Did the Buddha know the Earth is round?


Before I read this Sutta, I thought liquid is established on the earth, and the atmosphere upon liquid, and space upon the atmosphere.
Why did Buddha not think like that?
Do you think both statements are correct in the scheme of the things?


Well, Westerners thought that if they keep on walking they will fall of the age.
That means they thought it is not indefinite.


For about the past 2500 years, educated westerners did not believe that. But anyway, this has nothing to do with culture. It’s not a question of whose ancient cultural lore was in possession of more ideas about the natural world that turned out to be scientifically validated later. I think it’s more a question of distinguishing enduring moral and spiritual wisdom from the evolving conceptions of the natural world in which that wisdom is contingently embedded.


This sounds like a version of Vedic cosmology to me. In the Vedas - someone can source this and post a link if they have a smartphone or computer - there is an account of a ‘causal ocean’.

The Buddha did not specify what kind of liquid it was that the Earth was in? The Vedic teaching has the Earth sitting in this ‘causal ocean’ - surrounded by it. In other words the Earth is an Island! I think it is called ‘Jambudvipa’. Could somebody check the etymology of this word? I think it means the ‘Island of Jambu’? In the middle of this Island Earth is Mount Meru!


Can someone post the Pali translation for what I posted from Maha-parinibbana sutta.
I can’t find the location as it is too long.


“Island of the rose apple tree” or something like that - Many people think it refers to the Indian subcontinent, and others think it might be the earth. Someone posted here that they were convinced it was Sri Lanka, but that is definitely a minority opinion!

Mt. Meru - some think of it as an actual mountain, but others think it might be an invisible mountain, perhaps the earth’s magnetic field or something. I think vedic texts say its shape is like an inverted cone or something (definitely not an ordinary mountain!). Some people think of it as a metaphor that can be helpful to use in meditation…

I don’t know what to make of it all!


I found it very hard to research this. If you Google the subject, you can’t easily find a lot of scholarly work on interpreting the cosmological ideas actually found in the Vedas, but instead run into a massive blob of New Age pseudoscience, allegedly derived from the Vedas, but which I think involves some contemporary reinterpretation mixed in.


No, Buddha said the earth is upon the liqiud.


The Earth is not an Island in a great ‘causal ocean’ - is it?

In the Vedas - the earliest source material with a reference to Mount Meru - we discover that it is somewhere deep in the Himalayas, the central and highest mountain. Its peak reaches up to the highest heaven - where the Brahma realm is. We can gather from this that the highest Devas lived in the Brahma realm - Brahmaloka! Therefore, when the Buddha refers to the Brahma’s as the highest Devas he is using a Vedic cosmological term for the beings in the highest state of life in the universe.


You might find that the liquid that the Earth is upon is not water - it may be an ocean of milk?


I have heard the stories that are found in the original Vedic material. The Earth is a wok-shaped island in an ocean of ‘liquid’ milk with My Meru at its centre. The Earth sits on the back of a giant turtle that is in this ocean. I believe the Buddha has been given a similar account of the Earth as an Island by his tutors and teachers when he was a young student within an aristocratic family. This is the kind of cosmological story that was in circulation in his culture at the time - and it still is!


Yes, the Earth is upon’ the liquid - but it isn’t! It has saltwater oceans on the surface of the globe which is floating in space and orbiting the Sun. It would be interesting to read any references to the Sun by the Buddha - anyone?

We also know that the Buddha named his son ‘Rahu’ (fetter or obstruction). This word is originally found in Vedic cosmology. ‘Rahu’ is a planet that is made of subtle matter that ‘obstructs’ the light of the moon and the Sun when it comes between the Earth and these celestial bodies - causing eclipses. This is how the Vedic astrologers/astronomers accounted for and predicted eclipses.

We know about one of these astrologers/astronomers being present at the Buddha’s birth celebration and making a prediction. All of this points to a familiarity with Vedic astrology/astronomy that would have been part of the education of young elites in the Buddha’s life and times.


Very true - the Buddha also was obviously familiar with pre-existing vedic notions of karma. He also taught about karma, but the way he used the term differed considerably from the Brahmins’. Just saying, I think it is important that we try to understand the Buddha on his own terms, and resist the temptation to say that his teachings were aligned with others’ simply because they used the same words or templates.


We are trying to understand the Buddha on his own terms. He used the term ‘Dippa’ (Island) when talking about the Earth - correct? He said, the Earth is upon the liquid - correct? How is this not understanding the Buddha on his own terms?

There is a difference between taking someone’s word for it - accepting a statement because it is made by an authority figure and, understanding them on their own terms. You may be confusing the two? The Earth is not an Island - plain and simple?

I agree with you, the Buddha had profound insights that are not easily found in the earlier traditions. This does not automatically mean they weren’t there? They may have been uncommon but not unknown by some of the Buddha’s contemporaries or, in earlier times.

We do not have to throw the cosmological material in with his liberation teachings - which includes his teachings on kamma etc. There is no ‘necessary connection’ between the Buddha’s understanding of the Earth under his feet and his liberation teachings.

My propositions are: 1) the Buddha ‘derived’ his cosmology from ideas that were in circulation at the time and, 2) his liberation teachings came from his practice.

I am not saying the 2 propositions (above) are true and correct. I am not assuming anything - at all! I am just following a line of reasoning that is informed by my knowledge of the genesis of Indian cosmological ideas that predate the Buddha.

There is a discernable line of development from these earlier ideas and their later development or ‘revelation’ in the Buddha’s teachings. I may be completely wrong? I do believe there is sufficient evidence to believe my ideas make sense - they are coherent. That is the best I can do!

We are discussing cosmology in this thread not ‘kamma’. We need to keep it (neat and clean) and (on target) or we may begin to surmise connections’ that are not immediately apparent.


No, I could not find this theory anywhere in Sutta.
But Buddha knew that Sun and Moon are traveling very fast.


“Aṭṭha kho ime, ānanda, hetū, aṭṭha paccayā mahato bhūmicālassa pātubhāvāya. Katame aṭṭha? Ayaṃ, ānanda, mahāpathavī udake patiṭṭhitā, udakaṃ vāte patiṭṭhitaṃ, vāto ākāsaṭṭho. Hoti kho so, ānanda, samayo, yaṃ mahāvātā vāyanti. Mahāvātā vāyantā udakaṃ kampenti. Udakaṃ kampitaṃ pathaviṃ kampeti. Ayaṃ paṭhamo hetu paṭhamo paccayo mahato bhūmicālassa pātubhāvāya.>

Above is the phrase in Pali.
So what is the Pali word here for liquid?


I know that the Buddha did not talk about an ocean of milk. If he had many of us would have gone elsewhere and ignored the Buddha-Dhamma. He probably realised that an ocean of milk was a ridiculous proposition. Even in the Buddha’s times people new where milk came from and an ocean of the stuff is a challenging idea.

The Buddha was a sophisticated thinker - who lived in a time where some serious thinking was underway. He was not a gullible individual therefore, an ocean of milk would have been a valid cause for scepticism?

The Buddha would of figured out what was tenable and that which is complete nonsense. It is extremely unlikely that the Buddha would have believed that the island of ‘Jambudvipa’ floated in a milk ocean but, being an Island - he called it Jambudippa - and the ‘causal ocean’ it floated in would be more like other large liquid bodies that are filled with water.

It is hard for me to understand why anyone would find it difficult to work out what is going on in all of this. We need to try and think in straight lines and apply our reasoning - instead of starting with a belief about it and then try to make sense of that belief by establishing it in the texts. We can try to think critically and not start with an assumption we have derived from a teaching?

We are not just trying to understand the traditional teaching because that will lead us back to our original assumption - that these teachings are literally true. Instead, we can ask questions about where the teaching came from in the first place. What is the Genesis of the idea? Are there earlier but not identical precedents? In this way, we can gain insight into the genesis of the idea - the teaching.


Here milk does not mean cow milk.
Water (liquid) is like milk when you are thursty or have greed.
Beings are first trap to this world by tasting this liquid.


Here is a lecture on Indian Cosmology as seen through Japanese Buddhism. I hope everyone finds it relevant and helpful to the discussion here. Enjoy!


He would have imbibed the traditional cosmological teachings from his early education as an elite. I did not say that he repeated these teachings ‘verbatum’ in his teachings - as found in the Suttas.