Agganna Sutta

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Agganna Sutta

Postby clw_uk » Mon Feb 02, 2009 7:00 pm

"There comes a time, Vasettha, when, after the lapse of a long, long period, this world died. And when this happens, beings have mostly been reborn into the Realm of Radiance [as devas]; and there they dwell, made of mind, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, traversing the air, continuing in glory; and thus they remain for a long, long period of time. There comes also a time, Vasettha, when sooner or later this world begins to re-evolve. When this happens, beings who had deceased from the World of Radiance usually come to life as humans...now at that time, all had become one world of water, dark, and of darkness that maketh blind. No moon nor sun appeared, no stars were seen, nor constellations, neither was night manifest nor day, neither months nor half-months, neither years nor seasons, neither female nor male. Beings were reckoned just as beings only. And to those beings, Vasettha, sooner or later after a long time, earth with its savours was spread out in the waters, even as a scum forms on the surface of boiled milky rice that is cooling, so did the earth appear."


This extract from the sutta is sometimes taken to show that the Buddha was teaching the evolution of life on earth, I however have difficulty in this interpretation as the Buddha wouldnt take up a metaphysical view point about things such as origin of life etc, but I cannot come to another conclusion as to what the buddha meant by this teaching.

Whats is everone else's interpretation of this sutta?
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby piotr » Mon Feb 02, 2009 7:06 pm

Hi,

clw_uk wrote:Whats is everone else's interpretation of this sutta?


bhante Ṭhānissaro, in his The Paradox of Becoming, has nice take on it. :reading:
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby Jason » Mon Feb 02, 2009 7:39 pm

clw_uk,

clw_uk wrote:
"There comes a time, Vasettha, when, after the lapse of a long, long period, this world died. And when this happens, beings have mostly been reborn into the Realm of Radiance [as devas]; and there they dwell, made of mind, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, traversing the air, continuing in glory; and thus they remain for a long, long period of time. There comes also a time, Vasettha, when sooner or later this world begins to re-evolve. When this happens, beings who had deceased from the World of Radiance usually come to life as humans...now at that time, all had become one world of water, dark, and of darkness that maketh blind. No moon nor sun appeared, no stars were seen, nor constellations, neither was night manifest nor day, neither months nor half-months, neither years nor seasons, neither female nor male. Beings were reckoned just as beings only. And to those beings, Vasettha, sooner or later after a long time, earth with its savours was spread out in the waters, even as a scum forms on the surface of boiled milky rice that is cooling, so did the earth appear."


This extract from the sutta is sometimes taken to show that the Buddha was teaching the evolution of life on earth, I however have difficulty in this interpretation as the Buddha wouldnt take up a metaphysical view point about things such as origin of life etc, but I cannot come to another conclusion as to what the buddha meant by this teaching.

Whats is everone else's interpretation of this sutta?


Here is something I wrote about this elsewhere:

    In our modern world, science has given use the means to test our beliefs about the world, regardless if they appeal to our own sense of logic and reason. When Buddhists have the conviction that the Buddha was in possession of profound knowledge, knowledge even of the workings of the universe, this conviction is strengthened when science provides evidence to support what we are told the Buddha discovered. In the Agganna Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, for example, we are given a cosmological view of the universe in which the universe is in a continually state of expansion and contraction, but this view of the universe is not as solid as it once seemed.

    Although in the Aganna Sutta the Buddha tells a story about the beginning of life on this world, in the end, the story was used to illustrate how Dhamma is best in this world and the next, and that the way to liberation is beyond caste and lineage. While some people like Prof. Gombrich believe that this Sutta is a lively and ingenious parody, others take it quite literally. I have always been of the inclination to view it both ways; however, if science could prove that the universe was indeed expanding at an increasingly accelerated rate, I would seriously have to rethink my view of the universe. In general, I have found that the concept of a continually expanding and contracting universe to be in line with reason as well as the evidence provided through scientific means. I have admittedly been pleased that the Buddha appears to be correct in this assertion as well. There has been, however, certain evidence provided by the scientific community in recent years that seems to suggest that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate. If, in the future, more evidence proves this to be more conclusive and accurate, what would that mean in relation to the Buddhist cosmological view; how much of our understanding is contingent upon this literal interpretation of the cosmological view, et cetera?

    The main question really comes down to what becomes of Buddhist cosmology in general if the facts happen to support that the universe is indeed expanding at an increasingly accelerated rate. In most traditions of Buddhism, this cosmology plays an important role in explaining Buddhist concepts such as kamma and rebirth, the thirty-one planes of existence, nibbana, et cetera. How are these concepts supposed to be understood if science contradicts the cosmological view of the universe in which everything is in a continually state of expansion and contraction? Should the thirty-one planes of existence, for example, be understood as purely metaphorical descriptions of mental states as opposed to actual realms where beings are reborn based upon their actions? In addition, if people like Prof. Gombrich are correct in that the Agganna Sutta was actually meant to make fun of the very need for a cosmology as a foundation for religious development, then as John Holder notes, "it has the unfortunate side effect of opening the doors to endless debate about which parts of the Pali Canon are allegory and which are to be taken literally" (source).

    Whatever the truth may be, I think that there are many possibilities that could account for a literal interpretation of the continual expansion and contraction of the world as described in the Agganna Sutta. Who can really say that it is not possible, or even what the exact nature of our universe is like? The fact is that much of what we know through science is limited. Since the discourse begins as a story about the beginning of life on this world, it is not unreasonable to posit that the Buddha was merely using the story itself to illustrate his point to his audience; however, that does not mean that the story was simply concocted with no factual basis. I think what is more intriguing to me is whether stories like these evolved to counter the prevalent wrong views of the time, or whether they contain actual first-hand knowledge of the way in which our physical universe works. I suppose that I have leaned more towards agnosticism when it comes to this particular subject — choosing instead to focus on how these teachings relate to the workings of the mind, and in particular, the arising of suffering and the cessation of suffering — nevertheless, I feel that it is important to have a clear picture of the context in which the Buddha was teachings in order to avoid misconceptions about those teachings.

    While I agree with Prof. Gombrich that the basic principles of Buddhism are not affected by intellectual enquiry into the history of Buddhist texts and the development of the religion, such an enquiry can have a tremendous impact on how certain teachings are to be understood, and more specifically, the context in which these teachings are provided. Prof. Gombrich is of the view that we can discover the objective meaning of these ancient texts as opposed to the relativistic view that the meaning of a text has no inherent meaning apart from that ascribed to it by each reader or generation of readers. I think that this idea is definitely one worth exploring.

Jason
Last edited by Jason on Tue Feb 03, 2009 1:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby Will » Mon Feb 02, 2009 8:49 pm

I have no problem taking the sutta literally. Similar genesis stories of godly beings degenerating into mankind are found in other ancient cultures.

By the by, Elohim, Ida Wells library link to Agganna Sutta no longer works. Too bad, they had a great selection of suttas & sutras.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby clw_uk » Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:07 pm

Thanks for that post Elohim :thumbsup:
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby Jason » Tue Feb 03, 2009 1:34 am

Will wrote:By the by, Elohim, Ida Wells library link to Agganna Sutta no longer works. Too bad, they had a great selection of suttas & sutras.


Thanks for pointing that out, Will. I have replaced the dead link with an active one (although it is in pdf format).
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby Jason » Tue Feb 03, 2009 1:34 am

clw_uk wrote:Thanks for that post Elohim :thumbsup:


No problem.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby son of dhamma » Wed Dec 22, 2010 8:56 am

For this explination to make sense, you must regard it within the context of the entire Pali Canon, meaningfully the Adhidhamma.
As these beings continually pass away into lower planes, whilst the world-system is forming during the evolution phase, the material of the solar-system is forming the sun and the planets. Remember that the brahmas do not percieve the light of the sun, they see by their own light which they radiate from their fine-material bodies. When the world finally becomes visible to them, and the darkness clears, and the sun appears, there is the world and the savory nutriment spread on the water. They partake of it and continue to become grosser. Whilst this is happening, the nutriment is developing into mold, fungi, plant-life, and subsequently the degenerating beings are partaking in these things and diversifying, and they develop sex. At last, the beings who've become animals become gross organisms at the bottom of the ecosystem, and consecutively this beings follow up into the humans. Thus the stable biological ecosystem is formed into the continued evolution phase.
Hopefully that was helpful? To me, this is clearly what the sutta is explaining.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:01 am

son of dhamma wrote:For this explination to make sense, you must regard it within the context of the entire Pali Canon, meaningfully the Adhidhamma.
Better is to regard it within the context of its Brahmanical background. Like a lot of Brahmanical things found in the Pali suttas, the Buddha works them over to give them a Dhammic twist, kamma being the prime example. Is there a need to take this literally? Not that any argument I have seen has shown.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby son of dhamma » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:13 am

tiltbillings wrote:Like a lot of Brahmanical things found in the Pali suttas, the Buddha works them over to give them a Dhammic twist, kamma being the prime example. Is there a need to take this literally?


Why would we take most of the Buddha's teaching to be literal, and selectively claim the rest to be non-literal? It must be taken literal if it is to form an illustration of the entire cosmos in all dimensions (something the Buddha clearly had in mind, what with the thirty-one planes, worlds, chiliocosms, dichiliocosms, trichiliocosms, durations of time, and how kamma causes these rebirth formations).
I don't see any argument not to take it literally.
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Sometimes no Buddhas arise in the world. Sometimes they do. When it happens, it is for the welfare and happiness of men, out of compassion for all creatures. For a long, long time he has been working to become a Buddha. He met other Buddhas along the way. And after his long striving he attains his final life, yet not without showing everyone else how to get there.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:18 am

son of dhamma wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Like a lot of Brahmanical things found in the Pali suttas, the Buddha works them over to give them a Dhammic twist, kamma being the prime example. Is there a need to take this literally?


Why would we take most of the Buddha's teaching to be literal, and selectively claim the rest to be non-literal? It must be taken literal if it is to form an illustration of the entire cosmos in all dimensions (something the Buddha clearly had in mind, what with the thirty-one planes, worlds, chiliocosms, dichiliocosms, trichiliocosms, durations of time, and how kamma causes these rebirth formations).
I don't see any argument not to take it literally.
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And most of that stuff comes right out of the Brahmanical backgound in which the Buddha was teaching. Not taking it as literally true does not disrupt the Buddha's teaching of awakening. I see no reason that Buddhist must make the same mistakes that fundamentalist Christians, for example, do when they take their Bible stories as being literally true.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby son of dhamma » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:25 am

That is very well said, and very good thought, the teaching of awakening is not disturbed by the teachings of Abhidhamma. Thanks for that. I agree with that too, I think those same things when discussing these matters with Christian-thinkers. Although, the fact that it doesn't disrupt the other is not cause for a discredit of the literal meaning of many Abdhidhamma concepts and the Agganna Sutta. Because that is a big deal. *When the entire context of the Pali Canon is considered, thoroughly and carefully, this non-literary take loses grounds. Why would the Buddha ascend to Tavatimsa to tell all the assembled devas the Abhidhamma if only to give Brahmanical ideas a Dhammic twist?
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:31 am

son of dhamma wrote: [b]Why would the Buddha ascend to Tavatimsa to tell all the assembled devas the Abhidhamma
And why would you take that literally?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby son of dhamma » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:38 am

Your viewpoint seems to be that these Abdhidhamma concepts and the Agganna Sutta should not be taken literally, and that the teachings pertaining directly to methods of awakening are to be taken literally if we're to use them to our advantage and attain Nibbana. You must find no practical use in these Abhidhamma concepts, or in the Agganna Sutta.
I think you should state that you would not take the Agganna Sutta literally at all, that the Buddha was not describing evolution--in answer to the original question by clw_uk. "What is everyone else's interpretation of this Sutta? Why are you following me and debating with me when I am just sharing my viewpoint, which is more concerned with literal Abhidhamma?
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Sometimes no Buddhas arise in the world. Sometimes they do. When it happens, it is for the welfare and happiness of men, out of compassion for all creatures. For a long, long time he has been working to become a Buddha. He met other Buddhas along the way. And after his long striving he attains his final life, yet not without showing everyone else how to get there.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:41 am

son of dhamma wrote:Your viewpoint seems to be that these Abdhidhamma concepts and the Agganna Sutta should not be taken literally, and that the teachings pertaining directly to methods of awakening are to be taken literally if we're to use them to our advantage and attain Nibbana. You must find no practical use in these Abhidhamma concepts, or in the Agganna Sutta.
I think you should state that you would not take the Agganna Sutta literally at all, that the Buddha was not describing evolution--in answer to the original question by clw_uk. "What is everyone else's interpretation of this Sutta? Why are you following me and debating with me when I am just sharing my viewpoint, which is more concerned with literal Abhidhamma?
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Following you? Not at all. Debating? This is the debate section of the forum and you revived this thread.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby son of dhamma » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 am

Apologies. I just had the impression you were when we wound up talking about the same debate on two different discussion boards simultaneously. I don't mind debating in this section, but I'm not motivated to argue this point in any further detail concerning clw_uk's question of my own interpretation of the Agganna Sutta. I answered clw_uk's question, and I want to know their response before I debate about it in further detail.
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Sometimes no Buddhas arise in the world. Sometimes they do. When it happens, it is for the welfare and happiness of men, out of compassion for all creatures. For a long, long time he has been working to become a Buddha. He met other Buddhas along the way. And after his long striving he attains his final life, yet not without showing everyone else how to get there.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:53 am

son of dhamma wrote:Apologies. I just had the impression you were when we wound up talking about the same debate on two different discussion boards simultaneously. I don't mind debating in this section, but I'm not motivated to argue this point in any further detail concerning clw_uk's question of my own interpretation of the Agganna Sutta. I answered clw_uk's question, and I want to know their response before I debate about it in further detail.
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In other words, you do not really want to debate it at all.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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People live in one another’s shelter.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby son of dhamma » Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:58 am

tiltbillings wrote:In other words, you do not really want to debate it at all.



I only meant that I would like to hear the questioners response to my viewpoint before I debate with you. I did not mean to be pesky. Thank you for debating with me, I am thankful for you. I do want to debate with you, or I would not have posted anything on the page, I would have sent a private message.
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Sometimes no Buddhas arise in the world. Sometimes they do. When it happens, it is for the welfare and happiness of men, out of compassion for all creatures. For a long, long time he has been working to become a Buddha. He met other Buddhas along the way. And after his long striving he attains his final life, yet not without showing everyone else how to get there.
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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby rowyourboat » Wed Dec 22, 2010 10:18 am

clw_uk wrote:
"There comes a time, Vasettha, when, after the lapse of a long, long period, this world died. And when this happens, beings have mostly been reborn into the Realm of Radiance [as devas]; and there they dwell, made of mind, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, traversing the air, continuing in glory; and thus they remain for a long, long period of time. There comes also a time, Vasettha, when sooner or later this world begins to re-evolve. When this happens, beings who had deceased from the World of Radiance usually come to life as humans...now at that time, all had become one world of water, dark, and of darkness that maketh blind. No moon nor sun appeared, no stars were seen, nor constellations, neither was night manifest nor day, neither months nor half-months, neither years nor seasons, neither female nor male. Beings were reckoned just as beings only. And to those beings, Vasettha, sooner or later after a long time, earth with its savours was spread out in the waters, even as a scum forms on the surface of boiled milky rice that is cooling, so did the earth appear."


This extract from the sutta is sometimes taken to show that the Buddha was teaching the evolution of life on earth, I however have difficulty in this interpretation as the Buddha wouldnt take up a metaphysical view point about things such as origin of life etc, but I cannot come to another conclusion as to what the buddha meant by this teaching.

Whats is everone else's interpretation of this sutta?


The metaphysical (ie the existence of Devas- heavenly beings-that is being who have done much better karma and hence have much more luxurious existences) are a part of the mundane right view- I see no contradiction with the above.

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Re: Agganna Sutta

Postby yuttadhammo » Wed Dec 22, 2010 11:54 am

If we don't take this story as literal, we will have to come up with some other explanation as to where we all were before the earth became liveable... unless we're going to deny the core Theravada doctrine of rebirth.

There's an argument for you, Tilt.
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