How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

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How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby Individual » Tue Aug 04, 2009 2:26 pm

On Wikipedia's Buddhist cosmology article, it says:

The picture of the world presented in Buddhist cosmological descriptions cannot be taken as a literal description of the shape of the universe. It is inconsistent, and cannot be made consistent, with astronomical data that were already known in ancient India. However, it is not intended to be a description of how ordinary humans perceive their world; rather, it is the universe as seen through the divyacakṣus (Pāli: dibbacakkhu), the "divine eye" by which a Buddha or an arhat who has cultivated this faculty can perceive all of the other worlds and the beings arising (being born) and passing away (dying) within them, and can tell from what state they have been reborn and into what state they will be reborn. The cosmology has also been interpreted in a symbolical or allegorical sense (see Ten spiritual realms).

Am I wrong to assume that Theravada takes the cosmology to be merely symbolical or allegorical?

Anyway, Wikipedia says that, but then there are actual stories I've heard of monks' meditation being disturbed by gandhabbas (I believe the commentary says this?) and of people actually seeing devas... And the various miraculous stories of the suttas, Classical Theravadins take this literally, yes?

I'm not so sure what to make of cosmology based strictly on the suttas, because the suttas have so many stories of such things which are apparently literal, yet despite this, certain other stories seem to poke fun at these things.

In the Juñha Sutta, Sariputta, whose wisdom is said to be second only to the Buddha himself, is meditating and a yakkha hits him on the head. Moggallana sees this and asks Sariputta how he is feeling, and Sariputta mentions only a slight headache. Was this a joke by Sariputta or was he actually totally unaware of the Yakkha's presence?

Another sutta I remember (though I'm lacking a reference at the moment -- but it's well-known, so should be easy to find.. Mahaparinibbana Sutta, maybe?), the Buddha remarks to one of his followers that they need to step out of the way, because there are many gods who trying to see him and they're blocking his view.

Some have also remarked that the Agganna Sutta, the most elaborate sutta on the creation of the world, was a satirical parody of metaphysical speculation but the joke was lost on later commentators. Could this be true?

But in any case, if the cosmology is not literal... and it is not merely metaphorical... and it is the way a Buddha sees with his divine perception, how would this relate to mundane experience? As an example, how might a kalpa relate to the physical expansion and contraction of a universe, during the Big Bang and the theoretical Big Crunch? As another specific question, if devas can choose to take physical form or not, then what is their locality and nature when they are not in physical form?
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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby alan » Tue Dec 15, 2009 3:52 pm

This sort of question has been bugging me lately. Devas, Asuras, planes of this or that. Beings who live for Eons in other realms. Were these just accepted ideas at the time, and said to "householders" in an attempt to relate the teachings to their beliefs? Was it particular to the Buddha?
Love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks...

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby cooran » Tue Dec 15, 2009 7:07 pm

Hello alan, all,

You may find this chapter helpful on the Realms of Existence in the book by Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda - the whole book is worth keeping as an initial reference.

What Buddhists Believe Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda
http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Dr._ ... _Existence

metta
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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby Kim OHara » Tue Dec 15, 2009 10:26 pm

Chris wrote:Hello alan, all,
You may find this chapter helpful on the Realms of Existence in the book by Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda - the whole book is worth keeping as an initial reference.

What Buddhists Believe Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda
http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Dr._ ... _Existence

metta
Chris

Thanks,Chris.
I found the first part made perfect sense to me, especially ideas like :
"The explanation of the origin of the universe is not the concern of religion. Such theorizing is not necessary for living a righteous way of life and for shaping our future life. However, if one insists on studying this subject, then one must investigate the sciences, astronomy, geology, biology and anthropology. These sciences can offer more reliable and tested information on this subject than can be supplied by any religion."
But I was disappointed that he then, in 'Other World Systems', performed extraordinary contortions in an apparent attempt to avoid treating other realms in the same way.
As far as I can see (not always very far, I know), there is no need whatever to even consider, let alone believe in, the conventional physical reality of other planes of existence.
I welcome other suggestions, though.
:smile:

Kim

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby pink_trike » Wed Dec 16, 2009 3:34 am

Chris wrote:Hello alan, all,

You may find this chapter helpful on the Realms of Existence in the book by Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda - the whole book is worth keeping as an initial reference.

What Buddhists Believe Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda
http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Dr._ ... _Existence

metta
Chris

I would have been helpful if he had defined his terms a little clearer. He seems to use "world" and "universe" interchangeably, but he also seems to use world meaning "earth", and then he throws in "world system" just for variety.
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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby cooran » Wed Dec 16, 2009 7:32 am

Hello all,

Buddhist Cosmology - Rev. Tri Ratna Priya Karuna
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma2/budcosmo.html

What do you think?

metta
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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby pink_trike » Wed Dec 16, 2009 8:05 am

The explanation of the kalpas is fairly consistent with the advanced astronomy of several ancient cultures - including this:

The kalpa in which we are now living has the distinction of being a greatly auspicious kalpa of five Buddhas: Kusanda, Konagamana, Kasyapsa, Sakyamuni and Maitreya, who is yet to come.


...with the difference that they were known as "suns". They were personified, with names - but it was suns that were named.

There are countless, endless cycles of varying sizes. Here's one culture's story about a cycle that measures 35 million years:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 092145.htm

"Our present position in the galaxy suggests we are now very close to another such period."
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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Dec 16, 2009 10:31 am

Chris wrote:Hello all,

Buddhist Cosmology - Rev. Tri Ratna Priya Karuna
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma2/budcosmo.html

What do you think?

Since you ask ... the cosmology as such bears no discernible relationship to conventional reality. It is a mythology. Anyone teaching that it is an accurate description of our physical world creates the same problems as any Christian teaching that the creation story in Genesis is literally true: they set up an irreconcilable clash with science.
And the cosmologies are not even necessary to either Buddhism or Christianity. They can (and, IMO, should) be abandoned so that the more important parts of the doctrine can be presented without unnecessary intellectual obstacles.
From the point at which this teacher begins to speak about sentient beings, what he says about other planes can be interpreted in psychological and metaphorical terms and the conflicts with science become much less significant. Karma and rebirth may lack scientific proof but they are also free of scientific disproof, meaning that a rational enquirer can give them provisional trust and see where they lead.
That's my view, anyway. Yours may be different and still valid.
:smile:

Kim

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Dec 16, 2009 11:54 am

...The world system re-evolves from the residual energy of matter, while most of the beings return from the Brahma world to reborn on a dark and water covered earth. This does not seem to inconvenience the mind-generated beings, since they continue to live much as they had formerly in the Brahma world, self-luminous, nourished by rapture and not divided into different sexes.

With the passage of an immense length of time, conditions begin to change. A scum, with the character of boiled, milky rice, begins to accumulate on the cooling earth, and the terrestial inhabitants begin to taste it and enjoy the sensation. This new sense pleasure leads to craving and an ever increasing dependence on the scum for nourishment. The earthly residents find that their formerly light, ethereal bodies become gross and solid and more differentiated in shape and appearance. Gradually, the waters covering the earth subside; the mists disperse and the sun and moon are clearly revealed in the heavens.

With the continuation of this period of evolution, first lichenous growths, then creeping plants and finally edible grains appear. As the beings learn to subsist on these food sources, they become even more gross, losing their bright and radiant character. They eventually become differentiated into many species, as well as into male and female genders. This separation into two sexes leads to lust, passion and hatred, and the concomitant development of family grouping, and all the institutions of society. The blood smeared record of the last few thousands of years bear witness to the conditions which are typical of the last phase of the third period of the kalpa.


Just curious...is there anyone here who takes this passage literally? What would be an argument for doing so, and how would you answer the objections that it is unscientific...i.e. conflicts with known facts about the formation of the earth, timetable for appearance of life, etc?

It's interesting that it describes a kind of evolution-in-reverse, that is, higher beings devolving into lower ones. By that logic, humans ought to have appeared prior to chimps, no?

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:17 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Just curious...is there anyone here who takes this passage literally? What would be an argument for doing so, and how would you answer the objections that it is unscientific...i.e. conflicts with known facts about the formation of the earth, timetable for appearance of life, etc?

It's interesting that it describes a kind of evolution-in-reverse, that is, higher beings devolving into lower ones. By that logic, humans ought to have appeared prior to chimps, no?
Oh, yeah. There were some heated discussion arounds this on e-sandbox.
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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Dec 16, 2009 7:10 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Just curious...is there anyone here who takes this passage literally? What would be an argument for doing so, and how would you answer the objections that it is unscientific...i.e. conflicts with known facts about the formation of the earth, timetable for appearance of life, etc?


I don't think it sounds that far-fetched. It was written in a way that the people of the time could understand. And it actually sounds pretty close to the scientific account. For example, the beings without gender could be the single-celled amoebas and bacteria who then went through an evolutionary process to the large beings we have today.

The waters receding sounds very much like the known scientific account of about 400,000 years or so of continual rain and then the rain stopped, exposing some of the land, i.e., surface.

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby Laurens » Wed Dec 16, 2009 7:28 pm

I don't tend to spend an awful lot of time thinking about this kind of thing. Maybe it is useful to some practitioners, I don't know. However for me, thinking about cosmology, doesn't benefit my practice, so I don't tend to partake in it.
"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby pink_trike » Wed Dec 16, 2009 7:52 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Chris wrote:Hello all,

Buddhist Cosmology - Rev. Tri Ratna Priya Karuna
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma2/budcosmo.html

What do you think?

they set up an irreconcilable clash with science.


That would be the same "science" that aggressively resisted the idea of plate tectonics just 60 years ago and considered the idea of impact cratering to be speculation until the 1980s (!)...even preferring to believe that the moon's cratering was caused by dead volcanos. I'm not "anti-science" by any measure, but it seems to me that science often clings to some ideas that are as strange as some of what we find in premodern cosmology.
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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Dec 16, 2009 10:03 pm

pink_trike wrote:... it seems to me that science often clings to some ideas that are as strange as some of what we find in premodern cosmology.

The crucial difference is that science does abandon errors when better information comes along while (some) religions refuse to even consider altering one iota of the sacred text.
Of course, individual scientists are sometimes as attached to views as individuals in any other occupation, but science as a whole is explicitly committed to discovering and rejecting errors.

Kim

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Dec 16, 2009 10:29 pm

Greetings,

As this question...

Chris wrote:What do you think?


... is difficult to answer within the confines of the Classical Theravada forum, and Individual (the original poster) is on a voluntary hiatus from Dhamma Wheel, it seems logical to move this topic into the General forum so that both "classical" and "modern" viewpoints can be taken up simultaneously, as per each individual's interest.

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Retro. :)
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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby SDC » Thu Dec 17, 2009 2:41 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Just curious...is there anyone here who takes this passage literally? What would be an argument for doing so, and how would you answer the objections that it is unscientific...i.e. conflicts with known facts about the formation of the earth, timetable for appearance of life, etc?

It's interesting that it describes a kind of evolution-in-reverse, that is, higher beings devolving into lower ones. By that logic, humans ought to have appeared prior to chimps, no?


For the record this is my second post, and I have never had the opportunity to verbally relate any of what I am about to say. So please bare with me.

The basis for my theory on this subject has been pieced together from many different sources.

I don't take the passage literally, however I think it would be interesting to know the most recent past lives of the first "human beings" of a newly formed world system. But before discussing human beings it would be interesting to know the most recent past lives of the first sentient matter (single celled organisms). What world systems did those various lives occur on? Not the new one, obviously.

It has been stated that currently there are innumerable beings in the various planes of our world system. Not to mention, when a universe collapses and a world system is destroyed, all sentient beings, in all the realms of that particular world system are reborn immediately in another world system. I'm assuming our system has experienced these influxes of "foreigners"and will again in the future. There is a lot of action. But in the beginning of a system would all the realms be empty? Where does the the first sentient life come from? I believe that once the environmental conditions and the evolutionary process have reached a certain point, the first rebirth occurs. The first sentient life arrives. And it would seem that it would have to be from another world system that recently collapsed. It would seem that it would have to follow the same process it follows now. And then it would just keep going. And the number of beings would grow and grow. I believe this goes along nicely with the current scientific theories as well.

I have heard many stories about beings from the heavenly realms that die, are reborn as human beings and then completely degenerate, even to the point of eventually being reborn in the hells. So I think there is some validity to this passage. So I guess another question is, would the first "human beings" in a newly formed world system automatically be from the heavenly realms? Is that a distinct part of the natural process?

I hope I didn't go too far for my second post.

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Dec 17, 2009 10:20 pm

Hello, SDC,
Just by way of encouragement: your post was fine - for a second post or any other post. Keep thinking, keep contributing. :smile:

You seem to be looking for ways to make the cosmology logically consistent with itself and with western science. It would be good if it could be done, but I don't think it can. Sure, we can find points of agreement and points of similarity but there are enough differences to stop them coming together completely.
And neither side will (or can) let the differences be ignored.
Science always asks for proof of anything it is asked to accept - that's what makes it science.
Religion nearly always refuses to negotiate, saying, 'We believe this unquestioningly because it comes to us from our highest authority.' Buddhism is, by far, not the worst in this way but there are certainly Buddhists who show this attitude.
So what do we, as modern people in a world that runs on science, do?
The Dalai Lama, no less, has said that where Buddhist cosmology conflicts with science, Buddhist cosmology must give way. That's good enough for me.

:anjali:
Kim

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby pink_trike » Thu Dec 17, 2009 11:08 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:The Dalai Lama, no less, has said that where Buddhist cosmology conflicts with science, Buddhist cosmology must give way.

Dalai Lama wrote:If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

You'll never hear the reverse coming out of a scientist's mouth. :tongue:

Scientists "discover" things all the time that our premodern ancestors knew - heck, they "discover" things that my grandparents knew.
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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby Mawkish1983 » Fri Dec 18, 2009 1:27 am

pink_trike wrote:You'll never hear the reverse coming out of a scientist's mouth. :tongue:

... I will not bite... I will not bite...

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Re: How does Buddhist cosmology relate to mundane experience?

Postby SDC » Fri Dec 18, 2009 3:24 am

Thanks for the words of encouragement, Kim.

Its funny...before I got deeply involved in the teachings, I thought I NEEDED to know the deepest secrets of both physics and cosmology to discover any purpose in life. What an exhausting, yet exciting pursuit. While it is far from a priority now, my mind will occasionally update my cosmological view with newly discovered Buddhist and scientific ideas. I can't help it sometimes. Especially with the stunning parallels between Buddhism and the theories of dark matter, dark energy, and string theory!!!!

Laurens wrote:I don't tend to spend an awful lot of time thinking about this kind of thing. Maybe it is useful to some practitioners, I don't know. However for me, thinking about cosmology, doesn't benefit my practice, so I don't tend to partake in it.


I get you, and I agree. But some of the first Buddhist books I read were about the parallels between scientific and Buddhist ideas. Those books closed the enormous gap between science and spirituality that I had in my mind. I eventually shifted away from that type of book and began looking for the central teachings of Buddhism. That eventually brought me to Theravada. So it is important to me in that sense.


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