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I know this is the kind of the question Buddha discouraged to ponder upon with the example of the poisonous arrow.

But after 25 centuries, after what Newton and Einstien and Astronomers and Scientists have bought in light for us, the enormous size of our Universe. It is billions and billions of kilometers across, our earth is a small planet circling an average star which circles an ordinary galaxy on its periphery.

Out in the outer space, there are billions of such galaxies and as far as we know its lifeless, or devoid of intelligent life, like us. And then there is empty space, huge empty space. The nothingness or emptiness of the universe.

And then there is us. A miracle, what sets this question is the paradox of our complexity (biological) against the background of the emptiness of outer space. And here we have reached the conclusion of the first noble truth of Dukkha!!!

Looking at the star-filled night sky, as a Buddhist, how do I make sense of all this?

Universe

  • You ask 'How do I make sense of this'? It seems to me Buddhist practice and study is all about making sense of it. Space and time are described as like an illusion. I find this the only plausible explanation of quantum physics. You might like to read the explanation of QM by physicist Ulrich Mohrhoff (an Aurobindian) or the discussion of space-time by the mathematician Hermann Weyl. Their explanations are consistent with ultimate non-existence of these phenomena and their reduciblity in metaphysics.or experience. . – PeterJ Sep 3 at 11:45
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I find or found Buddhism (Buddhist doctrine and the subject-matter of Buddhism) more interesting or useful than e.g. astronomy or physics, because Buddhism speaks to (is relevant to) the human condition whereas physics doesn't really especially.

I suppose your saying "biological complexity" might be (unwisely) privileging a specific view of self. Scientifically I suppose that "empty outer space" is complex too, especially if you look at very big or very small bits of it. All atoms (including every atom except hydrogen which now makes 'earth' and 'life on earth') were originally created in the interiors of now-gone collapsing stars -- however I find that (fact) to be of passing interest but just not practical.

I think that "as a Buddhist" you might consider the Simsapa Sutta:

Once the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi in the simsapa forest. Then, picking up a few simsapa leaves with his hand, he asked the monks, "What do you think, monks: Which are more numerous, the few simsapa leaves in my hand or those overhead in the simsapa forest?"

"The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, lord. Those overhead in the simsapa forest are more numerous."

"In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven't I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

Having done that, if or when you perceive the universe, the night sky, and/or science, you might perceive it with some equanimity, with good-will, without attachment, and so on.

  • Thank you for this answer. This makes the most sense, that, all that we know from the Buddha is just as much as handful of those leaves and there's just so much more that was not said...and we should attain to Nibbana to know that if at all we want and of everything that is there the Dhamma is all that is needed as knowledge. So this keeps the mystery alive while simultaneously taking us towards Nibbana by following Dhamma. Did I get it right? – user13135 Jul 29 '18 at 16:22
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There may be other intelligent lifeforms out there, as there are billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars surrounded by planets. As physicist, futurist and science communicator Michio Kaku says, ants are not aware of human beings standing near them and looking at them. Similarly, there may be beings far more intelligent than us looking at us right now, but we may not be aware of them.

How does a Buddhist make sense of the billions of galaxies and stars and planets out there?

As we know, none of the planets, stars, galaxies will last forever. Everything dies out eventually, including our whole universe. Apparently, we could be living in a multiverse where there are many universes. An entire universe itself could experience birth and death, what more things inside them. Who knows? There could even be a multiverse of multiverses. But one thing for sure - everything changes and nothing lasts forever.

That's how a Buddhist should make sense of our glorious universe - everything changes and nothing lasts forever. "Sabbe sankhara anicca" - everything that is conditioned and compounded is impermanent.

The Buddhist should also remember one of the Buddha's last words from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta:

vayadhammā saṅkhārā, appamādena sampādetha.
All conditioned things are subject to decay, strive on with heedfulness!

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    Thankyou for the answer. So at the end we should remind ourself that its anicca, anyways... – user13135 Jul 29 '18 at 16:16
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In the Kosala Sutta: The Kosalan the Buddha acknowledges such questions:

As far as the sun & moon revolve, illumining the directions with their light, there extends the thousand-fold cosmos. In that thousand-fold cosmos there are a thousand moons, a thousand suns,... And in that thousand-fold cosmos, the Great Brahma is reckoned supreme. Yet even in the Great Brahma there is still aberration, there is change. Seeing this, the instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with that, he becomes dispassionate toward what is supreme, and even more so toward what is inferior....

For the disenchantment, this remedy:

There are these There are these eight dimensions of [mental] mastery. Which eight? (see sutta)

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    I made a slight edit, because what the disciple is disenchanted with, is the fact that even the Great Brahma, the most supreme of the thousand-fold cosmos, there is still aberration and change. This means that the disciple is disenchanted with the universe that is changing and impermanent. – ruben2020 Jul 29 '18 at 14:59
  • Yes, adding that sharpens the point that even supreme mastery of such knowledge is subject to birth and death and therefore does not satisfy. I'll submit an edit to your answer and delete this one if accepted. – OyaMist Jul 29 '18 at 15:21
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    It's OK. You can maintain your answer. – ruben2020 Jul 29 '18 at 15:24
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    Thank you for the answer. You are suggesting practicle application to get disenchanted by the mystery that is universe. – user13135 Jul 29 '18 at 16:12
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Looking at the stars, you can make sense of it as "seeing... seeing.. seeing...". Because that's the only thing you can be sure of. The entities you assume to exist based on seeing will always be fabrications that you can never sense.

When you think about the billions of galaxies or infinite space etc., you can make sense of it as "thinking... thinking... thinking...". Because that's the only thing you can be sure of. The entities you assume to exist based on thinking will always be fabrications that you can never sense.

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Just ignore it. I dont remember exactly which súthra it is. Our nobel teacher once said dont try to search such things 1. End of the universe. 2. How the karma happens. 3. Life of lord buddha Because knowledge these will not helping you to follow nobel eight path.

  • They're the "unanswered questions", in MN 63 and MN 72. – ChrisW Jul 29 '18 at 9:31
  • If you want to search for answer unanswered questions like this, you woudnt be able to search answers for your own question. Cause this kind a questions are off limits for humans. – PL_Pathum Jul 29 '18 at 9:45
  • I think those are not unanswered, those questions does have answers but humans cannot understand them. Simple as that. – PL_Pathum Jul 29 '18 at 9:49
  • They're "unanswered" in the sense that the Blessed One said (in MN 63) that he did not declare an answer, and (in MN 72) that he did not hold a view or a position. – ChrisW Jul 29 '18 at 9:59
  • For me i realy dont have questions about such a subjects. As long as they are not help me for understanding dhamma, i just ignore them. – PL_Pathum Jul 29 '18 at 10:01
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Out in the outer space, there are billions of such galaxies and as far as we know its lifeless, or devoid of intelligent life, like us.

Well, "as far as we know" is the key point here. It's exactly the fact that the universe is so vast, that it's practically a mathematical impossibility to say we're the only intelligent life form ever existed. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson put it best:

Claiming there is no other life in the universe is like scooping up some water, looking at the cup and claiming there are no whales in the ocean.”

Or Dr. Carl Sagan's "Flatlanders" analogy is another good one about the limitation of humans knowledge. Keeping those possibilities in mind, the questions about the "miracle" or "paradox of complexity" automatically get resolved by themselves.

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I know this is the kind of the question Buddha discouraged to ponder upon with the example of the poisonous arrow.

Exactly. It is a waste of time. We are suffering from illness and world needs to shift attention to the cure as described by Buddha.

But after 25 centuries, after what Newton and Einstien and Astronomers and Scientists have bought in light for us, the enormous size of our Universe. It is billions and billions of kilometers across, our earth is a small planet circling an average star which circles an ordinary galaxy on its periphery. Out in the outer space, there are billions of such galaxies and as far as we know its lifeless, or devoid of intelligent life, like us. And then there is empty space, huge empty space. The nothingness or emptiness of the universe.

In past I had spent some time ,when I was ignorant, thinking about such realities. All such realities are empty. They do not last forever. They are impermanent. They are changeable and perishable and therefore cause of suffering. Earth will get destroyed. Sun , Moon, Stars , Black holes , atoms all will one day get destroyed. Even the nothingness will not be there. As long as you cling to such realities you will keep coming back to existence. Even the laws of Physics are not permanent. There is no beauty in the constitution of Universe. In fact it might be ugly.

And then there is us. A miracle, what sets this question is the paradox of our complexity (biological) against the background of the emptiness of outer space. And here we have reached the conclusion of the first noble truth of Dukkha!!!

If Universe and us is a miracle then it is a ugly miracle. Existence , birth itself is suffering. That conclusion is actually a miracle. We have evolved from simple life to complex life. Complexity of a AI might leave you wondering how they created AI but it was a step by step process. Complexity of music might leave you wondering how they created the music but it was a step by step process. Body is also complex. But do you believe that you exist in the body ? No you don't. Body is without any self. Body is the cause of suffering as it will change and perish. Your craving for the beauty of the body might result in another rebirth. Abandon such cravings.

Looking at the star-filled night sky, as a Buddhist, how do I make sense of all this?

I think as a Buddhist , one would be dispassionate about such empty Dhammas.

  • Thank you for the answer but I think you are being a little pessimistic. – user13135 Jul 29 '18 at 16:25
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There was no such thing as modern day language, the scientific method, Newtonian physics, or higher mathematics during The Buddha's time-period those things seem to have come into existence around the 17th Century.

So there was no possibility of anyone asking The Buddha or any arahant to prove or explain things in modern scientific terms. It's also not exactly clear what certain things in modern terms mean because modern language is different.

However the Pali canons mention all types of concepts that only relatively recently came in:

  • Big Bang and Big Crunch (expansion and contraction of the universe)
  • Time dilation (time moving at a different pace on other worlds)
  • Cyclic model
  • World systems like galaxies

During The Buddha's time he encouraged those with doubt to ask questions.

In modern times if an arahant well-developed in the six higher knowledges or paccekabuddha or sammasambuddha appears they should be able to easily scientifically prove their ideas through modern means if someone challenged them to.

Something like that actually happened when the arahant Kumara encountered an ancient atheist Prince Payasi, here's an exerpt:

"Well, Reverend Kumara, I had friends who followed the right path, who were very good people and citizens in every respect. By any right, as certain Holy men have said, they should have gone to the Heaven of the Thirty Three Devas. Yet, when one of them died, I said to him, "You have always been trustworthy and dependable. Certain Holy men say that, because of your lifestyle and because you followed the right path, you will be reborn in the Heaven of the Thirty Three Devas. If this is so, please come and tell me if it is true, or send a messenger to tell me if it is true. To date, they have neither contacted me nor sent a messenger."

"Hmm. Well, Prince… Consider this. In the Heaven of the Thirty Three Devas, time passes at a different pace, and people live much longer. In the period of our century, one hundred years, only a single day, twenty four hours would have passed for them. Thirty of these hundred year days make up one of their months, twelve such months make a year and a thousand such years is roughly the life span of those born into the Heaven of the Thirty Three Devas. Suppose your friend decided, "I will go back to that unclean world just long enough to deliver my message to the Prince – I shall set out tomorrow. Or perhaps, after I have seen some more of this place, in two or three days, I will set out to go see him." – would he have been able to?"

"Of course not, Reverend Kumara, because, by the reasoning you have given, we should all be long dead by the time he had spent three days there. However, I do not think that those born in the Heaven of the Thirty Three Devas would be so long lived, or that time could pass at a different pace. How do you know about their lifespan or their time?" (DN 23, Payasi Sutta)

The idea of time moving at a different pace on other worlds is something that only recently came in.

But remember there was no such thing as the scientific method or higher mathematics back then so one could challenge an arahant to experimentally prove something like we can now in modern times.

It seems like The Buddha is the only teacher in history who debated in a bold calm fearless manner claiming to know that his ways are true. Still in modern times I don't know if there's any teacher like that.

If someone really is an arahant and also well-developed in the six higher knowledges scientifically proving something should be an easy task for them.

This means in modern times if a skilled arahant or paccekabuddha arises and someone challenges them they should be able to scientifically prove that they are right...it would probably bedazzle and astonish the world...

I wonder however if there really are any arahants that exist in this world...

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