Buddhist cosmology

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Buddhist cosmology

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Mar 03, 2009 5:33 pm

Hi,

I'm curious about how folks here at Dhamma Wheel interpret the traditional Buddhist cosmology -- i.e. the 31 planes of existence. Do you:

-- see them as literal truths, exactly as set out in the Canon
-- see them as physical destinations
-- see them as mind states
-- see them as both (i.e. the two amount to the same thing)
-- see them as provisional expressions, couched in the worldview of an ancient
culture, of something that is true in essence...but would be understood differently today
--see them as metaphors, or as figurative -- similar to mythical stuff in the Old Testament
-- see them as not really relevant to your practice
-- reject them...rebirth only takes place in the human realm, or doesn't take place at all

And what are your reasons? Note -- I am not seeking to start an argument here. Bhikkhu Bodhi has said such arguments are pointless, and I believe him. Just wanted to get an idea of what people think.

Thanks! :namaste:
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:04 am

Greetings Lazy_eye,

I think there's merit in each of the first five approaches you list above. I'm inclined to lean towards options 3 and 4.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:26 am

Lazy_eye wrote:-- see them as literal truths, exactly as set out in the Canon
-- see them as physical destinations
-- see them as mind states
-- see them as both (i.e. the two amount to the same thing)
-- see them as provisional expressions, couched in the worldview of an ancient
culture, of something that is true in essence...but would be understood differently today
--see them as metaphors, or as figurative -- similar to mythical stuff in the Old Testament
-- see them as not really relevant to your practice
-- reject them...rebirth only takes place in the human realm, or doesn't take place at all

I see them as a combination of most of the above, with some destinations fitting into each of the above. For example:

Humans, animals, some deva realms as physical destinations
Some deva realms and the Formless realms (28-31) as mind states
Asuras, hells, as culture, metaphors

The rest as set out in the Pali Canon.
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby Prasadachitta » Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:27 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Hi,

I'm curious about how folks here at Dhamma Wheel interpret the traditional Buddhist cosmology -- i.e. the 31 planes of existence. Do you:

1- see them as literal truths, exactly as set out in the Canon
2- see them as physical destinations
3- see them as mind states
4- see them as both (i.e. the two amount to the same thing)
5- see them as provisional expressions, couched in the worldview of an ancient
culture, of something that is true in essence...but would be understood differently today
6-see them as metaphors, or as figurative -- similar to mythical stuff in the Old Testament
7- see them as not really relevant to your practice
8- reject them...rebirth only takes place in the human realm, or doesn't take place at all

And what are your reasons? Note -- I am not seeking to start an argument here. Bhikkhu Bodhi has said such arguments are pointless, and I believe him. Just wanted to get an idea of what people think.

Thanks! :namaste:


I see them as #1 because of my liberal feelings about interpreting what "literal" means when it comes to such things.
As #2 because it might be the most accurate way for me to relate to what is most likley a very important "reality".
As #3 because of my experience of mind states
As #4 because Its best to hedge ones bets when it comes to such things
As #5 because that seems logical enough
As #6 because it covers all the above and leaves some room for a new understanding to be perceived on a deeper level.

But I think I may be a delusion type so its easy for me to accept confusion. :jumping:


Metta

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Last edited by Prasadachitta on Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:34 am

Greetings,

I always find it interesting to ask, "On which plane of existence did the Buddha exist?"

To what extent did he "exist" in the human realm.

There's a sutta somewhere, but unfortunately I can't find it, which discusses the Buddha's definition of the extent to which things exist, and the arahant (or Buddha of course) has transcended all of the criteria by which someone could be said to exist.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby puthujjana » Wed Mar 04, 2009 9:08 am

I see them as point one, because I can't see why a sammā-sambuddha should give metaphorical lectures without making clear that he uses metaphors.

But that's faith. As long as I'm a puthujjana and haven't seen the planes of existence for myself (remembering past lives, seeing beings passing away and reappearing, devas contacting me, or something like that), I just can't say for sure.

with metta
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby clw_uk » Wed Mar 04, 2009 9:27 am

I see them as

-- see them as mind states
-- see them as both (i.e. the two amount to the same thing)

but I focus more on the first one since thats what is important


i say they are mind states because there are instances where the Buddha states that when one is practicing metta for example he reappears in the Brahma realm, since he isnt dead it obviously doesnt relate to after death (forgive me for not providing a quote but my internet is broke at home so writting this in work)

As for the second point, i see no reason that mind states cant correlate to a realm after death, but as i said i dont think this aspect is that important and its pure speculation on my part as all i can know is this life
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby jcsuperstar » Wed Mar 04, 2009 10:18 am

I see them as what ever i need to see them as depending on the situation. who i'm talking to etc.

i've been able to remain quite fluid in this regard, and that i feel is a very helpful thing to be when dealing with things you have no real proof of.
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Mar 04, 2009 7:14 pm

Thanks for your responses. :smile:

Since I should probably answer my own question, I'll go for #3, #4 and #5. It seems to me that if we conceive of the realms purely in physical terms, then we are espousing a kind of materialism -- because we would be saying that the quality of experience depends on the physical circumstances.

But beings might exist who do not find hell (as a physical place) unpleasant, or heaven pleasant.

Metta,
LE
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Mar 05, 2009 6:58 pm

When I mention animals, humans,some deva realms as physical destinations, I mean in terms of conventional, mundane truth, in as much as we seem to "exist."

There are many places in the Tipitaka that seem to show the 31 planes as real physical places (mundane), but then there are also a couple of other places that could allow other interpretations:

Mara’s three offspring are named Lobha, Dosa and Moha, meaning Greed, Hatred and Delusion (mental states). Samyutta Nikaya 1 Mara-samyutta

When the average ignorant person makes an assertion that there is a Hell under the ocean (or other freezing or burning, fire ridden place), he is making a statement that is false and without basis. The word ‘hell’ is a term for painful bodily sensations.” Samyutta Nikaya 36.4
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby puthujjana » Thu Mar 05, 2009 7:26 pm

TheDhamma wrote:When the average ignorant person makes an assertion that there is a Hell under the ocean (or other freezing or burning, fire ridden place), he is making a statement that is false and without basis. The word ‘hell’ is a term for painful bodily sensations.” Samyutta Nikaya 36.4

Nyanaponika translated it differently:

"When, O monks, an untaught worldling says that in the great ocean there is a (bottomless) pit,(1) he speaks about something unreal and not factual.(2) 'The (bottomless) pit,' O monks, is rather a name for painful bodily feelings."

Notes:
(1). Patala.

(2). Comy. (paraphrased): According to popular belief, there is in the ocean a very deep abyss hollowed out by the force of the water, which is the abode of aquatic animals as well as dragon deities (naga), etc. Hence, for these beings, this abyss provides a basis for their existence, a comfortable abode. Therefore, to call it a bottomless pit is unrealistic and not factual, because it gives an inadequate and non-evident meaning to the word. It is rather bodily pain, inseparable from bodily existence, which deserves to be called a "bottomless pit" of suffering, being a part of unfathomable Samsara.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nypo.html
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby DarkDream » Fri Mar 06, 2009 5:22 am

Richard Gombrich, a world-renknown Buddhist scholar had this to say on cosmology (http://www.ocbs.org/content/view/61/114/):

Fully developed Buddhist cosmology holds that above the world in which we human beings are at home there
are six heavens inhabited by gods; and above them again are heavens of a more rarefied kind
inhabited by Brahmas, who are thus super-gods. Even above these heavens there are planes
inhabited only by meditating minds. Most, perhaps all, of this cosmology can be unpacked
by the historian as a reification of various metaphors. That Brahma is above ordinary gods
is a brahminical tenet found in the Upanishads, including the very texts to which we can show
that the Buddha was reacting.

The fully developed Buddhist cosmology does appear within the canon, but I am
extremely sceptical about whether it can be ascribed to the Buddha himself. I am sceptical
not only because of the way that the details can be accounted for as a historical
development; to show such interest in the structure of the universe goes against the
Buddha’s explicit message. The world, he said, lies within this fathom-long human
carcass; indeed, there are many texts in which he discourages speculation about or even
interest in the physical universe; we should concentrate on our experience of life here and
now.


I agree overall with Gombrich's view. In my opinion, the Buddhist cosmology was largely codified later on in Buddhism due to taking things in an overly literal sense. There was a definite tendency to see the Buddha in a greater super-human even god-like fashion as centuries passed. Such notions bred that the Buddha was speacking internal doctrinal truths loosing sight of the fact that the Buddha was replying to people in a specific context where he often by skill-in-means took on his interlocator's preconceived notions to help explain a teaching.

If you study the evolution of the cosmology began one can see that it is simply a human creation of the mind. For example, in the early Vedas the realm of the fathers (pitaras or departed) was seen as a heaven that turned later into the hungry ghosts preta which was a terrible realm.

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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby Dhammanando » Fri Mar 06, 2009 7:59 am

For another PTS scholar's view (and a more careful and sensitive reader of texts than Gombrich) see Rupert Gethin's Cosmology and Meditation:

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-EPT/rupert.htm
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby puthujjana » Fri Mar 06, 2009 8:02 am

puthujjana wrote:I see them as point one, because I can't see why a sammā-sambuddha should give metaphorical lectures without making clear that he uses metaphors.

But that's faith. As long as I'm a puthujjana and haven't seen the planes of existence for myself (remembering past lives, seeing beings passing away and reappearing, devas contacting me, or something like that), I just can't say for sure.

I have to correct my own posting, because I wasn't aware what "literal" actually means :toilet: (...my poor english skills)
I didn't mean to take the tipitaka word-by-word...

What I wanted to say is that I take the cosmology as described in the tipitaka - but not word-by-word.

So I take point 2 (...see them as physical destinations) because that's how it's - in my opinion - described in the suttas.

But, as TheDhamma pointed out already, the term mara in the suttas obviously (or at least very often) means mind-states full of lust and longing. So it can also mean mind-states in some cases.

with metta :heart:
:anjali:
"Once you understand anatta, then the burden of life is gone. You’ll be at peace with the world. When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness and we can truly be happy."
- Ajahn Chah
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Re: Buddhist cosmology

Postby Individual » Fri Mar 06, 2009 5:13 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Lazy_eye,

I think there's merit in each of the first five approaches you list above. I'm inclined to lean towards options 3 and 4.

Metta,
Retro. :)

I'd have to agree with this.
The best things in life aren't things.

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