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Creation and the Origin of the Universe

Question:

I have been wondering what the Buddhist take on creationism is? I have long believed in reincarnation and never really thought much about it, but this morning BBC radio 4 had a thought for the day and a Sikh was talking about most major religions believing in the one god having created everything but that that god had different names, i.e. God, Allah, Krishna etc this lead me to think, as we don’t have a god as such, is there a Buddhist view on creation? Your thoughts, as always, would be welcome

Answer:

Like the question of God, Buddhism generally doesn’t concern itself with this. There is no specific story about the creation of the universe in Buddhism. In fact, Buddha, in the Acintita Sutta, is supposed to have said, “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.”

Many of the ideas that influence Buddhism came from Hinduism, and creation stories fall into this category as well. The most common Hindu stories tell that Brahma created the universe, or at least is the oldest being in it. The universe was created, changes, and then is destroyed. This cycle is called a kalpa, and has happened an uncountable number of times already. Just as people a born, live, die, and are reborn, so is the universe as a whole. Again, the idea of a creator god is not generally accepted in Buddhism, but the stories are often repeated in the texts, mostly because people at the time knew the stories.

Of course in more modern times, we have the Big Bang theory, and the idea that eventually gravity will pull the universe back in on itself, finally re-exploding outwards to start the cycle over again. There is a lot of scientific evidence that shows this is probably the way it works, but the two ideas are not that far apart. They both show the universe living and dying in repeated cycles.

9 comments to Creation and the Origin of the Universe

  • There is one sutta that deals with a kind of creation myth. It’s the Aga√±√±a Sutta, and it tells of repeated cycles of evolution and involution of the universe (kind of “big bangs” followed by “big crunches”). But of course it doesn’t say anything about the ultimate origins of the universe, and perhaps even more importantly it’s meant to be satirical. It’s mainly aimed at debunking the claims of the Brahmins, who said they were the highest in society. So it’s almost certainly not meant to be taken literally.

  • Jeff

    You may want to be careful relating the creation of the universe via the Big bang theory as an idea that is “not that far apart” from the STORY of creation in Hinduism. In my opinion, the two could not be more far apart. One is a gathering of evidence and making reasonable conclusion from empirical data, while the story of creation was invented by some person a long time ago to try to make sense of the world in their eyes. Though there is a cosmic expansion that has been observed, one could hardly call the expansion/retraction a cycle as in “birth and re-birth”.

    I’m not trying to dispute your statements in any way and make “fun” of you. it’s just that one thing that I enjoy about practicing Buddhism, is that is does not rely on fantastical stories or creation, it throws them aside as unimportant to its practice.

  • In no way did I intend to indicate that I believe in the Hindu story or that there is any cause and effect relationship between the two stories.

    But the Hindu ideas, in their structure at least, ARE similar, and it’s an important distinction. No, there is no intelligence guiding the creation and destruction of the universe, but the ancient Hindus apparently got the sequence and steps of the Big Bang/Big Crunch right. Yes, they were just guessing and making up stories, but they were still essentially “right” about the process. You can argue that even a blind pig finds some grain once in a while, but still, in this case, they were right.

    What this means to US is that thousands of years of Buddhist thinking and philosophy was based on a mythological foundation that actually reflects reality in some way. Remember, there are religions out there that still insist that the Earth is 6000 years old and was created in 6 days.

  • Jon

    This discussion reminds me of why I came to Buddhism in the first place. I have found great comfort in the idea that Buddhism doesn’t try to answer the question of creation or God’s existence. Rather, it leaves it up to us to come up with whatever we believe in and what gives us comfort. I was surrounded by family ministers as a child and young adult and felt so out of place with their certainty about it all. It never rang true to me. Since I’ve given up the notion that I ever was a Christian in the first place, I have discovered that what happened before me or what’s going to happen when I die doesn’t really matter anymore. More important, is what I can do today, for myself, for those around me and those I don’t know that will make things just a little bit better for everyone.

  • Abe Simpson

    The Law of Conservation of Energy and the Law of Conservation of matter both state that that energy and matter (respectively) cannot be created or destroyed, but can only change its form.

    The total quantity of matter and energy available in the universe is a fixed amount and never any more or less.

    There is no creation, there is no desctruction. There is only change.

    That is modern sceince, the Buddha taught; “Everything changes, nothing remains without change.”

    Even you change, every seven years every cell in your body has been swapped out with a new cell. You are not even the same person you were 7 years ago. (more science)

    Buddhas observations of the universe never cease to amaze me. His instruction that conjecture about the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about is pure wisdom.

  • Jeffrey Smith

    Couple of summers back, as I was in a kind of walking meditation(rolling; as still need the wheelchair to ambulate), when the expansion of the Universe, like air in a balloon, did reach the point where any more would be too much.
    Still, the Universe expands. Like the balloon, all the “air” known as “Universe” basically did disappear. Similar to a gigantic sheet of blank paper is the area our “Space” does now find itself consuming. Somewhere on this “sheet of paper” new life does show itself, as if punctured by a pin, somewhere upon the vacancy that the Outerspace a little glimmer of life does blossom a new age.
    And though it may just sound like the worlds biggest broken record, every episode does hold it’s own change. We are the biggest rerun, but with all the combinations of alternations to the story, all have prospect of reaching their Nirvana.
    Aum. . .

  • John

    Well, in terms of current Physics studies, the expansion rate of the universe is so great that gravity will not draw matter back in to itself. According to current Physics, this universe is not bound for a “Big Crunch” but rather a “Big Freeze.” It does not mean that future Physics studies of dark matter, dark energies that science will find new findings. But many physicists are also looking at the idea of a multiverse in that other universes with different physical laws and properties may undergo a cyclical period or bangs and crunches.

    In any case, ideas about creationism and the existence of God is not really important in daily Buddhist practice. It is most concerned about the relieving of human suffering.

  • Anonymous

    how does the law of conservation of energy would answer the formation of the universe ?

  • Demar Mau

    There are three states of reality! Einstein kinda got it right and Quantum physics is just starting to ‘get it’. Yeah you have seen the E and M interaction of his famous equation. But have you seen the light? The CC. When integrated the CC is nothing less than consciousness. The ocean ‘we’ swim in, but really never notice until we actually ‘see the light’, pardon the pun. Witgenstein who played with that E-M logician Bertrand Russell, got pretty close to revealing this phenomenon of consciousness as a bone fide 3rd state – essentially, “awareness creates your reality”. Mindblowing. Even look at the Buddhist ideas of the sense realms (matter), the form/fine materiality realms (energy) and the immaterial/formless realms (consciousness). Compare this with the Jhana states. Meditation takes us to the mind state (energy) then the higher Jhanas, consciousness itself as a raw experience (Aldous Huxley, the Immaculate Perception). Can a ant ever understand a human. Such is the unenlightened to the enlightened as far a god and the gods are concerned. They are nothing more than manipulators of energy and form, the underlying fabric of matter. Yet the underlying fabric of energy is consciousness. How do you describe something indescribable, something that essentially defines the describable, which defines the ‘boundary state’. Good luck. Buddha did it, but he lost that boundary state through enlightenment and ‘saw’ the indescribable. So how do you describe human life to an ant? The ant will have to wait until it has a human rebirth! But for us humans enlightenment is a possibility, one of the more favorable realms to be born. Is god the creator. What does it matter? Buddhism present a pathway for liberation. As the Buddha said, I give you a handful of leaves, just what is required for your liberation, the breadth and depth of my knowledge encompasses the leaves of an entire forrest. WOW. Onward to enlightenment.