Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Some Buddhist explanations on the origin and existence of the universe

Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud
A flickering lamp — a phantom — and a dream.
Shakyamuni Buddha

( read my previous article in the same category,  “There is no supreme creator god in the Buddha Dharma”)

If Buddhism denies the idea of a creator-god, then how it explains the existence of the various worlds and universes?

First of all, when it refers to worlds and universes, the Buddha Dharma explaines them as places of rebirth, or Samsaric realms. Thus, they are inhabited by unenlightened beings in various stages of spiritual evolution or involution. As far as I know, most of the monotheists give the following argument  in the support of their belief in a supreme creator-god: “if you see a house in a field you ask yourself who built it. In the same way, this complex world is the creation of our god. Anything that exists has a creator”. This is the basis of their belief system, but for Buddhists the matter is wrongly addressed here. Yes, indeed, everything has a creator, but not in the way the monotheists think. I would rather say, every dream has a creator – the dreamer. And who is the dreamer? It is us – the unenlightened beings with our specific individual karma, but also with the collective karma or the karmic connections we create among us.  

The various worlds and universes are intrinsically linked with the beings who inhabit them. So, we can say that the first exist because of the karma of unenlightened beings or in other words, the karma of unenlightened beings is the primary cause for the existence of worlds and universes. Let’s take a look, for example, to the hell realms. Who are the tormentors, “hell wardens” or terrifying beasts who apply punishment to those born there? What is the true nature of the molten bronze, of the fierce mountains, rivers of fire, and various other material elements which are to be found in hells? Are they created by somebody, and do they have an existence of their own? According to the Buddhist teaching they are the manifestation of the evil karma of the hell dwellers, just like the monsters and terrifying places in our nightmares are created by our own thoughts and cravings. In the nightmares, the monsters and the terrifying places are real for the dreamer, and it is exactly so for those reborn in hells.

Thus, there is no creator god who made hell or invented the “hell wardens” to punish the sinners, because the sinners themselves are responsible for the existence of those places. Every thought and action we do is a cause that will have consequences (effects). If we constantly dwell on evil thoughts and deeds, we change our inner world (our mind stream) and we’ll sooner or later be surrounded by an evil and painful outside world (our bodies and the environment). So, after we leave this human form and world, we’ll be reborn in a body and world that will correspond with (is a reflection of ) our minds and karma.
Just like hells are the reflection of the most evil karma of beings, the rest of the planes of existence (animals, hungry ghosts, humans, asuras or demigods, and gods), also appear due to the karma of beings.

Thus, we can say that the six realms of existence, which are described in the sacred texts, are, on one hand, six dimensions of consciousness or six dimensions of possible experiences which manifests in us, individually, as the six negative emotions (anger/hate, greed, ignorance, jealousy, pride and pleasurable distraction[1]), and on the other hand, they are actual realms into which beings are born due to collective karma.
Even while living in our human bodies, we are connected to each realm/dimension and we have in us, the seeds of rebirth into every one of them. Thus, during our lifetime, when we experience different emotions, we participate in some of the characteristic qualities and suffering predominant in other realms. For example, when we are dominated by hate and anger we are like the hell beings, when we are greedy we feel something similar with those born in the hungry ghost realm, whose bodies are tormented by insatiable thirst or hunger; when we think only to satisfy our sexual desires, we resemble more with animals; when we are filled with pride, we enjoy and suffer just like the asuras (demigods) who are always prone to fighting. When we try hard to cultivate moral discipline, but still can’t give up jealousy as the dominant emotion, we may be reborn mentally or physically in the human world. Also, when the five negative emotions (anger/hate, greed, ignorance, jealousy, pride) are to be found in balance and low quantity (this is what is meant by “pleasurable distraction”), and we try even harder to accumulate good karma, we may feel like those  reborn among the gods of the world of desire, and after death we will actually go there. If we try hard to practice various kinds of Samadhi and meditation we can also enjoy pleasures that go higher than material desires, and so after death we can advance to the gods living in the world of form (which is higher than the world of desire) and even further to the gods in the world of non-form, who do not have any attachment to body, and do not even posses a definite body.
In short, there are many experiences that sentient beings can enjoy, from sexual instincts, hate, anger, greed, jealousy, pride, pleasurable distractions, to various absorptions and spiritual pleasures. These can generate even in this life, the states of mind corresponding to the various planes of existence which, after the karmic effect of being born here is exhausted, they will lead to an actual rebirth in a specific plane of existence.  

Of course, these emotions are often found in various combinations inside our conscience, and we are a mixture of hate, pride, sexual desire, avarice, greed, etc, but sometimes our lives can become dominated by a specific emotion, which can thus weight heavier than the rest, and determine our future rebirth. Hitler or Stalin are the perfect example of beings who were dominated by hate and anger which resulted in mass murder. Thus, even if they lived more than fifty years in human form and human dimension, their minds already resembled those of hell dwellers, and I am sure that after their physical death and departure from this realm, their mental continuum was reborn in one of the hells. 

As I previously said, because we are the creators of our emotions, we are too, the creators of the dimensions and realms which correspond with them. Just like in one night we dream of walking in a beautiful garden, because we did some good deeds and had compassionate thoughts toward others during the day, we can also be reborn in a gods realm after a life in which we kept the negative emotions in some kind of balance, but we still could not reach freedom from any of them. Or as in a nightmare in which we are hunted down by fierce animals and monsters, after we were immersed in thoughts of hate and murder for a day or a week, we can also be reborn in various hells, after a life filled with constant killing and angry behavior. As we have in us the potential and seed of every dimension and realm, we alone are responsible for our present and future destiny. No so called “creator-god” has any role in this and no one can be blamed, except us. According to Shakyamuni Buddha, to accept the existence of a creator god would undermine the idea of moral responsibility, as it would mean that the six negative emotions (or the potentiality of having such emotions), which are the cause for the transmigration of unenlightened beings, were also created by him, and so he can be blamed for not making his creatures right:

“He who has eyes can see the sickening sight;
Why does not Brahma [equivalent to creator god idea] set his creatures right?
If his [Brahma] wide power no limit can restrain [if he is omnipresent and omnipotent],
Why is his hand so rarely spread to bless?
Why are all his creatures condemned to pain?
Why does he not to all give happiness?
Why do fraud, lies, and ignorance prevail [if he is omni-benevolent]?
Why triumphs falsehood — truth and justice fail?
I count your Brahma one the unjust among
Who made a world in which to shelter wrong.”[2]

Shakyamuni Buddha also said:

"If a creator god (Isvara) were to determine the life of all beings, including their happiness and misery, virtue and vice, then man is carrying out the commandments of that god. Therefore, it would be god who would be smeared by their actions."

“If there exists some lord all-powerful to fulfill
In every creature bliss or woe, and action good or ill,
That lord is stained with sin.
The human being does but works his will”.[3]

Thus, the realms themselves, the worlds and universes appear due to causes and conditions, which are, mainly, our own karma, just like the beautiful dreams or nightmares appear due to our own thoughts and deeds. Although the entire Samsara with its myriad of worlds, and filled with the six types of beings, appears to be distinct and solid, it is in fact dreamy and insubstantial.  

If a dream is an individual manifestation of karmic traces, in the case of the realms of existence the karmic traces are collective. Because of the collective karma, the beings in each realm share similar experiences in a consensual world. Collective karma creates bodies, senses, and mental capacities that allow individuals to participate in shared potentials and categories of experience, while making other kinds of experience impossible. This is why, for example, some animals can hear sounds that humans cannot, while humans experience language in ways animals cannot[4]. The same can be said for every category of beings from various dimensions of existence and worlds. There is a famous Buddhist explanation which sheds light upon this matter, according to which the same river appear as fire for the hell dwellers, as a hallucination which quickly disappear when approached by a hungry ghost, as a river of water for human beings and as a river of ambrosia for the gods. This clearly shows that unenlightened beings actually see what their karma makes them to see, and live in places where their karma leads them to live - places which themselves are, the manifestation of karmic traces. So, if the same river looks different for different kinds of beings, some drinking from it, while others being burned by it, then which is the true nature of the river? Does it really exist as an independent and distinct material part of the world, or is just an element of the Samsaric dream? If the first would be true, then why the Buddhas, who are the only Awakened Ones, are not hurt nor influenced by it? Thus, we can now see that although it appears substantially and solid for unenlightened beings attached to forms, it is in fact dreamlike and insubstantial for those who see and live in the True Reality or Buddhahood. As Bodhisattva Nagarjuna explained:

“There is no reality in a dream but nevertheless we believe in the reality of the things seen in a dream. After waking up [becoming Buddhas], we recognize the falsity of the dream and we smile at ourselves. In the same way, the person deep in the sleep of the fetters (samyojananidra) clings (abhiniviśate) to the things that do not exist; but when he has found the Path, at the moment of Enlightenment, he understands that there is no reality and laughs at himself. This is why it is said: like in a dream.

Moreover, by the power of sleep (nidrābala), the dreamer sees something there where there is nothing. In the same way, by the power of the sleep of ignorance (avidyānidrā), a person believes in the existence of all kinds of things that do not exist, e.g., ‘me’ and ‘mine’ (ātmātmīya), male and female, etc.

Moreover, in a dream, we enjoy ourselves although there is nothing enjoyable there; we are irritated although there is nothing irritating there; we are frightened although there is nothing to be afraid of there. In the same way, beings of the threefold world (traidhātukasattva), in the sleep of ignorance, are irritated although there is nothing irritating, enjoy themselves although there is nothing enjoyable, and frightened although there is nothing to be afraid of.”[5]

Unenlightened beings are physically and mentally limited by their karma; they are born, they live, die and are reborn again in worlds determined by their karma. They cannot go further than the limitations imposed by their karma, and so they cannot see nor understand that which is beyond their karma. But the Buddhas, who are totally free from the bondage of karma, can move freely in the Samsaric worlds and universes - the collective dreams of unenlightened beings. The Buddhas are not creators of the Samsaric world, just like one person cannot create the dream of another, but teachers and saviors, or better said, awakeners of others. Through various means, that is, various Dharma methods, they try to awake sleeping beings from the Samsaric dream.

Thus, as Buddhists, we cannot say that a creator god made the universe, because that would deny the law of karma, according to which one reaps what one saw – one is reborn in the worlds and dimensions one deserves, together with the beings one deserves to be there (is karmically linked to). As we have seen, we cannot logically accept, in the same time, the law of karma and the existence of a creator god, as the two mutually exclude one another.


            Instead of a creator god, the collective karma of a multitude number of beings is the primary cause and first impulse for the appearance of a new universe. This karma contains all the potentiality of that specific universe, including its general laws of physics. Thus, once it comes into existence from collective karmic causes, then all the laws of physics will follow. These will be responsible, for example, with what actually happens with the planets, changing of seasons, and so on. It is very important to understand that if the collective karma is the primary cause for the formation/apparition of a new universe, not all the things which happen next in that universe is due to karma. For example, when a leaf falls from a tree, or when a rock falls from a mountain, it is not the karma of the leaf or the rock to fall, but the simple law of gravitation. If we happen to walk in the mountain when a rock falls, and we are hit in the head, then that is karma, but no matter we are there or not, rocks and leaves will fall, and planets will revolve around the sun, etc. Thus, once a universe appeared, not everything which happens in it can be called karma. However, I repeat, the impulse and the primal cause which brought that universe into existence is the collective karma of the beings that have the causes for rebirth in such physical conditions.
Various universes may have different laws of physics, because their formation was due to a different karma with different potentialities, so once they are formed, they can developed into different ways than our own universe. Because of that, what we call human beings here, may look totally different in another universe, although the basic emotions and karma which generate rebirth into human dimension is the same.

Neither the law of karma, nor the various physical characteristics that appear in a specific universe, are created by a supreme god. Just like when you spit in the air, it will fall in your face or when you piss against the wind, you will get wet, when you do an evil deed, you will automatically experience (in the same life or one of the next) the same suffering you inflicted on others. These things happen without the necessity that a supreme god gives a command and say, “from now on, if you spit in the air, it will fall on your face, or if you piss against the wind, you will get wet”. So, the law of karma, just like the law of gravity, has no creator, as both exist by themselves. 

Because individuals and various smaller or larger groups of beings make certain choices, and plant certain seeds, they reap various results, which bring them for rebirth in different universes and realms – themselves the effect of those beings collective karma. Thus, the difference among unenlightened beings and the worlds and dimensions in which they live do not have the origin in the will of a creator god, nor they appear from chance, but are the material imprint of individual karma and collective karma. This is a very important teaching which clearly separates Buddhism from the monotheistic religions. In short, the karma versus the will of a god are the two main explanations of the world and the beings living in it that you can chose from, and which defines you as a Buddhist disciple or an externalist (non-Buddhist).

According to the Buddhist teaching, there are an infinite number of world systems where  rebirth[6] takes place. These were classified into three categories:

  1. one small universe, which is traditionally called  “a small one thousand-world”. It consists of one thousand worlds. Each single world (sometimes called “a Sumeru-world”) contains the various realms/dimensions of hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras and gods.
  2. one middle universe, which is traditionally called “a medium one thousand-world”. It consists of  one thousand small universes (or “a thousand small thousand-worlds”).
  3. one large universe, which is traditionally called,  “a great one thousand-world”. It consists of one thousand middle universes (or a thousand medium thousand-worlds).  

These various worlds pass through and endless cycle of formation, existence, destruction, and annihilation after which they are again formed, exist, are destroyed, annihilated, and so on. The four periods of cyclic changes are called “kalpas”:

  1. Period (kalpa) of Formation or generation (vivartakalpa)
  2. Period (kalpa) of Duration or existence (vivarta-siddha kalpa)
  3. Period (kalpa) of Destruction (samvarta kalpa)
  4. Period (kalpa) of Annihilation (samvarta-diddha kalpa)

Each of these periods lasts 20 medium or intermediate kalpas[7] (antara kalpa). Four periods of 20 medium kalpas each, is 80 medium kalpas. 80 medium kalpas is one great kalpa (mahakalpa). So, one cosmic cycle composed of the four periods above is called one great kalpa.

One Buddha may assume responsibility for the spiritual care of one large universe (“a great one thousand-world”), which then becomes that Buddha’s field of action, or “Buddha-field” (Buddhakshetra in Skt). This is also called a “Buddha-land”. The one large universe in which we ourselves live together with many kinds of visible, invisible and non-human beings, is called “Saha”.  The sutras say that an infinite number of such large universes, or Buddha-lands, exist in the ten directions. As they are inhabited by beings in various stages of spiritual development, it should not be confounded with the Pure Land (Sukhavati), which is an Enlightened realm (outside of Samsara) manifested by Amida Buddha.

Of course, not all the worlds and universes appear or disappear in the same time. When one universe is destroyed, another one appears while myriads of other universes are in the duration period. Also, the mind-stream of beings transmigrate through these universes and planes of existence in all the four kalpas, and the period of destruction or annihilation does not destroy them. Thus, even if the bodies they receive according to their karma are destroyed, they are reborn elsewhere, in another realm of the same universe or even another universe. 

It is in the nature of every composed thing, including planets, worlds and universes to appear, grow, decay and dissolve themselves, when the collective karma which brought them into existence is exhausted, then to appear again when another collective karma manifest itself.

This is all I have to say for the moment on the topic of the origin and existence of the universe. I do not intend to enter into more detailed metaphysical analysis, as this was already done by many Masters of the Buddha-Dharma in various treatises[8]. The main reasons I wrote the above explanations was to provide some general guidance on how we should look on the world, and to help my companions on the Buddhist Path to not fall under the influence of non-Buddhist teachings or wrong views that are so prevalent nowadays. However, we should keep in mind that as long as we are unenlightened, our understanding is limited, and so we should wait until we attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land of Amida to have a true and complete vision of the nature of the world. 

Namo Amida Butsu

[1] Pleasurable distraction is the emotional state when the other five emotions are present in equal measure, harmoniously balanced.
[2] Bhuridatta Jataka, No. 453
[3] Mahabodhi Jataka, No. 528
[4] Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Snow Lion, Boston & London, 1998, p. 34.
[5] Nagarjuna, Mahaprajñaparamitopadesa, Chapter XI 
[6] There are four modes of birth: (1) birth from womb, like human beings, some animals and devas (gods) inhabiting the earth, (2) birth from the egg, like birds and fishes, (3) from moisture, like some insects and worms, and (4) spontaneous birth, such as gods, pretas (hungry spirits) and hell-dwellers. I’ll describe in detail, in some next articles, the characteristics of these beings.
[7] A single small kalpa is so long that it can only be described metaphorically. According to one metaphor, it is even longer than the period of time required of a person to empty a walled city full of poppy seeds, one cubic yojana (a unit equivalent to the distance which a royal army can march in a day) in size, by removing one seed every hundred years. According to another metaphor it is the length of time required for a rock, 40 cubic ri in size, to be worn away as a celestial maiden passes over the rock once every three years touching it lightly with its feather robe.
Some scholars say that one kalpa is the equivalent of 1,000 yugas, or 4,320,000,000 years.
[8] Yogācārabhumisāstra (Yugaron) of Master Asangha, Abhidharmakosabhasyam (Kusharon) of Bodhisattva Vasubandhu and Ojoyoshu by Master Genshin, who himself quoted the above mentioned Masters and works, as well as various other sutras and treatises.

4 comentarii:

Camille and Paul said...

Wow Josho, that was fabulous... so well written and put across so brilliantly. I have been reading it with my husband, who is not a Buddhist, and he is finding it totally thought provoking and he is questioning his own beliefs on Monotheism. Thank you so much for writing this. I have printed it out and we have both gained alot from it :)

Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

Greetings, Camille! I am glad that you and your husband found it useful.

I tried my best to explain a basic Buddhist concept, that the Samsaric environment in which we now live is the product of our karma and the inter-related karma of all beings. This impure common karma gave rise to an impure environment which also influences us and in which it is hard to have a true spiritual evolution. We ourselves are sick, our fellow beings are sick and the environment is also sick. This is why we are urged to aspire to be born after death, in the Pure Land of Amida. This land is the healthy enlightened realm of Amida, a suitable environment which is not the product of evil karma but of the pure karmic merits of Amida. Once born in such a sane environment our insanity is cured instantly, our delusions are naturally melt like ice meeting fire, and our true enlightened nature will appear.

May all beings develop the aspiration to go to Amida's Land. Namo Amida Butsu!

Sylvie said...

Deep gratitude for this,
Namo Amida Butsu

Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

Greetings, Sylvie! I am glad you found it useful. Best wishes and
Namo Amida Butsu!