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DN2 talks of many aeons of cosmic expansion and cosmic contraction.

What does this mean in Buddhist cosmology?

Is this similar to Big Bounce in physics?

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What does "aeons of cosmic expansion and cosmic contraction" mean in Buddhist cosmology?

Quoting from Dharma: Its Early History in Law, Religion, and Narrative By Alf Hiltebeitel:


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An "aeons of cosmic expansion and cosmic contraction" is a translation of saṃvaṭṭa-vivaṭṭakappa:

vivaṭṭakappa
masculine
an ascending aeon

and/or:

Vivaṭṭa, (m. & nt.) (vi+vaṭṭa1) 1. “rolling back, ” with ref. to the development of the world (or the aeons, kappa) used to denote a devolving cycle (“devolution”), whereas vaṭṭa alone or saṃvaṭṭa denote the involving cycle (both either with or without kappa). Thus as “periods” of the world they practically mean the same thing & may both be interpreted in the sense of a new beginning. As redupl. -inter. cpds. they express only the idea of constant change. We sometimes find vivaṭṭa in the sense of “renewal” & saṃvaṭṭa in the sense of “destruction, ” where we should expect the opposite meaning for each. See also vaṭṭa & saṃvaṭta. Dogmatically vivaṭṭa is used as “absence of vaṭṭa, ” i.e. nibbāna or salvation from saṃsāra (see vaṭṭa & cp. citta-vivaṭṭa, ceto°, ñāṇa°, vimokkha° at Ps. I, 108 & II. 70).—Fig. in kamma° “the rolling back of k. ” i.e. devolution or course of kamma at S. I, 85.—Abs. & combd with saṃvaṭṭa (i.e. devolution combd with evolution) e.g. at D. I, 14, 16 sq.; III, 109; A. II, 142 (where read vivaṭṭe for vivaṭṭo); Pug. 60; Vism. 419 (here as m. vivaṭṭo, compared with saṃvaṭṭo), 420 (°ṭṭhāyin). In cpd. °kappa (i.e. descending aeon) at D.

... in other words, according to the book quoted above, "a period in which the world is created and destroyed".


The word kappa is usually translated as an aeon. The PTS dictionary says,

-- 2.(temporal) a “fixed” time,time with ref.to individual and cosmic life.As āyu at DA.I,103 (cp.kappaṁ); as a cycle of time=saṁsāra at Sn.521,535,860 (na eti kappaṁ); as a measure of time:an age of the world Vin.III,109; Miln.108; Sdhp.256,257; PvA.21; It.17=Bdhd 87=S.II,185.There are 3 principal cycles or aeons:mahā°,asaṅkheyya°,antara°; each mahā° consists of 4 asaṅkheyya-kappas,viz.saṁvaṭṭa° saṁvaṭṭaṭṭhāyi° vivaṭṭa° vivaṭṭaṭṭhāyi° A.II,142; often abbreviated to saṁvaṭṭa-vivaṭṭa° D.I,14; It.15; freq.in formula ekampijātiṁ,etc.Vin.III,4=D.III,51,111= It.99.On pubbanta° & aparanta°,past & future kappas see D.I,12 sq.paṭhama-kappe at the beginning of the world,once upon a time (cp.atīte) J.I,207.When kappa stands by itself,a Mahā-kappa is understood:DA.I,162.A whole,complete kappa is designated by kevala° Sn.pp.18=46~125; Sn.517; also dīgha° S.II,181; Sdhp.257.For similes as to the enormous length of a kappa see S.II,181 & DA.I,164=PvA.254.-- Acc.kappaṁ adv.:for a long time D.II,103=115= Ud.62,quot.at DA.I,103; Vin.II,198; It.17; Miln.108; mayi āyukappaṁ J.I,119,cp.Miln.141.Cp.saṅkappa.

When used, the word kappa may have a prefix which qualifies it (as in saṃvaṭṭa-vivaṭṭakappa above), which describes what kind of kappa it is. If it doesn't have a prefix it's assumed to be a Maha-kappa (a great kappa, a world kappa, an aeon). Maybe for that reason it's translated "aeon". I'm unsure whether kappa always definitely means long time periods (i.e. longer than a human life).

Even if it does imply a long, long time (which it seems to, both, in general, and in context in this sutta), I don't want to accuse the Buddha of exaggerating or false speech, but people do sometimes describe subjective time loosely or figuratively (e.g. "the bus took ages to arrive").

Anyway, it appears to mean some kind of time period, especially related to life, maybe the life-time of something.

Is this similar to Big Bounce in physics?

I doubt it; and generally I presume that nothing in Buddhist phenomenology is similar to physics.

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"What does this mean in Buddhist cosmology?"

Due to ignorance, everything is subject to construction.

Due to this very same ignorance, everything is subject to decay.

Due to this very same ignorance, everything that decays is subject to (re)construction.

No matter what you choose to observe, as long as it can be observed it stems from ignorance, thus it will always be subjected to this cycle: construction, decay, (re)construction.

Since every thing that exists is subjected to this cycle, even the universe is subjected to this cycle.

"Is this similar to Big Bounce in physics?"

I would say yes. There is no other explanation.

The Buddha meditated and came to the conclusion that I described above. Since he came to that conclusion, he knew that everything is subjected to this cycle, even the cosmos.

Due to ignorance, everything is subjected to construction. Even the universe. That's why it expands. It grows. It wants to grow.

Due to this very same ignorance, it's also subjected to decay. It will not be able to grow indefinitely. Then it will start to breakup, until a point of destruction is reached when it will start to grow again.

Then again it grows and the cycle continues until ignorance is eradicated.

That's the law of nature.

This cycle is suffering. It does not lead to cessation of suffering. That's why we must strive to end it with wisdom.

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Contrary to the translations of Thanissaro & Bodhi, the word 'loka' ('world'; 'cosmos') is not found in the Pali. The Pali is:

anekepi saṃvaṭṭakappe anekepi vivaṭṭakappe anekepi saṃ­vaṭṭa­vi­vaṭṭa­kappe:

anekepi = numerous; countless

kappe = period of time

saṃ = forward

vi = back

vatta = to cycle or circle, as follows:

Just as a dog, tied by a leash to a post or stake, keeps running around and circling around that very post or stake; in the same way, an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for people of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — assumes form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form.

He assumes feeling to be the self...

He assumes perception to be the self...

He assumes (mental) fabrications to be the self...

He assumes consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness.

He keeps running around and circling around that very form... that very feeling... that very perception... those very fabrications... that very consciousness. He is not set loose from form, not set loose from feeling... from perception... from fabrications... not set loose from consciousness. He is not set loose from birth, aging, & death; from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs. He is not set loose, I tell you, from suffering & stress.

SN 22.99


Is this similar to Big Bounce in physics?

The above is a view of materialism, as explained by the Thai monk Buddhadasa, as follows:

People language is used by the ordinary people who don't understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so dense that they are blind to everything but material things. Then, there is the language which is spoken by those who understand reality (Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in the ultimate sense. This is another kind of language.

No Religion

The Pali words materialistically believed to be the "Big Physical Bounce" are about 'monkey-mind', as follows:

Just as a monkey, swinging through a forest wilderness, grabs a branch. Letting go of it, it grabs another branch. Letting go of that, it grabs another one. Letting go of that, it grabs another one. SN 12.61

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