Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

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Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Megha » Fri Apr 06, 2012 1:31 pm

Hello all,

The other day I was browsing through a book of Christian Apologetics, and came across the following argument:

"If to reach an end you had to take an infinite series of steps could you ever get there? Of course not, not even in infinite time. If it always was then it is infinitely old-and therefore an infinite amount of time must have existed before today-so an infinite number of days must have been completed in order for us to arrive at the present time. But, this then parallels the idea of an infinite task being completed."

Now, I was under the impression that in Buddhist cosmology, the world (or Samsara) is beginningless. Everything has a cause, and therefore Samsara recedes into the (beginningless) infinite past and on into the (endless) infinite future. However, if that is the case it is seemingly impossible to have arrived at this present moment !

I would be interested to learn if my understanding of the Buddha's teaching is correct, and also if there are any philosophical counter-arguments to the problem of the infinite task. I believe that it was the Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea who first put this argument forward in defence of his teacher Parmenides teachings. I am, however, far from an expert on philosophy, and would therefore appreciate any contributions from others who have some expertise in this area !

Many Thanks,
Meg
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Jikan » Fri Apr 06, 2012 3:49 pm

Megha wrote:Now, I was under the impression that in Buddhist cosmology, the world (or Samsara) is beginningless. Everything has a cause, and therefore Samsara recedes into the (beginningless) infinite past and on into the (endless) infinite future. However, if that is the case it is seemingly impossible to have arrived at this present moment !


Hi Meg,

Please explain your reasoning: on what basis do you claim that the present moment is impossible when you admit the causes and conditions that caused the perception of this moment to arise?
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Astus » Fri Apr 06, 2012 4:21 pm

If such reasoning held any sense, it would be actually true that Achilles never beats the tortoise. However, in the above argument I see the flaw that it assumes one should go from an infinitely far away time to the present one, while actually where one is is indeed the present time, and it took no effort to reach it, since it was never away.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Apr 06, 2012 5:50 pm

Your starting premise is wrong (well the "Christian apologists" starting premise, that is) because in Buddhism (or for an enlightened being) there is only an infinite now. The three times are projections based on the miscomprehension of the existence of an actual truly existing subject standing in contrast to an object.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Megha » Fri Apr 06, 2012 6:50 pm

Thanks for your responses...

I guess this whole thing is based on the idea that time is built up by a process of successive addition. In order to have an infinite past, reality would have to have just completed an infinite task. However, an infinite task cannot be completed in time, since if it were first completed at time t, then at time t - 1, the infinite task would have remained incomplete. However, since the difference between t and t-1 is finite, an infinite task was already completed at t-1. These two infinite tasks must differ only by the fact that the past completed at t is one day longer than the past completed at t-1. However, "one day longer" has no meaning when applied to infinite series.

I agree there is a clear problem with this sort of reasoning, as Achilles would in reality beat the tortoise. Or, to make another example, by this reasoning I should be unable to walk to the local shop as to reach it I must reach the half-way point between where I am now and the shop, and to reach that half-way point I must reach the half-way point of that half-way point, and so on. In the end there are an infinite number of points to walk through - with the result that I am frozen and unable to move !

In any case, it intrigued me, and puzzled me, and it was being posited as a reason for assuming a beginning to the Universe, and I was wondering what the Buddha had to say about the origin of the Universe, and also if there were any refutations of this problem.

M
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Apr 06, 2012 7:39 pm

Megha wrote:In any case, it intrigued me, and puzzled me, and it was being posited as a reason for assuming a beginning to the Universe, and I was wondering what the Buddha had to say about the origin of the Universe, and also if there were any refutations of this problem.
The Buddha said that there is no zero point or beginning, ie that the universe always existed. So the whole problem goes out the window.
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Mr. G » Fri Apr 06, 2012 7:42 pm

Megha wrote:I was wondering what the Buddha had to say about the origin of the Universe, and also if there were any refutations of this problem.


It's one of the 14 unanswerable questions:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

    "Malunkyaputta, it's not the case that when there is the view, 'The cosmos is eternal,' there is the living of the holy life. And it's not the case that when there is the view, 'The cosmos is not eternal,' there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, 'The cosmos is eternal,' and when there is the view, 'The cosmos is not eternal,' there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now.

    "It's not the case that when there is the view, 'The cosmos is finite,' there is the living of the holy life. And it's not the case that when there is the view, 'The cosmos is infinite,' there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, 'The cosmos is finite,' and when there is the view, 'The cosmos is infinite,' there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now
    .
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
    - Vasubandhu
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Apr 06, 2012 7:53 pm

Hmmmm... it seems that the quote is in regard to whether a certain view of the cosmos will lead to enlightenment. That it is of no use sitting around pondering the issue since the subject is not conducive to enlightenment. That it is not a suitable object of comtemplation.
Assu Sutta: Tears
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
© 1997–2012

At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said: "From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. What do you think, monks: Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — or the water in the four great oceans?"

"As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans."

"Excellent, monks. Excellent. It is excellent that you thus understand the Dhamma taught by me.

"This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.

"Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a mother. The tears you have shed over the death of a mother while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

"Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a father... the death of a brother... the death of a sister... the death of a son... the death of a daughter... loss with regard to relatives... loss with regard to wealth... loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

"Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released."
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Quiet Heart » Sat Apr 07, 2012 5:59 am

:deleted another copy of same post...computer and local ISP problems.
Last edited by Quiet Heart on Sat Apr 07, 2012 6:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
Shame on you Shakyamuni for setting the precedent of leaving home.
Did you think it was not there--
in your wife's lovely face
in your baby's laughter?
Did you think you had to go elsewhere (simply) to find it?
from - Judyth Collin
The Layman's Lament
From What Book, 1998, p. 52
Edited by Gary Gach
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby Quiet Heart » Sat Apr 07, 2012 6:02 am

:shrug: Other posts have mentioned the point about time being an illusion from a Buddhist standpoint...so I won't go into that again.
I'll just say....my personal experience only...that infinite now is something I've experienced myself. Again, my personal experience only, and those of you who think I'm deluded or foolish...you are free to do so.
But one a more scientific level your arguement also fails because of your implied conception of the Universe (reality) as being infinte with there being no beginning or end.
But much more importantly you also assume that reality is a continous sheet, with no "holes" in it In fact, reality is like a mesh...a net with holes in it.
Those holes are very small and therefore the mesh is very fine. That's what Quantum Mechanics is really all about...that fine mesh structure and what it does to the "nature" of reality. (I can hear all the Physics PHDs screaming now...No,he doesn't understand!)
I said it was my personal opinion, didn't I?
Those "holes? are why Archillies does pass the tortise even when the tortise has a head start. Because those holes mean that there are npw
infinate steps" or ?infinate regression" possible.
Because there IS a "fine-grain structure" to the Universe/reality.
And that's not contrary to any Buddhist beliefs or Cosmology, your perceptyon of reality is limited by the limits of your human abilities to percieve.
But even if you had the ability to see that scale....you would see reality as a fine grain structure....a mesh...not a continous fabic,
And from that, everything else begins.
:smile:
Shame on you Shakyamuni for setting the precedent of leaving home.
Did you think it was not there--
in your wife's lovely face
in your baby's laughter?
Did you think you had to go elsewhere (simply) to find it?
from - Judyth Collin
The Layman's Lament
From What Book, 1998, p. 52
Edited by Gary Gach
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Re: Buddhist cosmology and the problem of the infinite task

Postby dakini_boi » Sat Apr 07, 2012 1:16 pm

Megha wrote:. . . if that is the case it is seemingly impossible to have arrived at this present moment !


Right, and according to Buddhism, this would be a correct conclusion - for all relative objects are ultimately illusory.
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