quite rightly stated about this “world system”…existing. Surely you can see the difference?

Am not sure how anyone can discuss this topic on the cosmos/world systems without first understanding what “not-self” is.
It would be a complete waste of time and nothing but imagination and fabrications.


#52

Hi Bhante

I agree there is a difference here most of the time. But in one variety of Eternalism, the World and the imagined Self do intersect -

‘That which is the self is the world; after death I shall be permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change; I shall endure as long as eternity.’

Which does open up another line of enquiry - why are both impermanent? I have some heretical ideas about the notion of saṅkhata having a rather more specific meaning for the Aggregates, than just “conditioned”.


#53

As mentioned above, this is a good place to start.

Sure. It’s just that there is no description of what these extra-earthlings might look like.

I am not sure about using the Aggañña Sutta. I think it too mythological to be used as evidence in this way.

As for the utterly dark spaces between worlds, you may have appoint. Let me think about this.

Well, in that case I fall into the former category. Recalling one’s past lives is a human capacity.

I think this is a good point, and I can only agree with you. Much of the Buddhist world is far too credulous.

The problem, as I see it, is that part of the Buddhist world go too far in the other direction, throwing out essential aspects of the Dhamma in their pursuit of a Buddhism that satisfies their sensibilities. There is not enough willingness, I think, to fully engage with an alternative way of looking at the world. This is mainly about rebirth, but sometimes it touches on other areas by extension. Once you allow for rebirth it opens up a radically different view of the relationship between mind and matter.

So it depends who the audience is. In the West it is often important to make the point that rebirth is fundamental to Buddhism.

You know what it’s like, sometimes unintended strawmen may creep into the debate. I am not doubting your good intentions. :slightly_smiling_face:

Actually I don’t. You must have missed this part:

Moreover, even if some or all of these ideas did preexist the Buddha, we would still be faced with the problem of explaining how they arose. The interesting question here is not who discovered such facts about the universe, but that they were discovered.

Certainly not a proof. I am interested in how these seemingly remarkable passages made their way into the suttas. My best hypothesis is that it happened through the recollection of past lives. But if I have to change my mind on this, it would not be a problem for me.

Thanks for this. I understand the number seven is used extensively in mythology. It is interesting that this number creeps into the EBTs in a number of places, even in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. Perhaps the number has just been taken over from the preexisting culture as a kind of accepted standard number. In the case of the Seven Suns Sutta, you need some standard for deciding how many stages to include.

Well, again you could ask the same question of “our” world system.

The suttas present the Dhamma from a number of different vantage points. The more angles you have on something, the easier it is to grasp what is going on. Seeing everything around you as impermanent is useful in helping you to let go. This is one of the reasons why the Buddha recommends the death contemplation. But yes, in the end you have to take this all the way to include every aspect of the five personality factors, the five khandhas, and this is closely related to seeing non-self.


#54

Bhante, what you are attributing to the Buddha is more than simply remembering past lives.


#55

Thanks so much, Venerable. :pray:

Yes! I did! I apologise! :pray:

Yes I could clearly feel that our concerns were stemming from the needs of different social environments. I am particularly reactionary to superstition; seeing that this is a Dhamma for the removal and destruction of delusion, I can’t bear to see it subverted to reinforce it! Not that your essay does that. Not at all. In fact it does open discussion on possible “rational” explanations of gnosis; we have naught in disagreement, perhaps apart from the over-speculative nature of the premise. However I believe much is left unsaid in the essay, which would otherwise fortify it against being viewed as yet another apotheosis of Buddha. I still feel this is the impression it gives although obviously unintentionally.

Often my heart convulses when I see an intelligent and able young person turning away from the Path only because s/he cannot swallow rebirth. “So much can be their gain if they try! So much will be their loss if they don’t!” I say to myself. But I understand their disposition as I myself was raised in a non-religious, if not even a bit anti-religious context, and I remember how I struggled with rebirth at first too. I appreciate and admire your efforts here therefore. I hope they will bear fruit; even if just once they do; it is certainly worth it!

What I have learned in the course of time is to let go! On the subject of rebirth: the more I try to persuade, the more the failure! The only thing I found to be potentially effective is to entice with the immediate rewards of practice, according to the inclinations of the person, leaving aside the cosmological dimension for some time. But of course, clearly there comes a time when progress in practice becomes conditioned by seeing the reality of bhava and kamma, their perpetuation and their renewal, and discerning the necessity of connecting the dharmic effort done in this life with a result that will not be squandered by death. What I have learned is that a skeptic cannot see such things through conceptual exercise alone, such exercise in that case only gives rise to more doubt and confusion, even restlessness and, strangely, also fear and anger! The great service I did to myself when my heart was beginning was to allow myself to keep going, to remain curious and inquisitive, and to keep practicing not seeking any result in particular, there was nothing else more meaningful for me to do at the time, and there is nothing else more meaningful to do at any time! It was precisely this kind of humility, the ability to suspend judgement and evaluation of every last aspect of that upon which the heart is bent, that at last delivered me. Unfortunately it is rare to find this humility, patience and willingness to “keep trying” in a yet vague and undefined context -even just for a short while- particularly among young people.

By way of evidence, it is strange to me that rebirth is so vehemently challenged. Venerable, soon it will have become a century of recorded cases of past-life recollection, mainly by children, and with increasing numbers nearly every year in the West too, and in the US. Perhaps we should make a celebration of that to highlight that our faith in rebirth is in fact supported by significant evidential observations [not that we need this, just to make a point!]. I have found that these recorded cases is also another thing that sometimes persuades skeptics to at least suspend their judgement about the issue, and keep practicing.

I have allowed myself to share some views on this subject, I hope you accept them!

Thanks so much Venerable, thanks for listening!

:anjal:


#56

Well said! I think you are right that being overly zealous about rebirth can often backfire. Most of the time all I do is point out that this was taught by the Buddha and that it is central to his teaching. People will then make of it what they want.

Thanks for engaging with this, and the same to everyone else. I’ll review my essay in light of all the comments I have received.


#57

It can feel sometimes that we are no different from a psychological path when we secularize the Dhamma. Yet insisting on rebirth and other claims by the Buddha can leave some people luke-warm towards it. Wasn’t it the Buddha who said that only a stream entrant will fully accept how the world ends, in a certain sutta - I cant recall the name of it now.

This suggests that some may not have the faculties of faith (saddha) etc. to hear these ‘profound’ teachings (deep, not secret, that is), while a stream entrant has glimpsed Nibbana or at the very least experienced a degree of samadhi, would.

with metta


#58

Simple answer, they are both fabrications, they exist…therefore must have death also.
Deeper answer, one can see they are both linked, i.e. one depends on the other.
Just because we exist doesn’t mean it is nether good or bad, suffering is used…Why?..so that an escape can be realised. It is considered that the human plane dimension is a good plane to be…we need this body for that very purpose, agree so far?

As it is said, there are no travellers on the path, so the entire human existence is that of the purpose of saving beings from delusion.

They are both impermanent because they exist within a plane of existence…that is also why there is that dimension where escape is possible…unborn.

Words merely points and are also limited because it cannot point to the actual experience which is direct.


#59

To truly let go is when one sees impermanence.
It is said:

“Purification of the path is for one who knows and sees, with right release

The reason of that ability to let go is because of a "change of linkage " hence letting go is automatic.


#60

Even though everything including the mind is impermanent in the big picture, IMO only a few ventures to understand the connection between mind and rebirth. I think this is the reason why it is wishy-washy. Besides, the various cultural traditions and religious beliefs that beings have been brought up with give them a pre hand for example killing animals and even humans. So there is very little reason for the majority of the world population to think out of the box. But rather, they find enough justification to keep doing what they do. Unfortunately, a big majority of so called Buddhists too fall into this category.
If on the other hand, they spend some time focussing on the impermanence of their mind, they will realise how busy their mind is. By impermanence of the mind I mean lack of concentration or Samadhi due to tenaciously clinging to what they already possess and day dreaming of what they do not possess. This clinging and day dreaming is what life is all about at least for the ordinary person.
When the mind is so preoccupied with desires and regrets without any moment of rest, how can one expect that continuation to stop at death. In Rohitassa Sutta, the Buddha said that the “world” is a creation of the mind. Beings cling to and regret this mental creation due to wrongly appropriating it to a self which does not exist in reality. This mental creation of a world within the so called self is energy in some form which acts as the invisible force for beings to continue as they do. It is naive to think that death dissolves this force of energy. Therefore, the aim should be to completely empty the mind of this energy prior to death, then there is no continuation afterwards. That is Nibbana.
With Metta