How to reconcile time spans in the canon with history

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superzach
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How to reconcile time spans in the canon with history

Post by superzach »

Good morning.

As I was reading 'Great Disciples of the Buddha' last night, I was struck with the question of how to reconcile the time spans in the canon with what we know from history/pre-history.

There are many examples of the previous lives of the many disciples of the Bodhisatta, and the Bodhisatta himself. In some of the stories, they make aspirations of wanting to be a chief disciple, attendant, etc. of a future Buddha. Many of these aspirations are made to a former Buddha, as done by Ananda: As a prince in a previous life, during the time of the Buddha Padumuttara, he prostrated at the feet of the Buddha and dedicated his merits to the future attainment of the post of personal attendant under a Fully Enlightened One. The Buddha looked into the future and saw that this would be fulfilled under the Buddha Gotama, one hundred thousand aeons in the future.

In this context then, how can we reconcile the time spans mentioned in the canon with what we know from history and pre-history? Even in a very liberal estimate of the span of history and pre-history, modern man has existed for many 50,000 to 80,000 years, and civilization with kings and princes, maybe 5,000-7,000 years, maybe 10,000 years at a stretch. Thus, is the canon only allegorical in this sense, simply showing the need to fully set one's heart to the eventual goal of reaching the deathless, which may take many lifetimes?

Many thanks.
Inedible
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Re: How to reconcile time spans in the canon with history

Post by Inedible »

One of the numbers I recall is 13.82 billion years for the age of the universe and 4.5 billion for our home world. I think the scales in Buddhism might be billions or even trillions of years.
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JamesTheGiant
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Re: How to reconcile time spans in the canon with history

Post by JamesTheGiant »

I take it to mean on other worlds, other planets. Something like that. "Somewhere else."
Clearly it's impossible to have happened on our Earth.

Either that or it's made up.
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robertk
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Re: How to reconcile time spans in the canon with history

Post by robertk »

In a relatively short time this earth and the universe will come to an end. And then a new universe and earth will appear.
It happens over and over.
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Re: How to reconcile time spans in the canon with history

Post by TRobinson465 »

Aeons (kappa in Pali) in Buddhism refers to beyond geological time. we're talking world cycles. So its irrelavent how long civilization on this world is. The Buddha mentioned in that story is supposed to have lived many world cycles ago in which the earth has been being created and destroyed and the cosmos contracting and expanding many times in the interim.
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"Go forth, monks, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the good and the happiness of gods and men. Let no two of you go in the same direction." - First Khandhaka, Chapter 11, Vinaya.
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Re: How to reconcile time spans in the canon with history

Post by Inedible »

A theory I read was that Buddha taught reincarnation because it motivated his audience and Jesus taught immediate reward in Heaven for the same reason. The important thing is to work your path now to the best of your ability without giving up.
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Re: How to reconcile time spans in the canon with history

Post by Dhammanando »

superzach wrote: Tue Apr 13, 2021 7:02 am In this context then, how can we reconcile the time spans mentioned in the canon with what we know from history and pre-history? Even in a very liberal estimate of the span of history and pre-history, modern man has existed for many 50,000 to 80,000 years, and civilization with kings and princes, maybe 5,000-7,000 years, maybe 10,000 years at a stretch. Thus, is the canon only allegorical in this sense, simply showing the need to fully set one's heart to the eventual goal of reaching the deathless, which may take many lifetimes?
I don't myself believe that it would do any harm to take it as "only allegorical". One should note, however, that among the scholastic writers on cosmology in all Indian Buddhist schools nobody did in fact take it that way. Rather, their outlook was informed by an assumption that we might call "geographical eternal recurrence". The basic ideas can be summed up thus:

Each world-system undergoes a periodic destruction and then re-evolves.

The periodic destructions are of three kinds: by water, fire or wind, with wind being the most destructive (i.e. it destroys the greatest number of realms, leaving only the very highest heavens intact).

The human and animal realms, along with hell, the ghost world and the six sensual heavens all get completely destroyed every time.

When re-evolution takes place, everything gets reconstituted exactly as it was before, not just in broad outline but right down to the smallest details. For example, not only will each world-system invariably consist of thirty-one planes, but there will also invariably be a Vejayanta Palace, a Cittalatā grove and a Pāricchattaka tree in the Heaven of the Thirty-three; the Cittalatā grove will invariably have an asāvatī creeper growing in it that blossoms once every thousand years (so that devas can tell the time!); the Mahāniraya part of the hell realm will invariably have a Vetaraṇī caustic river running through it, into which tyrants and abortionists will be reborn; etc., etc.

Likewise with the human realm: it will invariably comprise four great continents with a Mt. Sineru in the middle; the Jambūdīpa continent will invariably be the place where Buddhas will arise; geographically Jambūdīpa will invariably have a Himalayan mountain range with 84,000 peaks, among which there'll always be a Mount Vultures' Peak; the cities will always number 20,000, 40,000, 60,000 or 84,000, among which there'll always be a Benares, a Kapilavatthu, a Sāvatthī, a Rājagaha, etc., etc.

And so from the perspective of geographical eternal recurrence, statements to the effect that the Bodhisatta was once born in Benares 60,000 kotis of kalpas ago pose no problem at all - it would simply mean Benares in one of its former "incarnations".
Anabhirati kho, āvuso, imasmiṃ dhammavinaye dukkhā, abhirati sukhā.

“To not delight in this dhammavinaya, friend, is painful; to delight in it is bliss.”
(Sukhasutta, AN 10:66)
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confusedlayman
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Re: How to reconcile time spans in the canon with history

Post by confusedlayman »

Dhammanando wrote: Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:35 am
superzach wrote: Tue Apr 13, 2021 7:02 am In this context then, how can we reconcile the time spans mentioned in the canon with what we know from history and pre-history? Even in a very liberal estimate of the span of history and pre-history, modern man has existed for many 50,000 to 80,000 years, and civilization with kings and princes, maybe 5,000-7,000 years, maybe 10,000 years at a stretch. Thus, is the canon only allegorical in this sense, simply showing the need to fully set one's heart to the eventual goal of reaching the deathless, which may take many lifetimes?
I don't myself believe that it would do any harm to take it as "only allegorical". One should note, however, that among the scholastic writers on cosmology in all Indian Buddhist schools nobody did in fact take it that way. Rather, their outlook was informed by an assumption that we might call "geographical eternal recurrence". The basic ideas can be summed up thus:

Each world-system undergoes a periodic destruction and then re-evolves.

The periodic destructions are of three kinds: by water, fire or wind, with wind being the most destructive (i.e. it destroys the greatest number of realms, leaving only the very highest heavens intact).

The human and animal realms, along with hell, the ghost world and the six sensual heavens all get completely destroyed every time.

When re-evolution takes place, everything gets reconstituted exactly as it was before, not just in broad outline but right down to the smallest details. For example, not only will each world-system invariably consist of thirty-one planes, but there will also invariably be a Vejayanta Palace, a Cittalatā grove and a Pāricchattaka tree in the Heaven of the Thirty-three; the Cittalatā grove will invariably have an asāvatī creeper growing in it that blossoms once every thousand years (so that devas can tell the time!); the Mahāniraya part of the hell realm will invariably have a Vetaraṇī caustic river running through it, into which tyrants and abortionists will be reborn; etc., etc.

Likewise with the human realm: it will invariably comprise four great continents with a Mt. Sineru in the middle; the Jambūdīpa continent will invariably be the place where Buddhas will arise; geographically Jambūdīpa will invariably have a Himalayan mountain range with 84,000 peaks, among which there'll always be a Mount Vultures' Peak; the cities will always number 20,000, 40,000, 60,000 or 84,000, among which there'll always be a Benares, a Kapilavatthu, a Sāvatthī, a Rājagaha, etc., etc.

And so from the perspective of geographical eternal recurrence, statements to the effect that the Bodhisatta was once born in Benares 60,000 kotis of kalpas ago pose no problem at all - it would simply mean Benares in one of its former "incarnations".
Scientifically and logically everything happens same exactly is mindblowing to me
I may be slow learner but im at least learning...
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