The Buddha’s universe vs western science
Posted on July 9th, 2014

[Buddhist Spectrum] By Karuni Bodhinayake

(Readers are strongly requested to read the contribution by commentators)

Western Science will tell you that the Big Bang marks the beginning of the Universe. But, for the Buddha, the Universe evolves and devolves in an ongoing cycle, with no beginning or ending.

“This is what the Buddha outlines in the Discourse titled Agganna (in the Digha Nikaya)”, says Prof. Suwanda H. J. Sugunasiri, Sri Lankan Canadian Buddhist scholar, outlining his latest research. I met with him recently in Canada.

Big Bang

A century ago, Dr. T W Rhys Davids, a pioneer in Pali Buddhism, saw “a good-humoured irony” in the Discourse. Present day scholars see it no differently. For Prof. Steven Collins of the U of Chicago, USA, it is a ‘satire’ and for Prof. Richard Gombrich, Oxford University, UK it is a ‘parody of an earlier Vedic creation myth’. By contrast, this latest research seeks to establish that the Discourse is a historically and scientifically accurate characterisation of the cyclical cosmic process. “What is called the Big Bang, of 13.5 billions years ago, in fact, is the end, i.e., Devolution, of the earlier Evolutionary phase, bringing in a new Evolutionary phase” says Prof. Sugunasiri, interviewed in Toronto.

So how did the breakthrough come? It was by taking a closer look at the Pali original closely he says. He endeavored to understand the original meaning intended by the Buddha. The first being to appear in the new Evolutionary phase is called Abhassara Satt.

Both traditional and Western Buddhist scholarship consider this to refer to a being in the Abassara Brahma realm. But Prof. Sugunasiri, as a Linguist, with a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, wanted to take a closer look. And he saw a different meaning, translating it literally: ‘hither-come-shining arrow’ (< – + -bh s + sara). But then he asked himself, “What on earth could this be?” “My knowledge of Science could be written not on a pin head but a pin point”, says the Professor chuckling. But it was enough to lead him to the idea that the reference here was to a primordial type of photon, as identified in Western Science.

Photon

So what’s a ‘photon’? It is a ‘quantum of light’, in the words of Einstein, or ‘quantum of energy’. But how did a photon get into the picture? The Buddha hints at it when he talks of an Abhassara Being. In his Teachings, a human being who meditates, and attains the 2nd Jhana, ‘supercalm in knowledge,’ ends up, upon death, in the Brahma world as the Professor puts it. Lucky for them, it looks! At the end of the Devolutionary phase, everything goes up in flames.

Western Science calls it the Big Bang, but the Buddha explains it as scorching seven suns. It’s so hot that humans, animals, plant life, mountains, rivers, etc., of the earlier Evolutionary phase, all come to be burnt down. Happily though, the fire doesn’t reach the Abhassara Brahmaloka!

So it looks like those in the Brahma world wait for things to cool down in the new Evolutionary phase when first it is ‘all water’ (as in the Discourse). A photon can then be said to be a Brahma Being of the earlier Evolutionary phase. Having no human form, an bhassara Being can only be a form of energy. And this is what a photon is.

The photon in Western Science is a mere electrical charge, but in the Buddha’s characterisation, it is ‘mind-made’! This is about a ‘sentient being’, i.e., one with senses, here the mind-sense, he is referring to. It is also said to be, in the Sutta, ‘sky-flying’.

World Evolves again!

But, ‘after a very long stretch of time’, meaning some Kappas as in Buddhist literature, or billions of years by Western calculation, the hot phase gives way to ‘all water’, when everything is ‘blinding dark’. Gradually, the moon and the sun appear, and then the Earth. The Buddha now says, ” The world evolves again”. This, by Western calculation, brings us to 4.5 billion years ago. With the earth beginning to be more vegetation-friendly, there come to be, again over long stretches of time, three types of vegetation, the last being rice.

Beings, of course, don’t just stand around. They evolve alongside evolutionary changes in physical nature. Feeding now on the emerging vegetation, there begins ‘craving’, says the Buddha. Their skin colour and skin quality begin to change, too. Soon the better looking ones disparage the not so good looking, and here now emerges jealousy and hatred! After the lapse of long periods of time, still counted in millions if not billions of years, sexuality matures in women and men (listed in that order). Before long, they come to lust after each other, and engage in sex. Others throw mud and dung at them, calling them ‘filth’. But they build homes to get some privacy, now with families and communities beginning to grow. Some piling up rice in their yards for use later, the poorer ones begin to steal. With craving, jealousy, passion, etc., on the rise, there also comes to be moral decay. So the people come together to elect the first Great Elect (Mahasammata), to deal with the ills of society.

In an overview, covering a period from 13.5 billion (Big Bang) to 150,000 (‘anatomically modern humans’), suggests the following:

1. That the universe goes through a cycle of Devolutionary (samvatta) and Evolutionary (vivatta) Phases.

2. That, there was sentient life in the universe prior to the existence of the earth, this going against the view in Western Science that life began after the earth.

3. That the origins of such sentient life were in space!

4. That with the appearance of the earth there came to exist conditions conducive to sentient life.

5. That over time, to be counted in billions, millions and thousands of years, sentient life culminated in human life (and society, as later in the text).

Western Science is specific as to numbers – billions, millions and thousands of years, in terms of the material universe and plant and animal life. While the Buddha is sketchy in this department, he is more detailed when it comes to human life. The reason is obvious. The Buddha’s description of evolution of the physical Universe is only as a backdrop to the story of how Abhassara Beings end up as human beings. So the Buddha is not talking about evolution just for the sake of explaining the universal flow, but to set in motion the evolution of man in his relationship with nature.

The story of the present Evolutionary Phase takes up only 7 paragraphs of the Agganna Sutta. Following this, the Buddha goes on to point out how while knowing the origins may be wonderful, knowing the Dhamma is better!

Prof. Sugunasiri thus sees the Buddha as a Scientist. In fact, he sees him as improving on Western Science. The Big Bang, for all its scientific claims, suggests a theistic-like first cause. The Buddha’s universe is cyclical, no beginning, no end. We only have to think of the seasons – rain giving into dry weather but turning into rain again. Or the night and day, following each other. The Big Bang itself is the end of the earlier Evolutionary phase, making it the Devolutionary phase. Here then is the improvement on Western Science.

Another feature of the Discourse is that it has a moral dimension, missing in Western Science. It was over five decades ago Sugunasiri left the shores of ‘Ceylon’ on a Fulbright Scholarship to study Linguistics. Today, in his retirement, his research is primarily on the Buddhadhamma. The original scholarly paper (of 87 pages), “Devolution and Evolution in the Agganna Sutta”, appears in the Canadian Journal of Buddhist Studies, Number Nine (2013), available for free download at : <http://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/cjbs>.

He is also the author of a popular treatment of the Abhidhamma, ‘You’re What You Sense: Buddha on Mindbody, 2001 (Sri Lanka: Buddhist Cultural Centre; also online: <https://tspace.library.utoronto. ca/handle/1807/4328>). Another recent (2012) breakthrough research of his is Arahant Mahinda as Redactor of the Buddhapuja in Sinhala Buddhism (also online <https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/33767>, and on YouTube).

Prof. Suwanda H. J. Sugunasiri may be contacted at <[email protected]>.

28 Responses to “The Buddha’s universe vs western science”

  1. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Since the subject of the article is philosophical in nature so should the comment. I see a strong similarity to the Buddha’s teachings of an eternal “cycle” of creation and destruction with the Bronze statue of “Shiva Nataraja” where he is shown with one foot upon the dwarf of ignorance, another foot raised and a hand pointing to it which I believe is meant for the devotee to avoid ignorance. One of his four hands holds the “drum” that creates the Universe (unlike Christians Hindus believe the first aspect of the creation of the Universe was vibrations or “sound” and not light). In the other hand he holds flame the act of the destruction of the universe and in the final hand he reassures his devotees.

    Behind him is the eternal wheel of life shown with intermittent flames to represent the ever going process of destruction and the spaces between them as the times of creation. This closely corresponds to what is described in this article.

    As for the evolutionary aspect of mankind I would like to shift the topic to Islam. In my personal observation Islam as seen today is a “devolving culture”. If one factors in the aspects that make evolution they would include adaptation and innovation while maintaining its own identity. There was a time in the history of Islam where it adapted, invented and borrowed from other cultures. But that period is long dead. Outside of Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and Pakistan (and I am being generous) innovation and adaptation has vitrified in the Islamic world.

    Now in the 21st century the nations that have an industrial, manufacturing base are by and large not Muslim The nations with a research and development segment that propels new ideas are outside of the Islamic world. A classic example is Buddhist Japan who has taken so much from the Western world, created her own research and development and has managed to maintain a healthy Buddhist/Shinto culture at the same time.

    Most of the 50 odd Muslim nations are only wealthy because they export the raw products of their lands and not the finished products of their culture. Very few Muslim nations can boast of a thriving and evolving culture of the arts that are purely Islamic. In cases like Indonesia or Turkey the dances and traditions displayed are from Hinduism and Buddhism. In Turkey a good deal of their culture stems from the Roman era to the Christian Byzantine Empire.

    My concept of an “evolutionary civilization” also and must include the cultural aspects as well. They range from philosophy, music, art, dance, and the plastic arts of painting to sculpture. Without these aspects a culture, a nation and a civilization ceases to live. Instead it starts to vitrify, and eventually become “suicidal” in nature.

    Islam fails to adapt in host nations. It is one of the fundamental flaws of that faith. Those “Muslims” who do adopt to the host nation’s culture stop being “Muslims” in the eyes of the Islamic world. Islam has become so stratified that Wahhabism actually considers the Shiites not even Muslim. In Saudi Arabia Wahhabism has destroyed some of the most revered Islamic holy shrines, many of them belonging to the Prophet Mohammed and his relatives. In this extreme new avatar of Islam it has become “cannibalistic” where by its absolute nature of intolerance is “eating” its own “religious” body be it the Shiites, Sufism and even Sunni to the holy shrines of these various aspects of Islam.

    By failing to adapt, by becoming so absolute in its intolerance to other philosophies, the arts and any concept of Science Islam in the early 21st century is the embodiment of a stagnant civilization whose intolerance has become a liability to itself and to other cultures

  2. AnuD Says:

    Recently passed away Professor Stephan Hawkings had said, I remember, that Big Bang did not have to happen necessarily. Instead that process can occur every moment inside an atom or in similar places. Probably, Quasars are the other end of the Black holes where material is digested and converted in to most basic particles. When the black hole is the destroying component, the Quasar should be the corresponding synthesizing part of the same component.

    When Buddha said that flames won’t reach abassara world, I am thinking not the height of the flames, instead the level of the energy involved. For example, by low energy burning which involves only Oxygen, the material would create Carbon dioxide. That should be a process that involves only the atoms. The process that Buddha describes should be a high energy process in which particles are processed at the very smaller level.

    I think some of the beings that talk about are not the material form that we are in. that should be the reality at least to the atomic or molecular forms that we are in. For example, think about beings who can NOT stay where there is light.

    Buddha had said that Buddha could not see where the life begins. I understand that as it is difficult to where the consciousness exactly begins. In science, no one has tried to explain why superstrings start evolving into other particles and energy etc., etc., Even when we try to understand what exactly life is (virus, bacteria et., )obscure at one point. At sub atomic level, the charge should be the consciousness and it evolves into many different concepts in living beings.

    As some one mentioned in Lanka Web, I also don’t believe that all the western theories alone can explain (charles Darwin, De Wries etc.) the human evolution. There should be more.

    In western science, it says, as the observers, where ever we stay in the universe, that point becomes medain or the center to which every other point has equal distance of approximately 14 billion light years. that seems fishy. There should be a another explanation to that. Only thing is we can not understand the universe that is not evolved. As we are part of the evolved universe, we can understand only the corresponding part. Universe should extend to where only the uncompounded energy or matter exists. But, that is not relevant to us. Buddha has also told us not to try to understand the universe. Instead look into oneself in order to understand every thing.

  3. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    People should not try to compare science with Buddhism without proper understanding the latest development in Science. According to latest research Big Bang marks the beginning of the Multi-dimensional Universe i.e. only the space and time (including other eleven dimensions). Before big bang there is a condition called Singularity. Singularity is the condition with force of energy concentrated into a single point, a pseudo condition with only single dimension, without time and space in it. When is it created?
    In addition, there are possibilities of multiple universes, then, what is in between them? Should it be the singularity again? So Beginning and end of singularity is unknown yet.
    Perhaps, what Buddha says is correct and fully in agreement with science.
    There is a possibility of consciousness also residing in the single dimensional singularity. Now scientists believe when you are in deep sleep (non-REM) your consciousness leaves the four dimensional time and space. That is the main reason why you lose your coordinates as well as your sense of time during your deep sleep. As soon as you wake up, the first thing you are trying to do is to re-establish your coordinates in the space (your exact location) and get your body back into the time.

  4. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    and that help your consciousness to move from one universe to other. so your consciousness is not limited to one universe. It is an inter-universe Phenomenon .

  5. Ratanapala Says:

    All there is, is Consciousness and All things are Mind made!

    If we start with the two Buddhist Postulates: All there is Consciousness and All things are Mind made, I believe everything in existence can fall into place.

    All theories Newtonian, Einsteinian, Quantum theories are cause and effect observations and generalisations thereof. They are as Prof Nalin de Silva says are stories that show to a degree of accuracy an underlying truth, but not the truth itself. The model the Earth is at the centre of the Universe, gave way to All planets revolve around the sun as a better model! Today we have advanced these model based realities to predict what is observed with very high accuracy with what is called the Standard Model – which includes the Big Bang, Inflation, Dark Matter and Dark Energy all assumptions, not verified, but which neatly predict observed phenomena in the dualistic phenomenal world.

    What Buddhism brings in are those that are not in the phenomenal world,those not explainable by linear Aristotelean logic, but many dimensional Chatuskotic Dharmas of the Noumenon.

    The Universe or beyond are just appearances in our conscience: just like the words we write on our computer screen – just appearance coloured by our own likes, dislikes and prejudices. Nothing more. We are just strands of consciousness moving hither thither depending on the energies we impart on it through our volitional acts past and present. It is a circular world with no beginning nor end!

  6. Nanda Says:

    To extend NeelaMahaYoda’s sentence I would put it like , people should not try to compare science with Buddhism without proper understanding the latest development in Science as well as a deep understanding of Buddhism.

    It is more difficult to understand Buddha’s words than science for which you could use your intelligence. Buddha’s word need wisdom to understand, completely outside the box.

  7. douglas Says:

    The reference to “BIG BANG” is merely to explain how a natural “cause” takes place and a “effect” emerges. That “effect” in turn will be the “cause” of another “effect” and the process goes on and on. So, in keeping with this explanation, the “arising” of the “earth” and “life” that emerged with natural changing process has been attributed to the “Explosion” termed “Big Bang”. This, according to science is “expansion”, due to “movement” and resulting in “explosion” due to “collision”. This, I believe, is the very basic theory of “origin” of planets and constellations and in it this planet termed “earth” is in the “Milky-Way”. In like manner there are thousands and thousands of constellations in the Universe and such formations are taking place, if measured in time and space, in seconds and minutes. As presently revealed through “Hubble Telescopic” images, some of the constellations that we see now have been formed perhaps millions and millions of years ago. Such is the vastness of this subject of “Universe”.

    On the other hand, I cannot understand why we are toiling so hard to explain a “Philosophy” and a “Teaching”a “way of life” such as Buddhism making use of “Science” and “Scientific Theories” that are continually changing and are subjected to “revisions”. Are we trying to “prove” Buddhism through “science” a subject that is ever changing and revised with every new finding? I think even Lord Buddha has said: “it is futile to attempt to see the origins of universe and other extra terrestrial realms; but more helpful to form a life style to seek freedom from sufferings”. It is therefore my view to look at Buddhism from the angle of making our life better and better for the duration of its existence on this planet.

  8. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    wonderful feedback from so many commenters. One more observation I would like to add is that the universe as we know it was created from an infinitesimally small and dense substance. the “big bang” then went onto create a massive Universe from what we now know. it maybe much larger than this and as NeelaMahaYoga pointed to “multiple universes” which then brings the issue of dimensions. Lets save that for another subject

    Considering everything is made up of atoms lets study the atom. It is made up of an energy field that is its “shell”. There is no real substance that makes the atom but that energy field. Within the atom is a vast space leading to its nuclei. In that nuclei we have the electrons, Protons, Neutrons and Quarks. Within that nuclei is sufficient space for this particles to move around. They cannot even be detected except in a “particle accelerator”, especially the elusive “quark”. Yet the energy released when atoms are split can level down a city as in a nuclear bomb or if they are fused can greatly increase the amount of energy released.

    But the strangest thing of all is that all matter be it organic or not and be it the most densest material as in Titanium to the material from a “white dwarf” is basically mostly made up of space. I noticed many questions to the relevance of modern science and Buddhism. In my opinion there is plenty of relevance.

    Science as we know it sprung out of religion. Astronomy, mathematics, linguistics or Phonology etc. sprang out of the need to build religious structures, chart charts, measure time as a process of explaining the divine. Science and religion have been intertwined for most of our history. The findings of Hypethia, Galileo, Newton, Darwin etc.(leaving out Aryabhata & Brahmagupta) was to refute the norms of of Christianity that the world was flat or that the sun revolved around the world.

    Both concepts are perfectly understandable and would meet the basic tenets of the common sense of any human. The earth is flat if one was to look at the horizon and the sun looks like it does revolve around the world.

    If the Buddhist world is to “evolve” and advance it has to incorporate science through the eyes of a Buddhist. Those “Buddhist” eyes are one of the most open to new concepts, highly enlightened and is quite adaptable to the evolution of man.

  9. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    One more point on Multi universes and dimensions. One possible theory is that could two objects occupy the same space? If it is in different dimensions then yes. two universes could occupy the same space and do not have to be “next to each other” If one factors in multi dimensions.

  10. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    One final point. As an artist working with statues made of stoneware (a form of very hard clay) to paintings I can personally write that the idea of ‘art” is mostly conceptual in nature. The execution of any piece of art involves all the laborious process of an engineer, mathematician, carpenter etc. It is a tedious process that once completed it then praised as a piece of art.

    When one considers all the art of the ancient world, most of it is related to religion. From the Sistine Chapel to the Ajanta caves. from the statue of David to the Bamyan Buddhas the artist or artists first had to work as “carpenters”, use the unflattering sciences of mathematics, measurements, and think as one in order to produce the end result.

    We often forget the tedious process of classic art as “modern art” often does not involve much technical work but the sheer expression of the artist. Recently in Sotheby’s an artist sold a unkempt bed (including ruffled sheets, disheveled pillows, a blanket that has been hastily thrown back and a tray of cigarette butts) for 4.4 million pounds. This is called “conceptual art”. The artist did not have to think much to do this piece of “art” and the modern world is quickly forgetting that it took artists for most of our civilization to create some of the greatest masterpieces a great deal of technical scientific work in order to create these wonders of our civilization.

  11. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    No life seems to have happened suddenly upon earth. The efforts made by many religions to explain the beginning and the end of the universe are indeed ill-conceived. The position of religions which propound the view that the universe was created by god in an exactly fixed year, has become a difficult one to maintain in the light of modern and scientific knowledge. The speculative explanations of the origin of the universe that are presented by various religions are not acceptable to the modern scientists and intellectuals.

  12. Nanda Says:

    No matter what happens what is important to well being of the individual is how he perceives “the world” or his/her “world”. We create each “world” of ours and it is of utmost importance to each of us. Man has tried various ways to keep himself comfortable and happy.
    Buddha’s teaching is to teach us how to go beyond the world ( or worlds we create). It is “Lokottara” reaching what is taught. Therefore arguments and counter arguments of Buddhism as a philosophy or a metaphysical truth applied to the world is purely FOOLISH.

  13. AnuD Says:

    I don’t agree with the concepts that we make in our minds when we say that conscious is mind -made or we can move from universe to universe. There may be different universes with respect to different particle realities. I think, those all exist at the same place at the same time. Some of the beings that we talk in Buddhism live in those particle realities. that is why we can not seem them.

    Some Scientists had said that both the Universe and the brain work as holograms. In other worlds, a very little part of brain has all the information of the brain as well as a little part of the universe has all the information in the universe.

    That explains the saying “you can see the whole universe in one sand grain” as Lord Buddha instructed “instead of running around looking for edge of the universe, look within you and find the universe” make sense.

    I say, sub atomic or atomic charge is the consciousness at that level which evolves into consciousness which is very diverse in our understanding.

  14. Dr.K Says:

    I have heard a funny story of a group of blind people describing how an elephant looks like. I wonder if that story was to hint about so called scientist who are blind of modern science and trying to explain Lord Buddha’s teaching?

  15. douglas Says:

    Dr.K: Well said. “……so called scientists who are blind of modern science….” Exactly. The scientists who do not admit that the subject of science of today will be “old” as it progresses with new studies and “findings” are not “Scientists”.

    What a “fuss” these educated people are trying to do to Lord Buddha’s teachings? If I remember, in this very web page, there was an article titled “Protect Buddhism from the Educated” written by Nalin De Silva. This title explains what is going on and what the dangers ahead are.

  16. Nanda Says:

    Douglas,
    People need some therapy to understand Buddha.

    1. Sense restraints
    2. Ability to keep mind at one object
    3. Develop wisdom

    Before going on 3 steps they must listen to a good noble friend to gain some right view, roughly.

    Those buggers with zero sense restraints trying to criticize Buddha and attack Nibbaana and try to teach Sinhala Buddhist Hinduism.

    Actually, drug users can attain Samadhi and bliss but they get addicted to the drug. Why ? No sense restraints.

  17. douglas Says:

    Nanda: You said well and in the “language” these self styled “Padiths” would understand. As of me, I admit my “dismal failure” to convey as forcefully as it should be.

    As you have correctly identified, the land where “Nirmala Buddha Teachings and Sasana” existed is fast fading away by the very actions and practices introduced by the so called “Buddhist Priests” who have introduced “SINHALA BUDDHIST HINDUISM”. Come to Sri Lanka NOW. These days you can find “MASS SCALE POOJAS” conducted in temples to offer blessings by reciting “Gathas and Slokas” of both Buddha and Devas to students who are to sit the GCE (A) Level examinations beginning on August 5th. In a famous temple, the parents drop a note with the name of the student and the subjects offered together with Rs. 200/- into a box and the “KANNALAUWA” (Praying) is done over the “Loud Speaker”.

    Then there are more interesting “Buddha Dhamma” practices undertaken by various organizations headed by “Buddhist Monks”. One such is the “Practice Class” held to “achieve” “Sothapanna” and “Sakodagamin” and the “funniest” part is all the participants are issued with “Certificates of Achievement”. This is NOT FREE mind you. You have to “PAY” for the “class” and the “certificate”.

    These comments would be out of point of the subject dealt in the article above; yet I must thank you again for giving me the opportunity to expose the “SINHALA BUDDHIST HINDUISM” that had PLAGUED the country.

    So instead of attempting to “Prove” Buddhism via Science, these scholars must devote time and energy to RESURRECT “Nirmala Buddha Dhamma” from these “UNSCRUPULOUS VAGABONDS”. That should be the CALL of their academic achievements.

  18. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Nalliah Thayabharan: You bring up a very pertinent point. Generally one assumes that out of order comes chaos. One seldom if ever assumes that order could come out of chaos and that is exactly what took place if one was to accept the Scientific postulation of the “big bang”. That act is the very definition of “chaos” and yet what emerged out of that chaos is “order” or a Universe governed by a set of universal laws ranging from gravity, mass, and symmetry.

  19. AnuD Says:

    I think the objective of this article is to read the PDF file about Aganna suttha which had been published in the Canadian JOurnal of buddhist studies. I think the author of this article expect some input with respect to that article and not what we know or any thing related to that.

    Please read the article and provide some comments.

  20. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Before we begin to compare Buddhist philosophy with Science we should wonder whether we, as humans, will ever be able to understand our cosmos and the complexities within it.

    In understanding science we normally adopt the model-dependent realism which is based on idea that our brain interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. This has also been explained in Buddhist philosophy specially in Abhidamma too. But there may be different way in which two different realities explained by two different individuals.

    This remind me of well known Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant- Jainism and Buddhism. Udana 68-69:
    A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, “Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?”
    The Buddha answered, “Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, ‘Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind… and show them an elephant.’ ‘Very good, sire,’ replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, ‘Here is an elephant,’ and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.
    “When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, ‘Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?’
    “Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, ‘Sire, an elephant is like a pot.’ And the men who had observed the ear replied, ‘An elephant is like a winnowing basket.’ Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.
    “Then they began to quarrel, shouting, ‘Yes it is!’ ‘No, it is not!’ ‘An elephant is not that!’ ‘Yes, it’s like that!’ and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.
    “Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.
    “Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing…. In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus.”
    Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift,
    O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
    For preacher and monk the honored name!
    For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
    Such folk see only one side of a thing.

    Based on this concept brought us the candidate for the ultimate theory of everything called M-Theory. As Professor Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinnow mentioned in their book “The Grand Design” M-Theory is not a theory in the usual sense. It is a whole family of different theories, each of which is a good description observations only in some range of physical situations.M-Theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather , these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law. They are a prediction of science. Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states at later times, that is, at times like present, long after their creation. Most of these states will be quite unlike the universe we observe and quite unsuitable for the existence of any form of life. Only very few would allow creatures like us to exist. Thus our presence selects out from this vast array only those universes that are compatible with our existence.
    Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of cosmos, this makes us a sense the lords of creation.

    The distinction between cosmos and universe allows us to assert that the cosmos has no beginning and no end, while the universe can have had a beginning and could presumably also have an end.

    Gravitational singularity (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
    A gravitational singularity occurs when an astrophysical model, typically based on general relativity, predicts a point of infinite curvature. The term is closely related to the mathematical meaning of “singularity”: a gravitational singularity occurs when the equations produce a mathematical singularity.
    The Big Bang cosmological model of the universe contains a gravitational singularity at the start of time (t=0). At the “Big Bang Singularity,” the model predicts that the density of the universe and the curvature of space-time are infinite. However, the basic Big Bang model does not include quantum effects, so its predictions are valid only shortly after the projected singularity.
    A singularity also exists within a black hole, where general relativity predicts a region of infinite curvature. In a non-rotating black hole, the singularity occurs at a single point in the model coordinates, and is called a “point singularity”. In a rotating black hole, the singularity occurs on a ring, and is called a “ring singularity”. Rotating black holes are sometimes referred to as Kerr black holes.
    Until the early 1990s, it was widely believed that general relativity hides every singularity behind an event horizon, making naked singularities impossible. This is referred to as the cosmic censorship principle. However, in 1991 Shapiro and Teukolsky performed computer simulations of a rotating plane of dust which indicated that general relativity allows for naked singularities. What these objects would actually look like is unknown. Nor is it known if singularities would still arise if the simplifying assumptions used to make the simulation tractable were removed.
    Many physicists believe that gravitational singularities are “unphysical”, meaning that general relativity ultimately ceases to be an accurate description of gravity somewhere in the vicinity of what would otherwise be a singularity. It is generally assumed that a theory of quantum gravity – a theory that unifies general relativity with quantum mechanics – will provide a better description of what actually occurs where general relativity predicts a singularity. However, no theory of quantum gravity has been experimentally confirmed to date.
    Nonlocality
    Nonlocality describes the apparent ability of objects to instantaneously know about each other’s state, even when separated by large distances (potentially even billions of light years), almost as if the universe at large instantaneously arranges its particles in anticipation of future events.
    Nonlocality suggests that universe is in fact profoundly different from our habitual understanding of it, and that the “separate” parts of the universe are actually potentially connected in an intimate and immediate way

    For example, if a pair of electrons are created together, one will have clockwise spin and the other will have anticlockwise spin (spin is a particular property of particles whose details need not concern us here, the salient point being that there are two possible states and that the total spin of a quantum system must always cancel out to zero). However, under quantum theory, a superposition is also possible, so that the two electrons can be considered to simultaneously have spins of clockwise-anticlockwise and anticlockwise-clockwise respectively. If the pair are then separated by any distance (without observing and thereby decohering them) and then later checked, the second particle can be seen to instantaneously take the opposite spin to the first, so that the pair maintains its zero total spin, no matter how far apart they may be, and in total violation of the speed of light law.

  21. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    NeelaMahaYoda: you first state “Before we begin to compare Buddhist philosophy with Science we should wonder whether we, as humans, will ever be able to understand our cosmos and the complexities within it.” and then within your comment you also state: “The distinction between cosmos and universe allows us to assert that the cosmos has no beginning and no end, while the universe can have had a beginning and could presumably also have an end.”.

    I am assuming that you are differentiating between the religious concept of “cosmos’ and the Scientific concept of “Universe”. If so the Hindu Vedas start with the words Neti Neti or a lose translation “I do not know, I do not know”. From that point the ancient Hindu sages postulated on the cosmos as they visualized it. the massive oral and literary works that came from such postulations are some of the most elaborate and complex set of philosophies of any religion

    Be it the cosmos or the Universe I doubt if man would ever fully understand it from the limited knowledge we have of it to date. that limited knowledge however is vast and rapidly growing. Humans are the only species to break free from the confines of the earth’s environment and venture into environments hostile to it. Man has also developed the capability to take this environment that sustains him and duplicate it on the surface of other celestial bodies including space itself.

    Whether we understand the physical universe or the divine cosmos in total may not be our goal but to attempt to do that is obviously our goal. In a catch 22 situation as we understand or realize more of the physical universe or the divine cosmos we also evolve by that knowledge which in turn propels man to desire more. By achieving more we continue to evolve. the whole process maybe as endless or timeless as the divine Cosmos or the physical universe.

  22. Nanda Says:

    People,
    You can investigate Science and the worlds and world systems.

    DO NOT MIX THIS UP WITH BUDDHISM , before you follow these steps after listening to a good noble friend to gain some right view.

    1. Sense restraints
    2. Ability to keep mind at one object
    3. Develop wisdom

  23. Nanda Says:

    I remember 3 or 4 friends at a party were arguing heavily on Buddhism. I asked them why are you carrying a beer or wine glass in hand while trying to teach each other Buddhism.

  24. Wickrama Says:

    Aren’t we all like those “blind men” trying to describe Buddhism/Science ? Different descriptions without actually knowing the exact truth?

  25. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Nanda: I agree that Buddha did not advocate the consumption of alcohol but nations like Japan who have developed traditional alcoholic drinks like Sake do not believe they are violating the principles of Buddhism when they consume Sake. One simple truth of the Buddha was “nothing in excess” or “follow the middle path”. To drink a glass of wine verses being drunk by drinking wine is case of moderation to excess. The Buddha taught us that it is the use and practice of excess that causes problems. He himself tried many extreme measures to find the path to Nirvana. Only when he gave up these extreme measures did he reach his goal. At least that is my concept of life through the eyes of the Buddha.

    Wickrama: What is the exact truth?

  26. Wickrama Says:

    Mr. Wijeyasingha,
    Nobody knows the “exact truth”.
    For example, when you say, ” One simple truth of the Buddha was “nothing in excess” or “follow the middle path”, there is no clear definition of what moderation or the middle path is. They differ to some extent depending upon the person, his/her environmrent, knowledge etc.

  27. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Dear Bernard Wijeyasingha
    When I said “The distinction between cosmos and universe allows us to assert that the cosmos has no beginning and no end, while the universe can have had a beginning and could presumably also have an end”, I was referring to scientific sense of (the true sense) of Universe and Cosmos. Not the philosophical sense. Since Big Bag is considered to be not a unique event it can be repeated many times producing many more universes within the Cosmos, there may be a clear distinction between the universe and cosmos in reality.

    Again all these scientific definitions and hypothesis are based on mathematical and experimental investigations and as I explained in the M-theory, it may not be the whole truth and it may be a part of the truth applicable only to a set of specific conditions.
    As quoted in the Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, I still wonder whether we will ever be able to understand our cosmos and the complexities within it unless we get some divine help.

    But certainly there are some cohesive features shared between the Buddhist philosophy and the modern science specially in the field of cosmology. This theory has already been elaborated recently by a well-known Professor Chandra Wickremasighe when he gave his annual Vesak day talk at the Buddhist Vihara in London last year
    This is the main reason why I have quoted the definition of the most intriguing features in Modern science- the Gravitational singularity and Nonlocality in my last post.

    The Buddhist concepts such as cosmic consciousness (Lokuttara Citta), reincarnation or the transmigration of consciousness, Paticcasamuppada can easily be justified and realized through these modern scientific concepts.

    Take for example paramattha dhamma in Abhidamm. Citta, the Cetasikas, and Rupa are conditioned realities. They arise because of certain conditions and disappear when those conditions cease to sustain them. Therefore they are impermanent and possibly has quantum energy fluctuations of an entangled quantum field (i.e changes with time or exist in the time domain). In modern science these conditions can be classified to be within the space and time domain (in Buddhist terms they are classified to be within Impermanence kamaloka)

    However, Nibbana is an unconditioned reality. It des not arise and therefore does not fall away and it does not exist in the universal space and time domain. It is a condition similar to cosmic Singularity condition defined in the theoretical physics by modern scientists. The universal physical laws, such as gravity, energy, electro-magnetism etc can not be applied, i.e. deterministic laws that govern the universe will break down under singularity.

    CITTA – CONSCIOUSNESS is the Science’s biggest mystery. It is not that we possess bad or imperfect theories of human awareness; we simply have no such theories at al in science..
    According to Abhidamma Citta -Consciousness is fourfold:1.Consciousness pertaining to the Sensuous Sphere (kamavacara) 2.Consciousness pertaining to the Form-Sphere (rupavacara)3.Consciousness pertaining to the Formless-Sphere ( arupavaca ra )4.Supramundane consciousness (lokuttara)
    Lokuttara CITTA: ( “Loka” means five aggregates. “Uttara” means above, beyond or that which transcends.) Lokuttara Citta CONSCIOUSNESS is the supra-mundane (beyond universe) consciousness that enables one to transcend this world of mind-body (from the Space and Time domain) into the types of consciousness that directly accomplish the realisation of Nibbana.

    The feature of Nonlocality in quantum physics can easily be applicable to the cosmic consciousness and this phenomaena can describe the apparent ability of objects to instantaneously know about each other’s state, even when separated by large distances (potentially even billions of light years), almost as if the universe at large instantaneously arranges its particles in anticipation of future events.
    Finally, I reproduce a prominent Einstein quote on Buddhism floating around the web;
    Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.

  28. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Wickrama: Thank you. I too share your conclusions.

    NeelaMahaYoda: Sorry for the misunderstanding but even if it is not a philosophical approach as I thought you were inferring my conclusion to your comment still holds. Thanks again.

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