1

I'm interested in concepts of infinity, eternity, countlessness, etc. in Buddhist thought.

Could you please help me out with sources, both primary and secondary, where these concepts are used?

I know that there are countless beings, that the world existed forever, that Buddha's knowledge is limitless, that there are countless Buddhas, countless universes. But it is extremely hard to pin down exact scriptures where these concepts are elaborated and to find secondary sources where the issues of infinity and eternity are discussed.

Will be grateful for any help.

Thanks!

3
  • Would an answer which references Pali suttas with words/topics like "eternity" or "infinite time" interest you, or does the mahayana tag for this topic mean you'd prefer no Pali suttas?
    – ChrisW
    Mar 29 '20 at 23:20
  • 1
    I would be very interested in Pali suttas, thank you!
    – Feodor
    Mar 30 '20 at 20:24
1

Questions regarding eternity are considered to lack an answer:

https://www.wisdomlib.org/definition/avyakrita

According to the sutta quoted below, Buddha refrained from answering that type of questions. The reason for this comes from the buddhist notion of anatta, also mentioned below. The concepts are a bit hard to untangle, but this is the gist of it:

How is it, Master Gotama, is the world eternal?”… as above …

“What, Master Gotama, is the cause and reason why, when wanderers of other sects are asked such questions, they give such answers as: ‘The world is eternal’ … or ‘The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’ And what is the cause and reason why, when Master Gotama is asked such questions, he does not give such answers?”

“Vaccha, wanderers of other sects regard form as self, or self as possessing form, or form as in self, or self as in form. They regard feeling as self … perception as self … volitional formations as self … consciousness as self, or self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in self, or self as in consciousness. Therefore, when the wanderers of other sects are asked such questions, they give such answers as: ‘The world is eternal’ … or ‘The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’ But, Vaccha, the Tathagata, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One, does not regard form as self … or self as in consciousness. Therefore, when the Tathagata is asked such questions, he does not give such answers.

https://suttacentral.net/sn44.8/en/bodhi

-1

From the Pali suttas, the first that came to mind is "Assusutta (SN 15.3) -- Tears".

It's translated variously:

  • By Thanissaro Bhikkhu

    From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration.

  • By Ven. Sujato

    Mendicants, transmigration has no known beginning.

  • By Piya Tan:

    this cycle of life and rebirth is without a knowable beginning

The word in question is anamataggoyaṃ about which, I don't know, there's a blog article here: Anamatagga

Translators’ renderings

Translators render it in the following ways:

• ‘The journeying-on as being without beginning and end’
saṃsāraṃ anamataggato (Norman, Thī.v.496).

• ‘This saṃsāra is without discoverable beginning’
anamataggoyaṃ bhikkhave saṃsāro (Bodhi, S.5.441).

Thus anamatagga potentially means:

  1. endless
  2. beginningless
  3. without discoverable beginning

We will now show the problem of these terms, and we will show why we follow PED’s ‘whose beginning and end are alike unthinkable,’ and the commentary’s (ad S.2.178) aparicchinnapubbāparakoṭikoti attho (‘first and last point cannot be determined’).

The translation "without a knowable beginning" is close to my (trained in modern maths) definition/understanding of "infinite" though that may be just a coincidence -- i.e. "infinite" meaning something like "unbounded".


Another reference I think of is SN 44.7 and SN 44.8 (as mentioned in Erik's answer) -- the word translated "eternal" there is sasatta:

Master Gotama, is this right: ‘the world is eternal’?”
“kiṃ nu kho, bho gotama, sassato loko”ti?

See for example Introduction to the Avyakata Samyutta for more about that.


Another sutta, which describes something not literally infinite but pretty large/small, is SN 56.48.


There are also definitions or metaphors of what a kalpa (i.e. an "(aeon)"), is, defined somewhere -- I'm not sure how that's important, though.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.