Very respectfully,i am very much new to this community but have always been interested in Buddhism. I know some people who are Buddhist and they often talk about being one with the universe or being the part of it, literally. How does that work? I mean are we born from universe and when we say the word "universe", what exactly do we mean?

  • The 'tags' imply you'd like answers written from the perspective of "Tibetan Buddhism" and/or "New age Buddhism" -- but excluding other forms/schools/traditions of Buddhism, like Theravada, or Zen -- is that so?
    – ChrisW
    Oct 31 '18 at 15:36
  • No. Sorry i am just new to the forum and would appreciate help with tags. Oct 31 '18 at 15:51
  • No problem. Just, we usually use any of the various school-specific tags ('theravada', 'mahayana', etc.) as a signal that we're looking for answers from the perspective of a specific school or tradition. I don't really know what tag is appropriate for this question, but i'll leave these comments here as a signal that answers are welcome from any tradition.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 31 '18 at 15:55
  • Thank you. For guiding and not down-voting. Oct 31 '18 at 16:00
  • 1
    It depends on how the person thinks, but being one with the universe is just that your aren't a separate being in this world, you exist because of the water, sun, people,.. around you. So you are literally a part of it. To be one with it, I guess is recognizing that there is no separate self.
    – user29568
    Oct 31 '18 at 17:42

"I mean are we born from universe and when we say the word "universe", what exactly do we mean?

The idea (or what is discovered) is that we are in a sense born from the universe (in a way this is obvious) but it may be better to say we are the universe. It could even be said we are not born at all. Even the statement 'we are' would be denied.

If 'Universe' means 'all that exists' then this is not a Buddhist meaning of the word since it would leave out the source of existence. This source would real where all else would be created thus not metaphysically or independently real. The Buddhist 'universe' is bigger than the universe of physics since it includes the totality of Reality and Appearance or both of Nagarjuna's 'two worlds', but also smaller since space-time and its contents would be reducible.

Hence the Buddhist Universe is a fundamental concept where the scientific concept is non-reductive. This would be why Buddhism has a coherent metaphysic while physics cannot find one. How we define 'universe' is therefore important. If we follow the scientists and say it is 'all that exists' we will have no hope of a fundamental world-theory.

  • I don't understand what is gained by stating physics doesn't have coherent metaphysics. Of course it doesn't. Physics is a science, metaphysics is a branch of philosophy. Science uses observation, experimentation and theorizing to discover the true nature of reality, accepting what works without preference and throwing out what doesn't without attachment. It does so by removing the subjective from the observation, as your senses may deceive or only perceive part of the full spectrum. Buddhism considered as a skillful method is much closer to the scientific principle than it is to metaphysics.
    – Codosaur
    Oct 31 '18 at 19:10
  • "If 'Universe' means 'all that exists' then this is not a Buddhist meaning of the word since it would leave out the source of existence." - This is an excellent observation. Form can only exist through no form. It's easy to observe this by noticing that there is space (or distance) and time between forms of the universe. When this is seen as an ultimate truth perception itself becomes superfluous and the 'one' universe becomes neither itself nor the space that defines it.
    – user14148
    Nov 1 '18 at 8:52
  • @Codosaur - Yes, science can function without a metaphysics, but this just proves that science does not study Reality. It studies phenomena that it takes to be real and cannot explain them. I'd agree that Buddhism is a science of mind, as HHDL has called it, but it is also a sound metaphysical doctrine, Metaphysics also proceeds 'without preference and throwing out all that doesn't work without attachment'. .
    – user14119
    Nov 1 '18 at 10:49
  • @PeterJ, the Buddha utterly rejected his teaching to be seen as a doctrine in the Kalama Sutra. It is first and foremost a method. And how does not using metaphysics "prove" science does not study reality?
    – Codosaur
    Nov 1 '18 at 11:05
  • @Codosaur - Quite right. The Buddha left it to Nagarjuna to explain his metaphysics. As for the 'natural' sciences they take phenomena to be real and do not enquire further so end up studying only what Nagarjuna proves does not really exist. This is its methodology and it is effective up to a point. Russell's 'rational' philosophy rejects Nagarjuna and all other views are logically indefensible and so we see total confusion in Western scholastic metaphysics. . .
    – user14119
    Nov 9 '18 at 15:13

You may in fact be asking about "identity view", which is a key concept in the suttas:

For a little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘identity’, so how could identity view possibly arise in them? --MN64

With identity view (i.e., "I am") comes a host of problems. Indeed, you might say that we get a "universe of suffering". MN64 discusses identity view at length. For example, with the notion of self and a corresponding need to perpetuate self (e.g., "I like chocolate") comes suffering (e.g., "GIVE ME CHOCOLATE NOW!").

Without identity view there is no longer a gap between a self and the universe. The self is found to be the gap, the hiccup, the breach in existence. Without identity view there is equanimity, which is often what folks generally mean when they say "one with the universe."

‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, cessation, extinguishment.

There still is chocolate. But the happiness of eating chocolate is no longer a mandate of craving. If you eat the last chocolate, fine. The last chocolate is eaten.


I don't think I'd put it like that ("being one with the universe") but here's my guess as to what that may mean:

  • Buddhism is more about mind than about matter. It's not about Physics (atoms and stars and so on).
  • Buddhism nevertheless claims to describe various laws of nature (see e.g. here), and by understanding these 'laws' (which describe how the world is) we can better attain peace, even lasting peace, liberation.
  • A lot of Buddhism is to do with ethics (see also e.g. here or here), especially to begin with -- of which an example are the five precepts (and I think of the the brahmaviharas too as "ethical") -- hence (by being ethical or virtuous) you might hope for social harmony, being "one" with society
  • The Buddhist "four noble truths" teach that people suffer when they crave for things to be other than as they are -- I first learned that as "craving to have what they don't have, craving to keep what they can't keep" -- the act of not craving for things to be other than as they are, of avoiding a split between "how it is" versus "how I want it to be", is a type of unity. Whereas the opposite (i.e., craving) is a kind of split between the universe and the self, e.g. "the universe says X but 'I' want Y instead" creates a separate 'I'.
  • It's not all apathy, though -- there is such a thing as good and bad, right and wrong, so there is such a thing as "right effort" for example. Part of the way in which you don't crave for things to be other than as they are is to behave well, do good -- and to "purify the mind", maybe to unlearn any bad habits -- so that you have no cause for regret, no remorse.
  • There's some moderation, or "a middle way between extremes", in Buddhism -- e.g. though monks and nuns may be penniless, laypeople hopefully support them with food and clothes and medicine, the necessities.
  • Some Buddhists emphasise that inter-dependence further -- see e.g. interbeing.
  • There's a lot of sensible advice -- for example, "have good friends, good teachers, not bad friends".
  • There are various forms of meditation to calm the mind; and/or to train the mind (to practice better mental activity, for example kindness rather than any anger); and/or to avoid getting upset while the mind is active; and/or to see the world "as it truly is" (perhaps without too much additional mental baggage).
  • There is a "non-self" doctrine or principle (or characteristic) in Buddhism, which maybe long to explain, but perhaps that (i.e. training to be sort of less selfish) is part of being "one".

In Western terms, the usual context for this could be explained as determinism, accepted in its positive sense.

Our default model of life entails this notion of "beings" or "organisms" freely moving in an otherwise deterministic or at least probabilistic universe. These beings are supposed to have a unique ability to act at their own will, as opposed to being moved by the causes and conditions as the rest of the universe.

From Buddhist perspective, this special status of separation is understood to lead to both ethical as well as psychological problems. One simple solution is to abandon the default model and adopt a different paradigm in which our actions are understood to be continuous with the causes and conditions in the objective universe. This is what's generally known in the Western philosophy as determinism.

However, from Buddhist perspective, this perspective is not equivalent with fatalism, which is in fact sharply criticized by the Buddha. Instead, determinism is understood to be the "external" perspective on things, while from the subjective perspective each individual sentient being still has the job of making the best possible choice out of the available possibilities. Indeed, this is the same exact situation as is faced by an intelligent AI-driven robotic agent (or a virtual agent such as an NPC), which has to make decisions about its actions despite being a part of the otherwise fully deterministic environment (the computer system).

So, in Buddhist practice, there is this progression from the initial assuming that one has free-will but in fact being constrained by all kinds of fears and insecurities limiting one's spontaneity and will-power -- to fully realizing that one is an integral part of the fully deterministic system, while at the same time opening up to spontaneity and subjective freedom by breaking through fears and insecurities, and by developing the will-power to counteract the pathological & destructive types of external influences. The resulting state is one where will-power, control over one's mind and mood, a sense of no fear, are co-joined with the fully clear understanding of the deterministic rules governing the universe, resulting in a state of wise, enlightened, optimistic spontaneity of one no longer in conflict with the causes and conditions of the objective universe.

All of the above is not the "High Buddhism", but rather one practical aspect of it that has to be mastered. What I call "High Buddhism", is understanding (and practical realization thereof) that such concepts as "organism", "universe", "all" etc. - are mere constructs that are defined arbitrarily and relatively to whatever axioms and contexts we happen to choose. The very act of defining these concepts places certain restrictions on us, making us bound to operate within the definition of the world framed in terms of such concepts. The "High Buddhism" is clear understanding of how framing the experience affects our sense of what's going on and the possible acts. When this understanding is reached, one realizes in practice that spontaneity vs determinism is in fact an artificial dichotomy that only exists because of the conflict between two theoretical descriptions of how things work. To become actually free from all such descriptions is therefore the necessary step to Final Liberation.

At the end of the day, the state sought by Buddhist practitioners is the unity of harmony with the (deterministic) forces operating the universe -- on one hand -- with subjective freedom to choose our own interpretation of what's going on -- on the other. It's a state of indescribable freedom which is not in any (subjective nor objective) conflict with the way things are.

This is what's understood under "being the part of the universe", according to my studies and experience gained from practice.

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