I mean, homo sapiens sapiens. This is the human of the Iron Age Indian cosmos.
An open question I have is whether what we translate as universe would be better translated as galaxy. The Pali word seems to be cakkavāḷa, defined as a circle or sphere surrounded by mountains, in which the world is found.
This is for the amount of empty space found in between galaxies is so vast that most galaxies tend to be already beyond each other’s event horizon (the radius with which causality can travel). Or maybe a local cluster of galaxies, as in our case it seems that the milky way will eventually collide with Andromeda…
Ok, we can ask some questions that should put the issue to bed! There are only 2 numbers we require: 1) the length of a ‘Maha- aeon’ in Buddhist cosmology and, 2) the known age of this universe (in science and in Buddhism)??
Of course, this universe has got a few more years to run its course but the 2 figures above could be illuminating.
We need to know the length of a Maha -aeon to substantiate the claim that ‘Vipassi’ circa 51,000 000 BBE* did not live his life during the current ‘Maha-aeon’ (world cycle) i.e. the lifespan of this universe so far!
We can fid out the current age of the presently existing universe - we inhabit - according to the Buddha. Ask Ajahn Brahm - he did the maths! I am wondering if you could email Ajahn Brahm and ask him how old he believes the current Universe is according to his calculations - based on early Buddhist sources? Also, ask him what his sources are?
When we have the current age of the universe according to the Buddha, we can find out how far into the Buddhist Aeon we are at the moment, and go back 51,000 000 years - to the lifespan of Vipassi - and see if he lived in this current world cycle (that will last for one Maha-aeon) or, if he lived in an an earlier one?
Regarding the question as to whether we are talking about a galaxy or the universe as a whole? There are descriptions of chakra shaped world-systems in the Buddhist literature. Some scholars believe that the Buddhist term: ‘world system’ and the astronomical term: ‘galaxy’ may be referring to the same thing. Galaxies often take the the form of a spiral - a wheel like formation hence, chakra!
Ajahn Brahm pulled out a little note book he had - years ago -and shared a few numbers with me. Being a physicist he would have had a particular interest in these periods of cosmic evolution - there duration - as found in the Buddhist texts. All these numbers are readily available!
OK, I have found one piece of the puzzle!
"Maha-Kalpa - largest time unit in Buddhism. Ending of a maha-kalpa (apocalypse) can happen in three ways: fire, water and wind. It is divided into four quarters each equivalent to one asankya-kalpa.
First quarter - time taken for this world to form.
Second quarter - stable duration of this world where all living beings can thrive.
Third quarter - time taken for this world to be destroyed.
Fourth quarter - empty time period.
A great [maha] kalpa [aeon] is 4 medium kalpas, or around 1.28 trillion years."
Someone needs to send an email to Ajahn Brahm and ask him - according to his calculations - how long ago did this universe begin? He has a number - that he calculated after studying the early teachings on the subject. The number is close to the age that was given for the universe before its last astrophysical amendment. Scientists came up with a new ‘age for the universe’ over a decade ago - from memory. I remember this because my conversation with Ajahn Brahm - when he produced his notebook - was before the last scientific update.
Online, I could not find the numbers, it seems that nobody seems to have bothered to do the maths. Ajahn Brahm is an exception to the rule!
*‘BBE’ (Before Buddhist Era) - the latest and greatest!
in this galaxy there are many planets … in this universe there are many galaxies …
and 7 bodhisattvas have attained enlightenment here on this Planet Earth.
This is a very Blessed Planet !!!
Do the Suttas explain this?
or only in Mahayana Buddhism?
Hubble Ultra Deep Field
Ajahn Brahm seemed to like the idea that some world-systems are chakra-shaped i.e. galaxies. What does ‘vala’ mean in chakravala? It might be an ancient way of referring to the hypothetical limits of a universe that all the ‘world-systems’ (galaxies) are contained within?
Hi, just a heads up, you could try getting Ajahn @Brahmali, who lives in the same monastery as Ajahn Brahm to seek an answer for your questions!
“In 2012, WMAP estimated the age of the universe to be 13.772 billion years, with an uncertainty of 59 million years. In 2013, Planck measured the age of the universe at 13.82 billion years.” - Wikipedia
If we are taking a ‘maha-aeon’ as the term that is used for a complete universal cycle - from beginning to end - that would mean that ‘Vipassi Buddha’ circa 51,000 000 BBE* would have lived in this universal cycle and not the previous one.
*‘BBE’ (Before Buddhist Era) - before the present Buddhist Era!
How much of that is traceable to expositions done by the Buddha in EBTs?
If memory does not fail me, the maths is only done in commentaries, which are much later than the first council and may not be properly traced back to the amount of time the Buddha may have in mind when placing the past Buddhas in the past timeline.
Ajahn Brahm seemed to be satisfied with these numbers and as we know he has done an enormous amount of study and research - theoretical and practical. If he says these numbers make sense then I think we can safely say that we are looking at the ‘big picture’. It took us a while to get there but I think we have a sound basis for answering your original question: Past Buddha’s, where in time and space do we place them? We just need someone to step up and finish the job! Can you contact Ajahn Brahmali and see if he also got the notebook treatment? You started this thing I think you should end it?
He was tagged in my post above. Let’s give it some time, he will reply.
Let’s avoid having to use an argument of authority and keep our minds open. If the maths is mostly based on late commentarial sources we need to acknowledge it.
Maybe we can challenge it with more ancient sources for the time scale, maybe from earliest strata of sanskrit texts on the topic ?
Tell him he can use a pseudonym if he can’t stand the heat! We just want to have the number Ajahn Brahm came up with for the big bang - according to Buddhism? We could probably figure it out ourselves if we know the name of the sub-kalpa that Gotama the Buddha appeared in? Its probably recorded at the Wikipedia site I looked at earlier. We then could establish how many sub-kalpas happened before this one - their duration is mentioned on the site. We could add them together and Bingo! We have a number that tells us how long ago this universe exploded into being. If you do the maths you can answer the question for us that you asked in the beginning?
In another simple explanation, there are four different lengths of kalpas. A regular kalpa is approximately 16 million years long (16,798,000 years), and a small kalpa is 1000 regular kalpas, or about 16 billion years. Further, a medium kalpa is roughly 320 billion years, the equivalent of 20 small kalpas. A great kalpa is 4 medium kalpas, or around 1.28 trillion years.
According to the above commentarial description (as all specific calculations are) Vipassi Buddha could have lived well before this universe.
The EBT descriptions are not specific at all (I recall reading the below in a sutta):
Imagine a gigantic rocky mountain at the beginning of kalpa, approximately 6 yojanas tall. You take a small piece of silk and wipe the mountain once every 100 years. According to the Buddha, the mountain will be completely depleted even before the kalpa ends.
The universe began at the beginning of the Maha-kalpa. It is only the Maha-kalpa that is used to describe the beginning, middle and, end of a universal cycle. If you want to say ‘Vipassi Buddha’ lived in a previous universe before this one you can only be referring to a universe prior to this one. Something that happened before this one came into being. Forget about the sub-kalpas, they all happen within one universal cycle.
All we need to establish is when this universal cycle began, when this universe began and, then compare that number with circa 51, 000 000 years ago - when Vipassi was (said) to be on this planet - or elsewhere. That big-bang event - the beginning of the universe is a known quantity and, it was more than 51, 000 000 years ago. Therefore, Vipassi was a resident of this self-same universe that we are presently occupying.
Now that has been cleared up, we can ask the question: where in space - specifically - do we place ‘Vipassi Buddha’? Wherever it was it could not have been on Earth - is that clear? It must have been on some other planet that - for reasons unknown - seems to have been a lot like ancient India.
51,000, 000 years ago is an era in prehistory called the ‘eocene’. During that time we know what kinds of animal species and plants lived on the Earth. We know what the composition of the atmosphere was, we know a great deal about it because people have asked questions about the prehistoric past and used powerful research methods to find out the answers. You can be sure, that there could not have been any trace of human civilisation on Earth at the time. Below is an explanation of what was happening on Earth 51,000 000 years ago - is this were Vipassi lived and taught - in a place like the 'Eocene"?
The known fossil families of the Eocene Epoch (54.8 million to 33.9 million years ago) include the Tarsiidae (tarsiers), the Adapidae (which include probable ancestors of lemurs and lorises), and the Omomyidae (which include possible ancestors of the monkeys and apes).
The family Adapidae and the related Notharctidae contain two North American genera, Notharctus and Smilodectes, which are well represented in the fossil deposits of the Bridger Basin, Wyoming, U.S., and Adapis, Europolemur, Anchomomys, and Pronycticebus from Europe. Notharctus and Smilodectes are not thought to be antecedent to living lemurs, though Notharctus was not unlike the modern lemurs in size and general appearance. On both morphological and zoogeographical grounds, particularly the structure of the foot bones, the Adapidae may have provided the stem from which the living lemurs and lorises evolved; one genus, Europolemur, is even known to have a had a toilet claw, the large claw that in modern species replaces a nail on the second toe of the foot. Representatives of the Omomyidae have been found in North America, Europe, Egypt, and Asia.
The Eocene Tarsiidae, represented by the European species Necrolemur antiquus, found in the Quercy deposits of France, and Afrotarsius chatrathi, from the Fayum of Egypt, are likely to contain the ancestor of the modern genus Tarsius. The tarsier is indeed a “living fossil” (in the best sense of that overworked term), and teeth referred to the modern genus Tarsius are known from the Eocene Epoch of China and the Miocene Epoch (23 million to 5.3 million years ago) of Thailand.
Traces of what are probably the earliest monkeylike primates (Simiiformes) come from 45-million-year-old deposits in southern China. Eosimias, a tiny fossil known mainly by jaws and a few foot bones, has features that are plausibly argued to be those expected in the earliest ancestors of the Simiiformes. From slightly later, in Burma, come remains of further early simiiforms, Pondaungia and Amphipithecus. These have been known since the 1920s, but it was only in the 1980s and ’90s that further remains were discovered to confirm their simiiform status.
I would only consider the maths of the topic cleared up once we find a solid quote from EBTs to support it!
At least we are getting somewhere thank goodness! When you talk about commentarial material you are talking about many different sources - some more reliable than others. I have seen some of the commentarial writings that give a background to situations, people involved etc. that are relevant to the context in which the teachings were given. This background information must have past from people who were aware of the context, the people involved etc. to the next generation of practitioners. Whereas later commentarial material arose at some distance from the life and times of the Buddha. Why are we required to rely on the EBT’s exclusively?
What do we know about the relationship between the Harappan culture and the culture in which Buddha lived and taught?
“Everybody talks about Italy having viaducts but we had it earlier than them,” he said, recalling that people in in Gujarat had Baori or step-wells that were interconnected through viaducts 6,000 years ago."
My impression is not much. The Harrapan culture disappeared. There is speculation that its disappearance led to eastward migrations and cultural diffusion, but I don’t think much is known about that. The Harrapan language has yet to be deciphered. But there are some enigmatic seals that show what might be someone in a meditation posture.
The Harrapan culture was apparently highly centralized and agricultural.
Nope; for Iron Age peoples, they’re either talking about “everything everywhere the whole thing universe cosmos all-of-it”, or they’re talking about that thick band of milky-white stars in the night sky (Democritus theorized they were stars ca. 400 BCE).
They didn’t have the concept of a galaxy at all. Be on guard for anachronisms like this!
What can we say about the veracity or reasonableness of the belief in such accounts?
The veracity of the specifics of the accounts is debatable. But the veracity of the general idea of there being past Buddhas who also discovered the same sanditthiko akaliko ehipassiko opanayiko paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi Dhamma our Buddha did is pretty important, IMO. Each person has to come to their own conclusions about what’s reasonable.
Where in time and space can we place such previous Buddhas?
Some timeline/universe when humans lived a lot longer than we do in this one.
What is the likely doctrinal relevance of the factuality of such previous Buddhas?
Again, the specifics aren’t important but the general idea is IMO
Ajahn Brahm is in Europe right now and I really don’t want to bother him with this. But I do know what his calculation is based on. There are a number of suttas that give the length of life in certain deva realms, and from this it is possible to estimate how long an “eon” might be. I do have serious doubts whether these numbers should be taken literally in this way; nevertheless they might give us some rough ideas on how the early Buddhists, perhaps even the Buddha himself, viewed these matters. At AN 3.70, for instance, you find the following:
For the devas [ruled by] the four great kings, a single night and day is equivalent to fifty human years; thirty such days make up a month, and twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the devas [ruled by] the four great kings is five hundred such celestial years. It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man here who observes the uposatha complete in these eight factors will, with the breakup of the body, after death, be reborn in companionship with the devas [ruled by] the four great kings. It was with reference to this that I said human kingship is poor compared to celestial happiness.
For the Tāvatiṃsa devas a single night and day is equivalent to a hundred human years; thirty such days make up a month, and twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the Tāvatiṃsa devas is a thousand such celestial years. It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man here who observes the uposatha complete in these eight factors will, with the breakup of the body, after death, be reborn in companionship with the Tāvatiṃsa devas. It was with reference to this that I said human kingship is poor compared to celestial happiness.
For the Yāma devas a single night and day is equivalent to two hundred human years; thirty such days make up a month, and twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the Yāma devas is two thousand such celestial years. It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man here who observes the uposatha complete in these eight factors will, with the breakup of the body, after death, be reborn in companionship with the Yāma devas. It was with reference to this that I said human kingship is poor compared to celestial happiness.
For the Tusita devas, a single night and day is equivalent to four hundred human years; thirty such days make up a month, and twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the Tusita devas is four thousand such celestial years. It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man here who observes the uposatha complete in these eight factors will, with the breakup of the body, after death, be reborn in companionship with the Tusita devas. It was with reference to this that I said human kingship is poor compared to celestial happiness.
For the devas who delight in creation, a single night and day is equivalent to eight hundred human years; thirty such days make up a month, and twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the devas who delight in creation is eight thousand such celestial years. It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man here who observes the uposatha complete in these eight factors will, with the breakup of the body, after death, be reborn in companionship with the devas who delight in creation. It was with reference to this that I said human kingship is poor compared to celestial happiness.
For the devas who control what is created by others, a single night and day is equivalent to sixteen hundred human years; thirty such days make up a month, and twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the devas who control what is created by others is sixteen thousand such celestial years. It is possible, Visākhā, that a woman or man here who observes the uposatha complete in these eight factors will, with the breakup of the body, after death, be reborn in companionship with the devas who control what is created by others. It was with reference to this that I said human kingship is poor compared to celestial happiness.
If you do the maths on the last of these devas, those “who control what is created by others,” you get a lifespan of 9,216,000,000 years (1,600 * 30 * 12 * 16,000), that is, 9.2 billion years. Now it is known from suttas such as AN 4.123 that the beings in the lowest Brahmā realm have a lifespan of one eon. Since the lifespan increases by a factor of four each time you move up one realm (see the quote above), and since the lowest Brahmā realm is immediately above the last realm mentioned above, we can probably assume that the lifespan in the lowest Brahmā realm must be 4 times 9.2 billion years, that is, 36.8 billion years. This, then, is an estimate of the length of an eon. Surprisingly, it is not too far off what one might expect for a single Big Bang/Big Crunch cycle. Whether this is just a coincidence or not, I have no idea.