So … do DN 1 and MN 102 assume a relativistic universe?

Both DN 1 and MN 102 classify various kinds of wrong views in relation to time. They’re either views of the past or views of the future.

In many cases this is pretty straightforward. For example, one might derive views from the recollection of past lives.

But there are some problematic cases, where it seems odd to categorize them in this way.

One example is the set of views on “Nibbana in the present life”. However, the Tibetan version of the Pancatraya Sutra (= MN 102) has this as a separate category, so this might be just a textual error.

What of the theories of the cosmos being finite or infinite? These seem to have no particular relation to time.

Unless, of course, you live in a relativistic universe, where space is limited by the speed of light. Since we do in fact live in a relativistic universe, this means that the light that we see in the stars is very old, having traveled vast distances to reach us. And any exploration of the finitude of the universe is also an exploration into time.

It’s probably nothing, right???

Would this be according to the teaching:

Sujato, the view ‘universe is relativistic’, is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.

I used be intrigued why these were included in the ten undeclared questions:

‘The cosmos is finite’ … “This too has not been declared by the Buddha.”

Six of the ten questions are quite clearly related to the mistaken assumption of a permanent self, whereas the four about the universe are more difficult to pin down. I eventually decided that these views of the universe were included because they focus on something we can never know. All we have is experience, and the universe as some sort of objective entity, if such a thing even exists, will always exist outside of experience. The Dhamma only concerns the realm of experience. From a Dhamma point of view, the universe and experience are coterminous.

If this is correct, then whether the universe is relativistic or not is irrelevant. Our experiences are not time dependent in this way.


Sure, but they are classified in this way.

Let me put the problem a different way.

If you read these passages classified as “views of the past” and encounter speculations about the infinity of the cosmos, it is natural, I think, to wonder how “infinity” gets put under time. If you assume a Newtonian universe, where time and space are separate, then you’d assume the sutta was wrong, or at least, untidy. But if you assume the universe we actually live in, namely a relativistic one, that problem goes away.

See also: The relativistic physics of the gods

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Yes, I get your point. My reply was really to question whether the classification of such views as referring to the past makes sense from a Dhamma perspective. I mean, you have already shown that a Tibetan version classifies views about Nibbāna here and now differently.

Indeed, and I do suspect that this is a mistake. MN 102 in fact qualifies such people as “letting go of theories about the past and the future”. But I think this is a separate issue.

MN102 agrees with you on that its something one can not clearly know. And even states that the partial knowledge that they are clear about is said to be grasping on their part. So if one had a view ‘the universe is relativistic’ or ‘the universe is not relativistic’ would that not too be said to be grasping to views on their part.

It’s simply not possible for them to have purified and clear personal knowledge of this, apart from faith, endorsement, oral tradition, reasoned contemplation, or acceptance of a view after consideration. And in the absence of such knowledge, even the partial knowledge that they are clear about is said to be grasping on their part. ‘All that is conditioned and coarse. But there is the cessation of conditions—that is real.’ Understanding this and seeing the escape from it, the Realized One has gone beyond all that.

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I think that the point is more that these things cannot be known by definition: to clearly know that the past was eternal you would have to remember infinitly far back, to know it was not you would have to recall a “beginning”, absent these two imposibilities all you can do is make an imference from past experience (“contact” in the hybrid buddhist english lingo).

But the counter-conditional CAN be known clearly in “immediate” experience, that is, sans some changing sensation we can see that there can be no “temporalness” to talk or think about.

The undeclared points are all like that, and from that perspective they all make sense in the same exact way, its epistemological (about what we can legitimately know) not ontological (about the existence or non existence of “selves”).

One of these days i will gird my loins and get back on here to write a proper essay on the undeclared points and conditionality in the EBT, but not today :wink:

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I actually started writing this with a different take, but was surprised by what this calculation revealed:

Once upon a time, I was a seer called Rohitassa of the Bhoja people. I was a sky-walker with psychic powers. I was as fast as a light arrow easily shot across the shadow of a palm tree by a well-trained expert archer with a strong bow. My stride was such that it could span from the eastern ocean to the western ocean. Having such speed and stride, this wish came to me: ‘I will reach the end of the world by traveling.’ I traveled for my whole lifespan of a hundred years—pausing only to eat and drink, go to the toilet, and sleep to dispel weariness—and I passed away along the way, never reaching the end of the world.

Modern India is 2,933km wide East-West, which is approximately good enough for the distance between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Arrows travel about 225 feet per second. A palmyra tree trunk can be a meter thick at its widest, about three feet. Shadow width is complicated, but unlikely to be off by an order of magnitude.

Speed = distance / time

distance ~ 3,000km

time ~ 3/225 ~ 0.01

Rhotissa’s speed ~ 3,000km/0.01s ~ 300,000km/s ~ c

I’m still extremely skeptical of these sort of arguments on an individual level, but this calculation going against my expectation (I thought it was going to be way higher than c) is no reason not to share it.


Hang on, are you kidding!

Rohitassa’s speed was within an order of magnitude of the speed of light!

I’ve played around with these ideas for a while, because I like Buddhism and I like relativity, but I never imagined that. It’s crazy. It’s like when Brahmali told Ajahn Brahm’s physics professor friend that the age of the eon was roughly twice that estimated for the universe, and he said, actually we now think the universe may be twice as old …

Like you, I’m not one to take such things too seriously, but they are interesting ideas to play with.


300,000 km/s is the speed of light, its even closer than an order of magnitude (wish we could do twilight zone music macros on Discourse :slight_smile: )


Oh right, I remembered it in miles/second for some reason.

What can I say? Crikey!

@sujato do you have any reference for how this was calculated pls? I am really amazed by all of this! Was it the feather and mountain flyby every 100 years story or something else ???

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That was Ven @Brahmali , I’ll let him answer it!

It’s fairly straightforward, actually. Suttas such as AN 3.70 say the following:

Sixteen hundred years in the human realm is one day and night for the Gods Who Control what is Imagined by Others. Thirty such days make up a month. Twelve such months make up a year. The life span of the Gods Who Control what is Imagined by Others is sixteen thousand of these divine years.

This means that the lifespan of these devas, the highest in the sensual realm, is about 9 billion human years.

At the next heavenly realm up we have the lowest brahmā realm, in which the beings are said to live for one eon, that is, one universal cycle, the span from one big bang to the next big crunch. Since the lifespan of devas increases by a factor of four for each successively higher heavenly realm (AN 3.70), the lifespan of devas in this realm should be four times as long as the one calculated above, or 36 billion years.

Now, the present age of the universe is said to be 13.7 billion years (NASA). Double that to take into account the implosion phase and you have 27.4 billion years. Then add an unknown quantity to get us to the end of the expansion phase (and double that to take account of the equivalent contraction), and you may well get eerily close 36 billion!


Well that and the Rohitassa one above is quite incredible, thanks to all!

Given the Buddha wasn’t giving a physics lecture, that is already accurate enough for me and another 4 billion years or so of expansion before we are crunched would be Ok…time to start meditating I think, time running out :slight_smile:


LOL! But yes, time is always running out …

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Venerable, you may not need it but 4 billion years not likely to be enough for me given from whence I start…


Lol Hasantha, I am sure a mere 2 or three billions should be more than enough!

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I take that as an incredible compliment Bhante, thanks! :slight_smile: