One of my physics professors implied that Buddhism is false because, unlike the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism claims a cyclical cosmology. He argued that since the universe is expanding and its expansion is speeding up, the universe cannot be cyclical.

I was under the impression that the idea of a cyclical universe was carried over from Hinduism into Buddhism implicitly and that the Buddha never made any claims regarding cosmology.

Did the Buddha suggest a cyclical universe?

  • We still don't know much about what happened before Big-Bang. The cyclical universe can very well be a valid model of cosmology. Current Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Roger Penrose is in favor of the Cyclical universe and has proposed a model for this. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conformal_cyclic_cosmology
    – newera
    Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 10:58

4 Answers 4


DN 1 states:

There comes a time, monks, when after the lapse of a long period this world contracts (disintegrates) ...

But sooner or later, monks, after the lapse of a long period, there comes a time when this world begins to expand once again.

This may or may not correspond to the Big Bounce model of physics.

For more info, please read the 2020 Wired article "What If the Big Bang Was Actually a Big Bounce?", by Charlie Wood.

Despite this, if you look at the whole body of the Buddha's teachings, the Buddha discouraged such speculation.

He preferred the seeker to focus on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path that leads to the permanent cessation of suffering (dukkha).

Speculating on the origin of the universe is totally unimportant in Buddhism. Whether it was a Big Bang or Big Bounce or an infinitely existing universe, the validity of the Four Noble Truths does not change in any way.

Please read the wikipedia article on the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow.

In AN 4.77, he taught:

"Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

In AN 10.70, he taught:

As he was sitting there, he addressed the monks: "For what topic of conversation are you gathered together here? In the midst of what topic of conversation have you been interrupted?"

"Just now, lord, after the meal, on returning from our alms round, we gathered at the meeting hall and got engaged in many kinds of bestial topics of conversation: conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not."

"It isn't right, monks, that sons of good families, on having gone forth out of faith from home to the homeless life, should get engaged in such topics of conversation, i.e., conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state... talk of whether things exist or not.


The renowned 20th century Thai monk Bhikkhu Buddhadasa once said:

People language is used by the ordinary people who don't understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so dense that they are blind to everything but material things. Then, there is the language which is spoken by those who understand reality (Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in the ultimate sense. This is another kind of language.

No Religion

About the term "the world" ("loka"), Bhikkhu Buddhadasa said:

Now we shall say something about the word "world" (loka). In everyday language, the word "world" refers to the Earth, this physical world, flat or round or however you conceive it. The "world" as the physical Earth is everyday language. In Dhamma language, however, the word "world" refers to worldly (lokiya) mental states [SN 3.23], the worldly stages in the scale of mental development-that is to say, dukkha. The condition that is impermanent, changing, unsatisfactory-this is the worldly condition of the mind [SN 35.82]. And this is what is meant by the "world" in Dhamma language. Hence it is said that the world is dukkha, dukkha is the world [SN 12.44]. When the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths (ariya-sacca), he sometimes used the term "world" and sometimes the term "dukkha" [AN 4.45]. They are one and the same. For instance, he spoke of:

  • the world;

  • the cause of the arising of the world;

  • the extinction of the world;

  • the path that brings about the extinction of the world.

What he meant was:

  • dukkha;

  • the cause of dukkha;

  • the extinction of dukkha;

  • the path that brings about the extinction of dukkha.

So in the language of the Buddha, the language of Dhamma, the word "world" refers to dukkha; suffering and the world are one and the same.

Taken another way, the word "world" refers to things that are low, shallow, not profound, and fall short of their highest potential. For instance, we speak of such and such a thing as worldly, meaning that it is not Dhamma. This is another meaning of the word "world" in Dhamma language. "World" does not always refer simply to this Earth, as in everyday language.

Two Kinds Of Language

The idea the Buddha taught the physical universe is expanding and contracting is an entire misunderstanding of the Buddha's teachings.

This materialistic misunderstanding comes from the following stock passage in the suttas:

So evaṃ samāhite citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe vigatūpakkilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite āneñjappatte pubbenivāsānussatiñāṇāya cittaṃ abhininnāmesiṃ. So anekavihitaṃ pubbenivāsaṃ anussarāmi, seyyathidaṃ—ekampi jātiṃ dvepi jātiyo tissopi jātiyo catassopi jātiyo pañcapi jātiyo dasapi jātiyo vīsampi jātiyo tiṃsampi jātiyo cattālīsampi jātiyo paññāsampi jātiyo jātisatampi jātisahassampi jātisatasahassampi anekepi saṃvaṭṭakappe anekepi vivaṭṭakappe anekepi saṃvaṭṭavivaṭṭakappe: ‘amutrāsiṃ evaṃnāmo evaṅgotto evaṃvaṇṇo evamāhāro evaṃsukhadukkhappaṭisaṃvedī evamāyupariyanto, so tato cuto amutra udapādiṃ; tatrāpāsiṃ evaṃnāmo evaṅgotto evaṃvaṇṇo evamāhāro evaṃsukhadukkhappaṭisaṃvedī evamāyupariyanto, so tato cuto idhūpapanno’ti. Iti sākāraṃ sauddesaṃ anekavihitaṃ pubbenivāsaṃ anussarāmi


The lineage of materialistic blind scholars in worldly Buddhism (who are the same as how the Buddha described the lineage of blind Brahmins in MN 95) misunderstand and mistranslate the following words from the above:

  • nivāsa, which means "settling place" or "abode" rather than "life". SN 22.79 explains a "nivāsa" is each time the mind clings to one or more of the five aggregates as "self". for example, SN 35.114 refers to Mara's dwelling place or home:

Mendicants, there are sights known by the eye that are likable, desirable, agreeable, pleasant, sensual, and arousing. If a mendicant approves, welcomes, and keeps clinging to them, they’re called a mendicant trapped in Māra’s lair, fallen under Māra’s sway and caught in Māra’s snare (āvāsagato mārassa, mārassa vasaṃ gato, paṭimukkassa mārapāso).

for example, AN 10.20 refers to the "vāsā/āvāsā" of Noble Ones:

There are these ten noble abodes in which the noble ones of the past, present, and future abide. Dasayime, bhikkhave, ariyāvāsā, ye ariyā āvasiṃsu vā āvasanti vā āvasissanti vā. What ten? A mendicant has given up five factors, possesses six factors, has a single guard, has four supports, has eliminated idiosyncratic interpretations of the truth, has totally given up searching, has unsullied intentions, has stilled the physical process, and is well freed in mind and well freed by wisdom....

  • jāti/jātiyo, which refers to a "category or class of beings", which as "farmer", "doctor", "mother", "father", etc. SN 23.2, SN 5.10, MN 98 say such "beings" are mere "views", "conventions" or "verbal designations".

  • kappa, which can mean a "period of time" rather than an "aeon". For example, in DN 16, the Buddha said whoever has developed and cultivated the four bases of psychic power, if they wish, can live on for a "kappa" ("longer period of time").

  • ahara, which per SN 12.63 is four types of "food" (rather than merely physical food), namely, physical food, contact, volition & consciousness

  • cuta, which means to "shift/move" rather than "pass away/die"

  • ūpapanno, which means to "follow from" rather than "rebirth/reincarnation". For example, MN 148, in discussing the matter of logic, says: "Because the eye is seen to arise & pass, it cannot follow (ūpapanna/upapajjati) the eye can be a self/cakkhu attā’ti yo vadeyya taṃ na upapajjati. Cakkhussa uppādopi vayopi paññāyati"

  • vaṭṭa, which means "cycle" or "circle", as described in SN 22.99:

Suppose a dog on a leash was tethered to a strong post or pillar. It would just keep running and circling around that post or pillar. Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, sā gaddulabaddho daḷhe khīle vā thambhe vā upanibaddho tameva khīlaṃ vā thambhaṃ vā anuparidhāvati anuparivattati;

In the same way, take an uneducated ordinary person who has not seen the noble ones, and is neither skilled nor trained in their teaching. They’ve not seen good persons, and are neither skilled nor trained in their teaching.They regard form … feeling … perception … choices … consciousness as self, self as having consciousness, consciousness in self, or self in consciousness.They just keep running and circling around form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness. So rūpaññeva anuparidhāvati anuparivattati, vedanaññeva … pe … saññaññeva … saṅkhāreyeva … viññāṇaññeva anuparidhāvati anuparivattati.

In summary, its all fake news. Probably since King Ashoka attempted to convert India to Buddhism, its been 2,300 years of fake news about Buddhism.


In SN 22.94, the Buddha makes the claim that he doesn't "argue with the world."

“Mendicants, I don’t argue with the world; it’s the world that argues with me. When your speech is in line with the teaching you don’t argue with anyone in the world. What the astute agree on as not existing, I too say does not exist. What the astute agree on as existing, I too say exists. [...]"

The Buddha believes and/or concedes and/or just "doesn't dispute" ancient cosmology because it is something that the Pandits ("paṇḍitā," translated in the above as "the astute") of his time are teaching and he "doesn't argue" with them. Why doesn't he argue with them? What doesn't he "argue with the world" concerning? That is an entirely different question and how we read that will colour how we interpret the entire sutta. If we understand "arguing with the world" and "what the astute agree on" as "contesting ancient cosmology," the Buddha doesn't often do that. If we read "arguing with the world" more generally, we can conclude that some things are irrelevant to the Path and that the Buddha couldn't be bothered disagreeing with them. There is also the Siṃsapa Grove Sermon at SN 56.31:

“In the same way, there is much more that I have directly known but have not explained to you. What I have explained is a tiny amount. And why haven’t I explained it? Because it’s not beneficial or relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. It doesn’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. That’s why I haven’t explained it [...]"


Buddha's teachings about karma and rebirth require a cyclic universe. Only then do they have ample time to take place. Buddha spoke about us being stuck in samsara going round and round for aeons of time, kalpas and kalpas. Our universe isn't even quite 14 billion years old yet. Humans are around only 200,000 years. Even if our universe did come back to a Big Crunch I doubt it would reform exactly as before. Your teacher's religious take on the universe is also wrong.

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