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Are Therevada's cosmology and the Mahanaya's sutras physically, rather than only psychologically, plasusible?

I read about the former in the abhidharmakosabhasyam, about all the hells and heavens that await us. And the Mahayana sutras often include reference to e.g. celestial bodhisattvas.

I'm skeptical that these things have physical, rather than psychological, truth, empirical (we've this heaven) or otherwise (we have evidence that these heavens exist). As with with classical georgraphy, and history. My specific question is:

  • do we have good reason to believe that physics will end up allowing a Buddhist timeline of events?
  • If you're sceptical (as I am) about all the gods, dragons, gandharvas, kimnaras etc. which appear in Mahayana sutras, then just look on them as symbolic. – user10515 Apr 18 '17 at 18:27
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Buddhism is a definite, and it is the same Dhamma preached by all Buddhas. Popular science is always changing with new theory replacing old ones. But having said this some similar theories have emerged:

Also might be of interest:

  • I suppose one may wonder about multiverses we don't, and maybe never will, have a physical theory of. That we can imagine strange heavens, does not mean that they must exist, IMVHO, but it leaves that door open, whatever time it could open. So I accept your answer, I think it's a good one tbh – user3293056 Feb 2 '17 at 7:43
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There are two ways in which physics could disallow a Buddhist form of cosmology:

  1. A law of nature which creates measurable predictions in our universe (the human realm of existence) is discovered, and this law contradicts a prediction of Theravadin cosmology.

  2. We gain the ability to measure new phenomena such as interactions with another realm or measuring a beings' mindstream. With these new measurements we can test a prediction of Theravadin cosmology and find that the prediction is false.

For the first point, Theravadin cosmology doesn't contradict any known laws (e.g. conservation of energy or non-decreasing entropy). Does Theravadin cosmology make any further predictions about things which we can measure but don't yet have a complete theory of? If so then there's a chance we could develop our theory and find Theravadin cosmology to be impossible. If not then we can't use this approach to question Theravadin cosmology.

For the second point, we really have to speculate about what we might or might not be able to measure in the future. Because this is based on speculation I don't think this counts as a good reason to believe that physics will end up allowing a Buddhist timeline of events.

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Relational quantum mechanics is the mathematical description of co-dependent origination in my opinion, really neat too. It doesn't prove the cosmology but does seem to point to the accuracy or the main insights of the Buddha.

If you are talking about the cosmology word for word (like Digha Nikaya 27) then it would be a stretch - a lot of conceptual construction. The inflation/deflation Universe is cool though, and sounds like https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bounce..

The Multiverse interpretation of QM (somewhat essentialist), gives for an interesting take on transmigration, in that the 'copies' can't be said to be either the same or different to each other.. Seems like a plausible image of transmigration to me.

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The question: "Are Therevada's cosmology and the Mahanaya's sutras physically plasusible?" is impossible to answer & outside of the scope of Buddha-Dhamma, which is described as:

This Dhamma is to be seen here & now, immediate, inviting inspection, pertinent, to be realized/verified by the observant for themselves. MN 38

SN 35.23 states:

The eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, mind & mind objects. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain and would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.

The various realms in the Pali suttas include psychological examples therefore obviously this is all that can be known. For example:

It is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the world, the origination of the world, the cessation of the world and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the world. AN 4.45


And what is the origination of the world? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging. From clinging as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. This is the origination of the world. SN 12.44


Follow not the vulgar way; live not in heedlessness; hold not false views; linger not long in worldly existence. Blind is the world; here only a few possess insight. Only a few, like birds escaping from the net, go to realms of bliss. Lokavagga


Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect. And what is the cause by which kamma comes into play? Sense contact is the cause by which kamma comes into play. And what is the diversity in kamma? There is kamma to be experienced in hell (niraya), kamma to be experienced in the realm of animals ( tiracchānayoni), kamma to be experienced in the realm of the hungry shades (pettivisaya), kamma to be experienced in the human world (manussaloka), kamma to be experienced in the world of the devas (devaloka). This is called the diversity in kamma. AN 6.63


I have seen, bhikkhus, the hell named ‘Contact’s Sixfold Base.’ There whatever form one sees with the eye is undesirable, never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable. Whatever sound one hears with the ear … Whatever odour one smells with the nose … Whatever taste one savours with the tongue … Whatever tactile object one feels with the body … Whatever mental phenomenon one cognizes with the mind is undesirable, never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable. SN 35.135


Here, Udayi, the bhikkhu secluded from sensual desires and thoughts of demerit abides in the first jhana: Overcoming thoughts and thought processes and the mind in one point internally appeased, without thoughts and thought processes abides in the second jhana. Again with equanimity to joy and detachment, feeling pleasant with the body too, abides in the third jhana. To this the noble ones say abiding in pleasantness with equanimity. Udayi, this is the course of actions, for realising the world of only pleasant feelings (ekantasukhassa lokassa).MN 79


Bhikkhus, there are three kinds of persons found existing in the world. What three? (1) “Here, bhikkhus, some person generates afflictive bodily activities, afflictive verbal activities, and afflictive mental activities. In consequence, he reappears (upapajjati) in an afflictive world. When he reappears in an afflictive world, afflictive contacts touch him. Being touched by afflictive contacts, he feels afflictive feelings, exclusively painful, as in the case of hell-beings. (2) “Someone else generates unafflictive bodily activities, unafflictive verbal activities, and unafflictive mental activities. In consequence, he reappears in an unafflictive world. When he reappears in an unafflictive world, unafflictive contacts touch him. Being touched by unafflictive contacts, he feels unafflictive feelings, exclusively pleasant, as in the case of the gods of refulgent glory. (3) “Still another generates bodily activities that are both afflictive and unafflictive, verbal activities that are both afflictive and unafflictive, and mental activities that are both afflictive and unafflictive. In consequence, he reappears in a world that is both afflictive and unafflictive. When he reappears in a world that is both afflictive and unafflictive, both afflictive and unafflictive contacts touch him. Being touched by both afflictive and unafflictive contacts, he feels both afflictive and unafflictive feelings, mingled pleasure and pain, as in the case of human beings, some devas, and some beings in the lower worlds. These, bhikkhus, are the three kinds of persons found existing in the world. AN 3.23


Sensual desire… ill-will (anger)… sloth & drowsiness… restlessness & anxiety… uncertainty is an obstacle, a hindrance that overwhelms the mind and weakens wisdom… when a monk has not abandoned these five obstacles… for him to understand what is for his own benefit, to understand what is for the benefit of others, to understand what is for the benefit of both, to realize a superior human (manussa) state (dhammā), a truly noble distinction in knowledge & vision: that is impossible. AN 5.51


Sooner, I say, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole than the fool who has gone once to the nether world would regain the human state. For what reason? Because here, bhikkhus, there is no conduct guided by the Dhamma, no righteous conduct, no wholesome activity, no meritorious activity. Here there prevails mutual devouring, the devouring of the weak. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, they have not seen the Four Noble Truths. What four? The noble truth of suffering … the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering. SN 56.47


Bhikkhus, a god, a human or any other good state would not be evident from actions born of greed, hate and delusion. Yet, bhikkhus, from actions born of greed, hate and delusion a hellish being, an animal birth a ghostly birth or some other bad state would be evident. AN 6.39


Bhikkhus, these two bright principles protect the world. What are the two? Shame and fear of wrongdoing. If, bhikkhus, these two bright principles did not protect the world, there would not be discerned respect for mother or maternal aunt or maternal uncle’s wife or a teacher’s wife or the wives of other honored persons, and the world would have fallen into promiscuity, as with goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, dogs, and jackals. But as these two bright principles protect the world, there is discerned respect for mother… and the wives of other honored persons. AN 2.9


Now on that occasion the wanderers of other persuasions had come together in a gathering and were sitting, discussing many kinds of bestial (animal) topics, making a great noise and racket. AN 10.93


Beings (sattā) are few who, when they pass away from the animal realm (tiracchā­na­yoniyā) are reborn (paccājāyanti) among humans (manussesu)… those beings are more numerous are reborn in hell…. For what reason? They have not realised the Four Noble Truths. SN 56.102 to 131


There are these four kinds of generation. What are the four? Egg-born generation, womb-born generation, moisture-born generation and spontaneous generation. What is egg-born generation? There are these beings born by breaking out of the shell of an egg; this is called egg-born generation. What is womb-born generation? There are these beings born by breaking out from the caul; this is called womb-born generation. What is moisture-born generation? There are these beings born in a rotten fish, in a rotten corpse, in rotten dough, in a cesspit, or in a sewer; this is called moisture-born generation. What is spontaneous generation? There are gods (devā) and denizens of hell (nerayikā) and certain (ekacce ca) human beings (manussā) and some (ekacce ca) destined to suffer (vinipāta); this is called spontaneous generation. MN 12

  • i've edited the question to clarify – user3293056 Jan 22 '17 at 1:17

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