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According to dependent origination I took birth (i.e I came into existence) due to ignorance.

My questions are :how many times it has happened that someone has taken birth into this samsara?

Since when birth of ignorance has been happening?

If there are no answers in the scriptures to the above questions then what is your personal opinion on the issues mentioned above?

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My questions are :how many times it has happened that someone has taken birth into this samsara?

Since when birth of ignorance has been happening?

Buddhism does not answer such questions, since they do not lead to Nibbana. The Buddha said himself, that he teaches only the cessation of suffering.

The questions fall under the Four Imponderables (Acinteyyas), namely the third and forth Acinteyya:

The four imponderables are identified in the Acintita Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya 4.77, as follows:

The Buddha-range of the Buddhas [i.e., the range of powers a Buddha develops as a result of becoming a Buddha];

The jhana-range of one absorbed in jhana [i.e., the range of powers that one may obtain while absorbed in jhana];

The [precise working out of the] results of kamma;

Speculation about [the origin, etc., of] the cosmos is an imponderable that is not to be speculated about.

It's not that these questions are not interesting, they certainly are, but they will not lead one to Nibbana. They will only distract and agitate the mind, leaving it unfit for practice.

If you really want to know the answer to these questions, not only intellectually but experientially, then you have to become a fully enlightened Buddha (Sammāsambuddha).

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According to the Assu Sutta:

There the Blessed One said: "From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. What do you think, monks: Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — or the water in the four great oceans?"

"As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans."

"Excellent, monks. Excellent. It is excellent that you thus understand the Dhamma taught by me.

According to this article, the total amount of tears a person sheds on average in a lifetime is estimated to be 64 litres.

According to this USGS estimation and this article, there is an estimated 1.332 billion cubic kilometers of water in the Earth's oceans. That's 1.332 x 1021 litres.

If I divide that by 64, I get 2.08125 x 1019 lifetimes.

According to the short scale, that's 20 quintillion (20 x 1018).

Hence, according to the Buddha, every person has been reborn at least 20 quintillion times.

However, since the Buddha says that "a beginning point is not evident", I guess that it should be far greater than 20 quintillion times. Maybe a googleplex amount of times.

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    Where did Buddha says that "a beginning point is not evident"? If beginning point is not evident then the world has been manifesting since eternity. – Dheeraj Verma Nov 6 '17 at 16:38
  • @DheerajVerma It's from the first quotation from Assu Sutta: "From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on" – ruben2020 Nov 6 '17 at 21:37
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Very importand question! Why? Because it's required to see the meaninglessness of being a recidivist to actually change ones ways. Such a question and remembering the answer is not one to put aside but to repeat till it bring fruits, till one sees the recidivist clearly! (speech can cause so much... this or that and best.) The question and answer around it teaches not only the terrible size of suffering, but also gives when clear the right amount of effort to stop this foolish recidivist-hood.

Anamatagga-samyutta — The unimaginable beginnings of samsara

"From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries/the death of a father... the death of a brother... the death of a sister... the death of a son... the death of a daughter... loss with regard to relatives... loss with regard to wealth... loss with regard to disease/experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries/...blood you have shed when, being water buffaloes, you had your water buffalo-heads cut off... when, being rams, you had your ram-heads cut off... when, being goats, you had your goat-heads cut off... when, being deer, you had your deer-heads cut off... when, being chickens, you had your chicken-heads cut off... when, being pigs, you had your pig-heads cut off/...arrested as thieves plundering villages, you had your heads cut off... when, arrested as highway thieves, you had your heads cut off... when, arrested as adulterers, you had your heads cut off/... — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released."

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]

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The traditional answer is that you have been reborn countless times. Ordinarily, I do not offer my personal opinion on this website. But only because you asked, based upon my meditation on the evolution of consciousness, this traditional answer is accurate because a sentient being is born with the intelligence of a tiny biological organism. Only by being reborn into a symbiotic relationship with progressively more complex organisms does a being acquire human intelligence.

  • Do you think that tiny biological organisms are lacking intelligence ? Don't they know how to save for the future? Don't they know how to compete for the mate ? Buddha had said that all organism are lacking a self. Realization of no self is the supreme intelligence which is part of every organism. – Dheeraj Verma Nov 14 '17 at 3:24
  • Clearly, I did not say tiny organisms lacked intelligence. Nor did I imply any had a self. I merely said organisms have conscious intelligence. From a scientific point of view, the notions of self and "supreme intelligence" are never considered to be true. Isn't the notion of a "supreme intelligence" a Hindu concept? Would not a "supreme intelligence" be a notion of a supreme god or a supreme self? From the point of view of Theravadin Buddhism, the notion of a "supreme intelligence" is a fantasy. – Ronald Cowen Nov 15 '17 at 8:51
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Where did Buddha says that "a beginning point is not evident"? If beginning point is not evident then the world has been manifesting since eternity.

I'm not sure that "not evident" is meant to imply "infinite" or "since eternity".

Even "5 minutes ago" isn't very evident, at least to me, "500 years ago" is even less evident, and "London and New York" are scarcely evident from here, etc.

It may be better to consider what's akalika -- timeless, eternal, ever-present.

If you're in a court of law and someone tells you that a fact is "not evident", I think that means that there's "no evidence": which I guess implies that it's a question that you cannot answer, perhaps therefore a wrong or useless question (unless you're adding some additional debatable context-specific assumptions, like "innocent until proven guilty" therefore "no evidence implies innocence"; or "everything that ever happened is evident" therefore "if it's not evident then it never happened").

Anyway that's how I reconcile ruben2020's answer ("from an inconstruable beginning") with Lanka's ("the cosmos is an imponderable"). I don't think it's meant as a cosmological or mathematical statement.

  • Logically speaking it remains a brilliant question to ask whether existence has been recurring finitely or infinitely ? If you say finitely then it must have had a beginning. There are only two choices , one of which must be correct. Either the existence has been recurring since infinity or the existence has been recurring for last N numbers. If you say that a beginning point is not evident then it implicitly means that the existence has been recurring since infinity. – Dheeraj Verma Nov 7 '17 at 14:28
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    According to Lanka's answer it's a relatively useless question to ask. IMO the benefit of ruben2020's answer is (only) that although a beginning isn't evident, some cessation might be attainable in the here-and-now ... and the way it's phrased might encourage a feeling of "enough, too much, no more, let's stop." Also, logically, asking a binary question doesn't guarantee that either of the answers is true (e.g. "when did you stop stealing, was it yesterday or the day before?") or the more famous "Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?". – ChrisW Nov 7 '17 at 14:39
  • Unfortunately I also agree with Lanka that it is a relatively useless question before a even more brilliant and practical question and that is " How to end the suffering?" I mean no disrespect to this question.. but I wanted to arrive at some conclusion before giving it up ... may be forever because I realize I should focus on cessation of suffering. – Dheeraj Verma Nov 7 '17 at 14:49
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According to dependent origination I took birth (i.e I came into existence) due to ignorance.

Since when birth of ignorance has been happening?

Dependent origination is a cycle.

You cannot point out a starting point of a circle. There is always a point before a given point in a circle.

Likewise the main cause for the origination of ignorance has been mentioned in dependent origination.

Hence you cannot find the beginning of ignorance.

At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said: "From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on."

~ Assu Sutta, Anamatagga Samyutta, Samyutta Nikaya, Tipitaka

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