Is this statement by the Buddha false or allegorical?


In DN 27, the Buddha explains that the universe contracted, then rebuilt itself, and he explains the rebuilding process. He says that at the beginning of reconstruction, there was a body of water plunged into darkness, with no existence of the Sun. Afterwards, a substance was deposited on the surface of the water, and beings ate it. Then, the Sun and Moon appear.

Some people say that this mass of water refers scientifically to the unique ocean that existed on planet Earth, or was the molten rock of planet Earth. Problem: the Sun already existed before the Earth, and the sutta says this body of water existed before the Sun.

What’s more, the sutta explains when the sexual difference between men and women was created by living beings eating rice… That doesn’t sound right.

What’s more, the sutta is strange in that it goes on to talk about the creation of vegetation and man and woman, and yet the sutta doesn’t seem to talk about the creation of planet Earth. It looks as if the sutta thinks that the Earth is actually really on this water and that the Earth existed before the Sun, and that vegetation and mankind seem to be created somewhere on this mysterious water.

Perhaps this has something to do with what the Buddha said:

This great earth is grounded on water, the water is grounded on air, and the air stands in space. At a time when a great wind blows, it stirs the water, and the water stirs the earth.

DN 27 could be understood allegorically to mean that covetousness leads to suffering, pain and decadence, as the story gives examples of how actions driven by greed lead to suffering.

Indeed, in the suttas, the Buddha remarkably always seems to speak in a helpful way, for the end of suffering.

However, this does not appear to be allegorical, as in the sutta, the Buddha establishes a real connection between his own time and this story of origins:

Those who saw them having sex pelted them with dirt, clods, or cow-dung, saying, ‘Get lost, filth! Get lost, filth! How on earth can one being do that to another?’ And even today people in some countries, when carrying a bride off, pelt her with dirt, clods, or cow-dung. They’re just remembering an ancient primordial saying, but they don’t understand what it means.

How do you understand this sutta?

There is a sutta (DN 26) where the Buddha talks about human beings living 80,000 years. In fact, a Pali expression (bhūtapubbaṃ) used at the beginning introduces a fictitious story. But in the case of this topic, the sutta begins like this, and therefore doesn’t seem to introduce a fiction:

There comes a time when, Vāseṭṭha, after a very long period has passed, this cosmos contracts.

Hoti kho so, vāseṭṭha, samayo yaṁ kadāci karahaci dīghassa addhuno accayena ayaṁ loko saṁvaṭṭati.

So the Buddha was saying the wrong things? Why wouldn’t other, much more important parts be false either?

Thank you in advance.

May the Dhamma be preserved forever

You may need to compare also DA 5 (and MA 154) for DN 27, and DA 6 (and MA 70) for DN 26.

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DA 5 and MA 154 are parallels of DN 27. I’ve read both and they’re just as problematic as DN 27 (the same problems I’m raising in this topic).

DA 5 : SuttaCentral

MA 154 :

I’ll just give my opinion here, which may be controversial: We don’t actually know how much of the Sutta’s are the Buddha’s words, and I am quite certain that much of the mythology in the Sutta’s isn’t the Buddha’s words.

Near the very beginning, starting in DN3, do you really think that the Buddha found it important to use his psychic powers to show his incredibly strange penis to a teenage boy and an old man? I also don’t believe that a thunder god followed the Buddha around and split the head of anyone who wouldn’t answer the Buddha’s questions.

This doesn’t mean I disbelieve all of the “supernatural elements.” Rebirth and kamma seems like a recurrent enough subject that I imagine the Buddha did teach these as realities. He likely taught of the general existence of other realms and deities, too. But the specific stories about these realms and deities I always take with a grain of salt.

So, in DN 27, my personal bias would be that this was probably not spoken by the Buddha. In fact, it would contradict other Suttas (like DN9) where he dismisses questions of these sorts as not being productive.

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Yes, I know what you mean, I too have trouble with certain things.

But these strange supernatural passages are not uncommon, and there really are a lot of them in the suttas (e.g. the Buddha moves in the air ; a monk levitate, creates fire with his psychic power and self-immolates, etc.). The Buddha also spoke a great deal about the possibility of developing psychic powers that enable one to walk through walls. There are also passages in the Vinaya where the Buddha says he saw birds chasing a man with blades instead of hair (but you need psychic power to see this).

There really are many, many elements of this kind in the texts.
If we consider them to be inventions, that implies that a good part of the texts are invented. And from then on, because of the rejection of the authenticity of many passages, there’s the risk of casting doubt on much more fundamental teachings…

It’s a difficult subject for me

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Yes, me too. I am going to create another thread about this, if you are interested.

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This reminds me of phytoestrogens. Say rice has/had a phytoestrogen and a species(single cell/bacteria/etc) was consuming that rice. Then split the the species into those that eat and don’t eat the rice(out of preference or ability). There would be a chemical split in that species on a long enough time line. Could perhaps be the ground work for an extrapolation on the idea.

It’s easy to write this kind of stuff off, but I think it unwise to do so. I’ve had more fun studying how these kind of things could be true and it’s been very fruitful in my practice. Just take all the information you can and build up as much faith as possible. Skeptical doubt/doubt is a hindrance after all, inquiry on the other hand…

We don’t write off things that disagree with our preconceived notions. We allow ourselves to genuinely challenge those bias notions, that’s what allows us to grow. This was the heart of the flat earth argument that happened a while back. It wasn’t so much about the earth being flat, as it was actually about how absurd it was that people had these preconceived notions that they actually couldn’t intellectually defend and the fact that they wouldn’t allow themselves to challenge those preconceived notions in the first place.

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I dont accept everything in the suttas blindly either…after all, the Buddha said he was misquoted during his lifetime, let alone the two and a half millennia since! He also said that all he taught was suffering and freedom from suffering, nothing more, so anything I read in the text that doesn’t relate to the Four Noble Truths and cover something required to achieve awakening I take with a grain of salt!

The “core” Buddhist teachings are repeated…and repeated…and repeated again from what I can see from the texts I have read to date. An intelligent reader is not left in ANY doubt about what the Buddha was teaching :slight_smile: … indeed, one might wonder as a student in his course whether you had done that unit already, several times through the course.

PS: I dont consider rebirth and karma to be “supernatural” ideas. I consider anyone who doesnt believe in karma and rebirth to be mystical/magical thinkers. Karma is cause and effect- why would the conscious paradigm not follow the exact same laws as every other paradigm in the universe? People claiming to be scientific and hence not believing in that need to explain how the exact same principle applies everywhere in every domain…except consciousness :slight_smile:

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For what it’s worth, I read this as as a parody of the Vedic creation myth.

Vāseṭṭha and Bhāradvāja are both brahmins by birth and clan, and have been suffering abuse and insults from other brahmins for their conversion to Buddhism and that they have abandoned their caste.

The Buddha takes this opportunity to poke fun at elements of the Vedic creation myth adapted from various parts of the Ṛg Veda and the Upanisads, starting with a parody of the origin of the universe adapted from the Nisidaya. He also parodies the Vedic theory that the 4 castes originated from the four components of the Cosmic Man.

Along the way, the Buddha then demolishes the Vedic creation myth by showing that kamma (ethical intention) drives the results of actions of living beings, and not their birthright and that a person from any caste will achieve awakening once they get rid of craving and acquire knowledge.

The aim of this discourse is to give the two former brahmins the necessary context and ammunition to allow them to refute their brahmin opponents (my interpretation).

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Thank you, your message is very hepful !

Very interesting, thanks

Regarding DN/DA (長阿含), Ven. Yin Shun states it was developed and expanded from the Geya (祇夜) anga portion of SA/SN:

The original SA/SN sutras were called the ‘Connected Discourses’ (相應教, saṃyukta-kathā, the synthesis of the three angas).

See p. 899, note 21, in Choong Mun-keat, “Ācāriya Buddhaghosa and Master Yinshun 印順 on the Three-aṅga Structure of Early Buddhist Texts ”, Research on the Saṃyukta-āgama (Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts, Research Series 8; edited by Dhammadinnā), Taiwan: Dharma Drum Corporation, August 2020, pp. 883-932. … hist_Texts

It is likely that the SA/SN sutras were called as a Agama or Nikaya “collection” until the other three Nikayas/Agamas (MN/MA, DN/DA, AN/EA) were gradually developed and expanded from the ‘Connected Discourses’ (相應教 , saṃyukta-kathā ) in Early Buddhism.

This information is also indicated in the above-mentioned article note 21 from both the Chinese and Tibetan texts. The Chinese text reads:

“即彼一切事相應教 間廁鳩集。是故說名雜阿笈摩
即彼相應教 。復以餘相處中而說。是故說名中阿笈摩
即彼相應教 。更以餘相廣長而說。是故說名長阿笈摩
即彼相應教 。更以一二三等漸增分數道理而說。是故說名增一阿笈摩

相應教 (saṃyukta-kathā) came first and then 雜阿笈摩, … 長阿笈摩, 增一阿笈摩 in the formation of EBTs in Early Buddhism.

Cf. also: pp. 9-11 in Choong Mun-keat:
The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sūtrāṅga portion of the Pāli Saṃyutta-Nikāya and the Chinese Saṃyuktāgama (Series: Beitrage zur Indologie Band 32; Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2000). … ukta_agama

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I don’t usually watch science popularization videos, can’t quite stomach the level of intoxication, idolising scientists etc. Thankfully these days there are actual honest to goodness scientists making content.

Something I saw recently surprised me, was Einstein thinking ‘Matrix’ long before the movie came out? Certainly he was no physicalist.

What I am trying to say is take a deeper look in to the foundations of science and so forth.

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You may be interested to have a look at this resource by Ajahn Brahmali on cosmology.