Essay, Research Paper: Buddhist Cosmology


Free Religion research papers were donated by our members/visitors and are presented free of charge for informational use only. The essay or term paper you are seeing on this page was not produced by our company and should not be considered a sample of our research/writing service. We are neither affiliated with the author of this essay nor responsible for its content. If you need high quality, fresh and competent research / writing done on the subject of Religion, use the professional writing service offered by our company.

Throughout history there have been many attempts to explain the origin and
workings of our universe. Most every culture has their own cosmogony. Nearly
every individual has his or her own idea of what our universe is. During our
modern era of advanced scientific knowledge, we feel that we have a good grasp
on how the universe works. We have our Chemistry and Physics, along with
Mathematics, to examine the universe with. Any person educated in these fields
will tell you that they know our universe. The point is science in the modern
era is thought to be the correct summation of the universe. We think we are
right. Does this make everyone else wrong? Those that believe in myth over
science, are they wrong? These are some of the questions that I will be
discussing in this essay. I will examine the evolution of cosmological thought
in Ancient Greece (Pre-Socratics through Aristotle). In doing this, I will show
a movement from myth to more science based cosmologies. I will then examine the
Buddhist Cosmology, which is somewhat separated from Ancient Greek thought.
After all of this, I will examine the question of which is more correct, Science
or Myth. Before continuing a clear definition of “myth” needs to be
established. The term myth has multiple meanings. Webster’s II Dictionary,
defines it the three different ways. “1. A traditional story that deals with
supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serve as primordial types in a
primitive view of the world. 2. A real or fictional story that appeals to the
consciousness of a people by embodying its cultural ideals or by giving
expression to deep commonly felt emotions. 3. A fictitious or imaginary person,
idea, or thing.” For the sake of this essay, I would like the second
definition to apply to my use of the word myth. The term myth should not be
thought of as fictitious or primitive. The possibility for the myth to be real
should always be considered. Some of the earliest known philosophies on the
creation of the Earth come from the works of Hesiod. In his Theogony he attempts
to explain the creation of the Earth, and all that surrounds him, using myth. In
the myth Hesiod anthropomorphizes the cosmos. He tells of “Chaos” being the
first to come into being, then he goes on to describe how each of the gods of
the cosmos comes in to being. The gods of the cosmos are all related to some
characteristic of our universe. They can be physical parts or concepts (similar
to Plato’s idea of the forms). For example the line, “Earth first bore
starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an
ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods.”(Theogony, 126) describes both
the act of birth, which is a human characteristic, and physical parts of the
universe being gods (Heaven meaning the stars, and the Earth). He also has gods,
such as Eros, which represents the concept of Love. Two main issues the come up
during discussions of cosmology are how the universe was created and out of what
was the universe created. In the Theogony, Hesiod has the world created out of
gods that are human by nature and to create this universe the gods reproduced.
Hesiod’s theories of the universe can clearly be classified as myth, since
there is no scientific background for it. The philosophers to follow Hesiod
moved slightly away from this. The Pre-Socratics begin to de-anthropomorphize
the universe. Even later, in the works of Socrates and Plato, the universe is
completely de-anthropomorphized. The Pre-Socratics focus more on what the
universe was made of than how it was created. They typically chose a single
element that everything consisted of and tried to explain the world according to
that element. Sometimes these elements were one of the basic four elements;
earth, fire, air, and water. Sometimes they were more abstract such as
Anaximander’s theory. “...The principle element of existing things was the
aperion... it is neither water nor any other of the so-call elements, but some
other aperion nature, from which come into being all the heavens and the worlds
in them.”(Hetherington, pg. 58) The Pre-Socratics based their theories on
insight and observations. For this reason their theories are both mythical and
scientific. Because some of their choices of what the key element is are based
on instinctive feelings, they can be considered myth. On the other hand, they
support their ideas through observations and experience making the ideas
scientific. Science is defined one way in Webster’s II Dictionary to be
“Knowledge that is acquired through experience.” The Pre-Socratics were not
completely scientific because not everything they theorized was based on
experience, but they were not as mythical as Hesiod either. Aristotle’s
concept of the universe was mostly scientific. Since Aristotle was the tutor of
Alexander the Great, he had access to a wide variety of cultures. By gathering
information from all of these cultures, he was able to analyze the world from a
scientific perspective. He came up with four fundamental theses to the universe.
1.) The universe was Geocentric, Earth centered. 2.) The universe contained two
separate worlds, one that spanned out to the moon and it was ever changing, and
another that was from the moon out that was unchanging and made of the fifth
element (ether). 3.) The universe did not consist of any void or empty space
within the inner world. 4.) The only motion of the planets was that of uniform
circular motion around the center of the universe. More important than
Aristotle’s four theses were the scientific methods he used to establish them.
For example, in determine that there was no void, Aristotle argues, “If water
were twice as thick as air, an object should move through water with half the
speed it moved through air. But void with no thickness made such a ratio
nonsense; it meant dividing by zero.” (Hetherington, pg. 99) From examining
the history of cosmology in Ancient Greece, it becomes clear that there was an
evolution away from myth and towards science. What are some of the reasons of
why this could be? A likely answer is that the evolution came about out of an
adaptation to the environment. Ancient Greece was a very volatile area to be a
part of. Greece was established in an area mainly known for warring. A history
of Ancient Greece is mostly a timeline and description of the various types of
war that occurred there. Because of this factor, the need for science increased.
Aristotle spent his time studying the natural environment. By doing so he could
make fairly reliable predictions (some of which we still believe to be true
today) of the physical world. If one can predict the workings of the physical
world, they will have a better chance of succeeding in battle. The constantly
active environment in Greece lead to the development of science, but what
results would we find in a civilization that did not have interaction with
others? To examine this question, I will break down the Buddhist Cosmology and
see the affects of the near isolation from Western civilization. The Buddhist
cosmology is summed up as, “a single, circular world system surrounded by a
mountain of iron… above this circular surface is a series of four meditations
(dhy-ăna) or “meditation realms” as they are generally designated. The
successive divisions of the meditation realms into seventeen heavens mark the
progress of the srăvaka… Detachment from all the mediation realms through the
practice of meditation eventuates in the extinction of nirvăna.” (Kloetzi,
pg. 3) Given this information about the Buddhist cosmology, it is clear that
their world is more focused on the spiritual than the physical. It is described
in a physical manner (mountain of iron), but all of the different stages of the
world are attainable through mediation and spiritual growth. It is clear that
the Buddhist did not believe that the world they were describing was the world
we see with our eyes. They believed that they were describing a world that was
beyond our own perception. The world wasn’t something that we can view with
our senses, but instead it could only be understood through meditation. Buddhist
beliefs about the workings of the universe were also very spiritually centered.
“Everything we apprehend in the world is mere illusion.” (French, pg. 61)
This statement was considered the core truth behind human interaction in the
world. If everything in the world were an illusion, then it would be impossible
to use science to determine the workings of the universe. Science could only be
used to predict how the illusion will act and respond to different situations.
With this concept brought to life, the only thing that could be used to explain
the universe is myth. A Buddhist parable about a man walking through the forest
helps describe their belief of reality in the world. It is summed up as follows.
“A man is walking a narrow path in a sun-dappled forest. Before his on the
path, amid the leaves and streaks of light, he suddenly sees a very large coiled
snake. Shocked and afraid, he noiselessly turns to hide behind a tree and waits,
anxiously aware of the great danger. In time, he ventures a look around the tree
once more and refocuses his eyes. He focuses again. Then he comes back to the
path and stares down at the snake. He sees that it is not a snake but a heavy,
coiled rope in front of him. With a wave of relief, he bends down to pick it up
and finds that the rope, worn with age, disintegrates in his hands into tiny
strands of hemp.” (French, pg. 61) This parable shows the three levels of
reality according to the Buddhist tradition. The first level is that of the
reality we perceive with our senses, the physical world we interact with
everyday. This world is the illusion of the snake. The second level of reality
is still somewhat illusionary. In the second level we will see things as they
relate to the third level of reality. The reasons for the illusion of the first
reality become clear in the second reality. In the third reality the truth is
found. This third reality is on the level of nirvăna and is only reached
through a lifetime, or many lifetimes, of meditation. Multiple lives,
reincarnation, is another important aspect of the Buddhist thought. The idea of
karma plays a major role in the lives of Buddhists. “In Buddhism, an
individual experiences rebirth into this world and begins the volitional
production of both good and bad karma, or lay, which will determine his or her
future rebirth and chances for enlightenment.” (French, pg. 63) To reach
enlightenment is the highest standard for the Buddhists, which might be why nirvăna
is placed on the outer most edge of their world. To reach enlightenment one must
have developed a high level of good karma. Those that do not reach enlightenment
in their lifetime are reborn into the world, and the life given to them is based
on the level of karma they were at when they died. This makes karma not only
important because it is the way to reach enlightenment, but also because it will
provide a better life. After discussing the cosmogonies of different cultures,
we have come across to different methods of thought. These being, myth and
science. We have seen the Greek thought move from myth to science, and we have
seen the Buddhist thought focus in on myth. The question arises, which method of
thought is better or more accurate? Ask an astronomer or a physicist, and they
will probably tell you that science is more accurate. Ask a Buddhist monk or a
Zen master and they might tell you that myth is better (if the definition of
myth is presented to them properly). The physicist will argue that science has
evolved so far that we can accurately predict the motion of the planets, we can
explain the process of recreation, etc. This is a very strong argument for using
science to explain the universe. The Buddhist monk will reply that we only
believe that we know those things and that it is just a part of the illusion of
the first reality. This won’t convince the physicist, but it does open another
door. A person who opens their minds to all the possibilities will not be able
to rule out the idea that everything we perceive could simply be an illusion
presented to us. Science itself could be the illusion. If the entity that set up
the illusion (if there is one) wanted the illusion to be believable, they most
likely would place a set of laws on the illusion to keep it consistent. These
laws could be the laws that we are now discovering and calling science. This is
just one of many possible arguments for myth being the method of explanation of
the universe. A scientist might not agree and say that this argument is
implausible, but their only evidence against it would be the science that has
been declared illusionary. By no means am I stating that myth is the proper
method of explaining the universe. I am merely stating that it, and science, are
possible explanations. Which one to believe in is complete up to the individual.

BibliographyHetherington, Norriss S. Cosmology : Historical, Literary, Philosophical,
Religious, and Scientific Perspectives. New York & London: Garland
Publishing, Inc, 1993. French, Rebecca Redwood. The Golden Yolk : The Legal
Cosmology of Buddhist Tibet. Ithaca & London, Cornell University Press,
1995. Kloetzli, Randy. Buddhist Cosmology. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1983.
Good or bad? How would you rate this essay?
Help other users to find the good and worthy free term papers and trash the bad ones.
Like this term paper? Vote & Promote so that others can find it

Get a Custom Paper on Religion:

Free papers will not meet the guidelines of your specific project. If you need a custom essay on Religion: , we can write you a high quality authentic essay. While free essays can be traced by Turnitin (plagiarism detection program), our custom written papers will pass any plagiarism test, guaranteed. Our writing service will save you time and grade.

Related essays:

When we think of a theocracy, we usually think of a political system, governed and legislated by a religious body with religious beliefs. For the most part this is true. Historically, theocratic gove...
Punishment, is the execution of criminals by the state, for Capital Punishment deters murder, and is just Retribution. Capital committing crimes, regarded so heinous, that this is the only acceptable...
The issue of contraception has been an extremely controversial and debated one in the Catholic Church. The Catholic religion declares that the three requirements for healthy sexual expression include...
Geoffrey Chaucer uses some of the characters in the Canterbury Tales The Prologue in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales to point out his view of what was right and wrong within the Church during his time. He...
Religion / Catholic Worker
It seems that to some people that they give more so society than others, but than there is one woman, who gave her life to society to help others though giving and sharing and helped people through a...