...if not, then who or what is governing these occurrences?

In the Diamond Sutta (see excerpt below) Buddha mentions the previous Buddha as being called Dīpankara Buddha possibly existing around ten thousand years ago. Then came Gautama Buddha and the next Buddha to occur could be Maitreya Buddha. Buddha also mentions here that there have been 84,000 multi-million Buddhas. I have no resistance about the existence of these Buddhas especially since losing the perception of chronological time, but when I observe sentient forms, there is - for the most part - some kind of growth or expansion of some sort happening with no real, tangible or perceivable force behind it.

With such a huge time span between the appearance of Buddhas it's perplexing to see this as either an evolutionary cosmological expansion of consciousness or... somebody somewhere sending in the forces in the same way that a declining school receives a new headmaster to try and rectify the mess.

Is anything regarding this mentioned in any of the major Buddhist schools of thought?

"Furthermore, Subhuti, if a son or daughter of good family, while reciting and practicing this sutra, is disdained or slandered, his or her misdeeds committed in past lives, including those that could bring about an evil destiny, will be eradicated, and he or she will attain the fruit of the most fulfilled, awakened mind. Subhuti, in ancient times before I met Buddha Dipankara, I had made offerings to and had been attendant of all 84,000 multi-millions of Buddhas. If someone is able to receive, recite, study, and practice this sutra in the last epoch, the happiness brought about by this virtuous act is hundreds of thousands times greater than that which I brought about in ancient times. In fact, such happiness cannot be conceived or compared with anything, even mathematically. Such happiness is immeasurable.

Apparently, there are 'ages' that have been defined...

Degeneration

Traditionally, this age [degeneration] is supposed to begin 2000 years after Gautama Buddha's passing and last for "10,000 years". The first two ages are the Age of Right Dharma followed by the Age of Semblance Dharma. During this degenerate third age, it is believed that people will be unable to attain enlightenment through the word of Sakyamuni Buddha, and society will become morally corrupt. In Buddhist thought, during the Age of Dharma Decline the teachings of the Buddha will still be correct, but people will no longer be capable of following them.

  • I'm interested in a range of schools of thought about this. – Suchness Dec 5 at 19:50
  • I can’t answer your question but I’d like to give a personal view... I don’t think there is a somebody/force that generates Buddha’s over vast time spans but rather Buddha’s come about through eventual ultimate understanding. You and I are capable of becoming a Buddha but for me it may take eons compared to you. So I don’t think time spans of Buddha occurrences are quite relevant. – NuWin Dec 5 at 22:45
  • It seems like you have answered by using the words "eventual ultimate understanding" which equates to the 'consciousness' part of the question. Would you be able to expand on this please in an answer? – Suchness Dec 6 at 6:06
  • From the mark downs, it seems like some nerve endings have been rattled. I would be just as interested in the views of those who have marked down as I am in the ones who have attempted to answer the question. – Suchness Dec 6 at 6:11
  • It is said that the Buddha's enlightenment is a cosmic event, and given what it is then so it must be. . – PeterJ Dec 7 at 11:08
up vote 2 down vote accepted

...cosmological evolutionary occurrence?

By 'evolutionary' if you mean a random event as like a 'random mutation in biological evolution', then NO. It's definitely a cosmological event as in, the attainment of Nirvana by a would be Buddha is a Cosmological Phenomena it's not a trivial case of altered consciousness of a Human.

...if not, then who or what is governing these occurrences?

There is No-Self and definitely no higher being controlling anything according to Buddhist Cosmology and Philosophy in general.

The Occurrence of a Buddha

It has vastly to do with two things;

  1. The Karma of the would be Buddha, we are all potential would be Buddhas, our individual Karma will determine who would end up being one. With each act of Kindness and each Unwholesome deed, we birth our future.

  2. The conditions for the arrival of the Buddha should be adequate, for e.g. The Buddha would not have born in say for an e.g. ancient Egypt because people were not into meditation nor would He have found bhikkus to memorise his suttas and pass on, He would not have born in British India or the Islamic India, He will not be born in Antartic or Arctic, etc you get my point. For a Buddha to carry out His operation of teaching the Dhamma to the fellow Humans, the conditions of His arrivals have to meet a certain environment, a milieu.

Finally, ponder upon this simile,

The Buddha used a sea turtle to illustrate the precious rarity of opportunity afforded by our human birth. The turtle example appears in the scripture called in Pali, the Chiggala Sutta that is classified as LVI.48 of the Samyutta Nikaya.

"Monks, suppose that this great earth were totally covered with water, and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole there.

A wind from the east would push it west, a wind from the west would push it east. A wind from the north would push it south, a wind from the south would push it north.

And suppose a blind turtle were there. It would come to the surface once every one hundred years.

Now what do you think - Would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole?"

"It would be a sheer coincidence, Lord, that the blind turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole."

"It's likewise a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state.

It's likewise a sheer coincidence that a Tathagata, worthy and rightly self-awakened, arises in the world.

It's likewise a sheer coincidence that doctrine and discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world.

Now, this human state has been obtained. A Tathagata, worthy and rightly self-awakened, has arisen in the world. A doctrine and discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world.

"Therefore your duty is the contemplation: `This is stress . . . . This is the origination of stress . . . . This is the cessation of stress . . . . This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress."

  • 'karma' and 'conditions' - this perspective is very appealing. Thanks. – Suchness Dec 10 at 6:33
  • "With each act of Kindness and each Unwholesome deed, we birth our future." this reminds me of Cloud Atlas. – user29568 Dec 10 at 16:08
  • 1
    @user29568 caught...LOL... Karma is always watching. – user68731 Dec 10 at 16:21

Deepangkara Buddha was born before Kondangna Buddha but the aeons between the two births are uncountable.

Today I found this which seems to answer this question.

Chiggala Sutta: The Hole

"Monks, suppose that this great earth were totally covered with water, and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole there. A wind from the east would push it west, a wind from the west would push it east. A wind from the north would push it south, a wind from the south would push it north. And suppose a blind sea-turtle were there. It would come to the surface once every one hundred years. Now what do you think: would that blind sea-turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole?"

"It would be a sheer coincidence, lord, that the blind sea-turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole."

"It's likewise a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state. It's likewise a sheer coincidence that a Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, arises in the world. It's likewise a sheer coincidence that a doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world. Now, this human state has been obtained. A Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, has arisen in the world. A doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world.

"Therefore your duty is the contemplation, 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress.' Your duty is the contemplation, 'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'"

  • This translates that as "it's unlikely", and not "it would be a sheer coincidence". In other words, I read that as -- not, "The reason why the Buddha arises is sheer coincidence" -- instead, "It's unlikely that the turtle be reborn a human being at a time when the Buddha had Dhamma-Vinaya have arisen, therefore you should take this rare/fortunate opportunity to practice". – ChrisW Dec 9 at 19:37
  • @Chris - they both read in the same way to me but 'sheer coincidence' is a more fitting translation. I haven't based this on a Pali translation but instead the astonishing occurrence that the turtle would make it through the hole. – Suchness Dec 9 at 19:49
  • I just think it's saying, "A turtle rarely has an opportunity to be born human and to hear the Dhamma: you should take advantage of this opportunity now that you can" -- not, "It was just by luck, random chance, that the Buddha became the Buddha." If you're talking about the (long) time between Buddhas, that's one thing, OK. If you're talking about what causes a Buddha to arrive, I don't think that's intending to say that it's a sheer coincidence or mere randomness (instead I think that the cause of the Buddha's arising was the Buddha's Noble Search for enlightenment and so on). – ChrisW Dec 9 at 19:59
  • @ChrisW - I see now. So it only perhaps partially answers the question. – Suchness Dec 9 at 20:10
  • 1
    Thank you, yes, that's what I meant. It's not that the suttas don't mention past/future Buddhas at all, but, but, I think rare ... even added later, possibly. I imagine that discourse didn't tend towards, you know, past and future Buddhas, while /this/ sammasambuddha was alive and teaching (& re. the conditions for being or becoming a Buddha see also this and the text-analysis which I found when answering this, especially the end about whether people even can become a Buddha). – ChrisW Dec 9 at 20:27

From an academic perspective, these Buddhas are mythical, arguably the universe did not exist yet multitudes of billions of lifetimes ago, and the most realistic approximations we have of all humans that ever lived is around 100 billion.

To some extent, the division in ages you describe mirrors the Hindu concept of Yuga, which also divides the history of the universe into different degrading states: perfect (Satya), diminished virtue (Treta), lethargic (Dvapara) & darkness & ignorance (Kali). This similarity is not surprising: Buddhism first evolved in a region where Hinduism was predominant, and many other (modified though recognizable) Hindu concepts can be found in Buddhist cosmology (like Samsara, Karma and Reincarnation).

The concepts of Samsara & Karma are essential to understanding the reasoning behind these mythical Buddhas. Samsara consists of six realms: Devas (gods), Humans, Animals, Demons (Asura), Hellish Beings (Naraka), and Hungry/Frustrated Beings (Preta). In Buddhism, it is said that only from the human realm one can achieve Buddhahood, because the Devas are too happy, the Asuras too angry, the Pretas too frustrated, etc. Karmically speaking, if you're a Deva, you've gone too far "up the ladder" and must first be reborn as a human before you can attain Buddhahood, etc.

These mythical Buddhas can therefore be considered an expression of the attainability of Buddhahood by humans. Referring to these mythical Buddhas in the texts you quoted emphasizes this attainability, by making the historical Buddha state they came before him and others will follow him, so he is not the first nor the last.

So, in conclusion, the "prime mover" that governs the occurrence of Buddhas can first and foremost be equated to the human condition, subject to Karmic cause and effect.

  • I see. I try not to go too far into intellectualism and speculative fantasy but it seems my conceit may have gotten the better of me in this case. Thank you for your answer. – Suchness Dec 6 at 9:45
  • You're most welcome. It's a perfectly valid question to ask IMHO. I don't understand the downvote. – Codosaur Dec 6 at 9:55
  • Your 1st paragraph is a hypothesis, ok well, an academic hypothesis. How can you use one hypothesis to refute another hypothesis - if the existence of previous Buddhas is a hypothesis to you though not all sharing your assumption. Is your assertion based on the above legitimate? Another, a knowledge acknowleged by an ancient civilization called India, and inherited by Buddhism, does it suffuse to discredit such knowledge? If so, by the same logic, shouldn't the science academia reject Pythagoras, Plato etc., since they were also belonged to an ancient civilization... how narrow is it – Mishu 米殊 Dec 6 at 10:38
  • @Mishu - I don't understand why you see this as "rejection" or "discrediting". All I'm stating is that there are demonstrable similarities between Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. As for your analogy on Greek philosophies, why would the fact that Western philosophies and world view are based on Greek civilization warrant rejection? The fact that something is based on something older is ubiquitous in the human experience (including science, philosophy and religion) and does not diminish the inherited or the inheritor. – Codosaur Dec 6 at 11:05
  • Speaking of "science academia", modern science does contradict or discard ancient science -- not because it's ancient -- but (only) when or if, only to the extent that, the modern understanding is more useful and more descriptive, better agrees with observation (see this "science"-related topic for example). – ChrisW Dec 6 at 12:16

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