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I keep pondering over the below questions and thought of posting it here.

  1. Is the physical universe(the one we observe with stars, galaxies, black holes etc) contained in the 31 planes of existence or the other way around?
  2. A "ten thousand world systems" imply that there are other universes besides ours, which gives support to the multiverse hypothesis in science?
  3. Are there ten thousand of world systems or infinite of them? Just trying to ponder if its infinite, then imagine the probability of being born as a human and able to understand dhamma, that is mind blowing. That also goes to show the sheer magnitude of samsara.
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  • Just so it's said, the number 10,000 is a bit of a translation error, at least as far as ancient Chinese texts are concerned. It should really have been translated as 'myriad', or 'innumerable', with the sense of a number far too large to count. Interestingly, the word 'myriad' also literally means 10,000 in ancient Greek. That may have had something to do with the limitations of early math devices (abaci or stone-marker systems), where tens of thousands was an upper limit to the tool. Sep 7 at 16:44
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On one hand, we read the following description, explaining further on how the Buddha can shine his light and extend his voice to the billionfold great world system aka the galactic supercluster.

The Buddha said this:

“Ānanda, a galaxy extends a thousand times as far as the moon and sun revolve and the shining ones light up the quarters. In that galaxy there are a thousand moons, a thousand suns, a thousand Sinerus king of mountains, a thousand Indias, a thousand Western Continents, a thousand Northern Continents, a thousand Eastern Continents, four thousand oceans, four thousand Great Kings, a thousand realms of the Gods of the Four Great Kings, a thousand realms of the Gods of the Thirty-Three, of the Gods of Yama, of the Joyful Gods, of the Gods who Love to Create, of the Gods who Control the Creations of Others, and a thousand Brahmā realms. This is called a thousandfold lesser world system, a ‘galaxy’.

A world system that extends for a thousand galaxies is called a millionfold middling world system, a ‘galactic cluster’.

A world system that extends for a thousand galactic clusters is called a billionfold great world system, a ‘galactic supercluster’. .....

“First, Ānanda, a Realized One would fill the galactic supercluster with light. When sentient beings saw the light, the Realized One would project his call so that they’d hear the sound. That’s how a Realized One could make his voice heard throughout a galactic supercluster, or as far as he wants.”
AN 3.80

On the other hand, we read below a description of the "thousandfold world" which matches the other meaning of "world" in the suttas, as discussed in this question. Here, it means "world of mental formations" or "world of mental fabrications" (sankhara loka) - from this answer.

“It is, friend, because I have developed and cultivated the four establishments of mindfulness that I have attained to greatness of direct knowledge. What four? Here, friend, I dwell contemplating the body in the body … feelings in feelings … mind in mind … phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. It is, friend, because I have developed and cultivated these four establishments of mindfulness that I directly know this thousandfold world.”
SN 47.28

Putting these two suttas together, it simply means that the Buddha is able to reach the minds of a billion people by shining the radiance of his personality and extending his voice to them through their senses and through the monastic order and discourses.

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  • The sheer scale of samsara is scary. I was under the impression that the physical universe is a tiny slice among the 31 planes of existence and the other slices correspond to heavens and hells. It's still as confusing as trying to pin point the physical location of Mount meru. Still trying to unravel the cosmos depicted in the Buddhist texts. Sep 8 at 21:56
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"If the mind makes no discriminations, the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence." -from the early Chinese Zen poem The Xinxin Ming

Compare also

"The named is the mother of ten thousand things." -from The Tao Te Ching

It is interesting to look at the soteriological role of numbers in Indian thought, as discussed in this episode of In Our Time: Indian Mathematics. A kalpa in Buddhist thought has been estimated at millions of years, and a maha-kalpa at tens or hundreds of billions of years - appropriate for geological time, the current age of the universe, and the stelliferous era over which stars will form, respectively. But what is notable is these were not presented as exact:

"it would not be equal to a Maha Kalpa" "even that number will be less than the number of passed kalpas" "will be filled even before the kalpa end"

are typical phrasings. So like with the number of realms, I'd say the import here is to understand our situation in general terms, to gain a sense of perspective.

Physics is very much a work in progress, what we are sure of about time and gravity, is that they don't fit with the other forces which we have a nice integrates quantum field of. A fifth force turned up from muon behaviour a few weeks ago. Dark energy and dark matter are big challenges to our picture of the past and future. Yet in 1900 Lord Kelvin declared:

“There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

just five or so years before the beginning of quantum mechanics, and two decades before relativity.

Mixing and matching between physics and Buddhist thought is not I think generally useful. Buddhist thinking forms a coherent whole, best understood in reference to itself, as tools aimed at cultivating awakening.

It is remarkable that Buddhist cosmology seems to have the most accurate timescale from long before Hubble, and point not to an infinite cosmos but one very very large (there are likely a lot more than 10,000 planets with intelligent life in the universe). It is highly well suited to a universe encountering alien species, and to Earth's own animals developing human-level consciousness. But it is better I'd say approached as a way of thinking, rather than as a set of results, or declarations. What I'd say is remarkable, is what is indicated about the power of regular meditation practice to give us good answers to deep questions.

In physics there is no agreement or clarity about the multiverse, the existence of Many Worlds, brane collisions, fracture planes in the E8 mathematical structure, multiple time dimensions, whether the past and future are 'real', whether there are multiple dimensions of time, or why the time dimension behaves differently from space dimensions. Buddhist thought is not waiting for those answers. Like in The Parable Of The Poison Arrow, next to the problem of suffering these are like asking about the material the bow was made from, when we have been struck by an arrow. It may be good to know the poison, to understand why someone might fire such an arrow - but don't forget why: to benefit all sentient beings.

If there is one thing we can be sure of, it is that our words are not sufficient to communicate the understanding of an enlightened person to someone who isn't. The cosmos will doubtless prove stranger and more beautiful than we are even beginning to imagine. I suggest a playfulness about cosmology, an inquiry into it for how it can help us be better. This Kurzgesacht video 'The Egg' is a nice example of how different traditions may have been like the blind men who approached the elephant in different ways.

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In the early Buddhist texts a world is that in the world through which one perceives & conceives the world, eg mind, eye, ear.

A world which is a thousandfold system is thus a perception of a thousandfold percepients.

Special relativity and principle of non-simultaneity do well in explaining why and how it is world.

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