(In)finite number of beings



At least in imagination we might conceive of a being who throughout his wandering in saṃsāra simply never acquired merit of the kind that would be a cause for his encountering a buddhasāsanā. Is there really any principle of Dhamma that would logically rule out the possibility of such a being? I don’t myself see one.

Perhaps in the Ājīvaka system saṃsāra wasn’t considered to be beginningless. At least that’s the only way I can see that followers of Makkhali might escape the charge that their teacher’s doctrine is falsified by the fact that dukkha isn’t yet universally extinguished.


Making a theory is always has some cognitive biases. You have yours and I have mine.

Cattārimāni, bhikkhave, acinteyyāni, na cintetabbāni; yāni cintento ummādassa vighātassa bhāgī assa. Katamāni cattāri? Buddhānaṃ, bhikkhave, buddhavisayo acinteyyo, na cintetabbo; yaṃ cintento ummādassa vighātassa bhāgī assa. Jhāyissa, bhikkhave, jhānavisayo acinteyyo, na cintetabbo; yaṃ cintento ummādassa vighātassa bhāgī assa. Kammavipāko, bhikkhave, acinteyyo, na cintetabbo; yaṃ cintento ummādassa vighātassa bhāgī assa. Lokacintā, bhikkhave, acinteyyā, na cintetabbā; yaṃ cintento ummādassa vighātassa bhāgī assa. Imāni kho, bhikkhave, cattāri acinteyyāni, na cintetabbāni; yāni cintento ummādassa vighātassa bhāgī assā


In AN 7.62 we read:

I recall undergoing for a long time the likable, desirable, and agreeable results of good deeds performed over a long time. I developed a mind of love for seven years. As a result, for seven eons of the cosmos contracting and expanding I didn’t return to this world again. As the cosmos contracted I went to the realm of streaming radiance. As it expanded I was reborn in an empty mansion of Brahmā.

2There I was Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the undefeated, the champion, the universal seer, the wielder of power. I was Sakka, lord of gods, thirty-six times. Many hundreds of times I was a king, a wheel-turning monarch, a just and principled king. My dominion extended to all four sides, I achieved stability in the country, and I possessed the seven treasures. These were my seven treasures: the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the jewel, the woman, the treasurer, and the counselor as the seventh treasure. I had over a thousand sons who were valiant and heroic, crushing the armies of my enemies. After conquering this land girt by sea, I reigned by principle, without rod or sword.

That’s a lot of beings and a lot of time.


This sutta is baffling. What could it mean?


I don’t think the meaning is really recoverable now. Though luckily the part Amatabhani refers to is a summary of Makkahali Gosāla’s dhamma, not the Buddha’s.


Transmigration has no (known) beginning
Therefore, there is a possibility of infinite number of buddhas.
If there are infinite number of beings, no matter how many buddhasasanas appear time to time all of them would not achieve Nibbāna.

If the number of beings are finite in a transmigration which has no beginning, they would eventually reduce in number. So they should have met Buddhas in the past and achieved Nibbāna. Why are we still here.

Only way this could happen is having infinite number of beings in the universe.
This is no Makkahali Gosāla’s dhamma but just an argument.
I do not say that beings would eventually achieve Nibbāna doing nothing. They should practice eight fold path to achieve Nibbāna.
However, finite number of beings in a beginningless transmigration is not possible. That is what I was trying to say.