Conundrums of Buddhist Cosmology and Psychology

In: Numen
View More View Less
  • 1 University of Leeds, School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):

€29.95$34.95

Despite the Buddha’s renowned aversion to metaphysical-cum-cosmological speculation, ostensibly cosmological systems have proliferated in Buddhist traditions. Debates persist over how to interpret these systems, a central puzzle being the relation between apparently cosmological and psychological aspects. This article critically analyzes three main interpretive orientations, namely psychologization, literalism, and the one-reality view. After examining a tendency in the third of these to equivocate between talk of two co-referential vocabularies and talk of two corresponding orders, I discuss at length the debate between literalist and psychologizing approaches. The latter emphasize how accounts of “realms of existence” are most cogently read as figurative descriptions of mental states, whereas literalists argue that at least some of the accounts should be understood cosmologically, as descriptions of spatiotemporal regions. Notwithstanding weaknesses in some literalist arguments, the importance to Buddhist soteriology of a conception of rebirth beyond one’s present life counts against psychologizing approaches that either ignore or downplay this importance. Returning to the one-reality view, I develop the idea that it is the existential state being described that constitutes the common factor between “cosmological” and “psychological” passages. Treating the texts in an overly literal-minded manner, I suggest, risks missing these descriptions’ affective and conative significance.

  • Aung Shwe Zan & Rhys Davids C. A. F. , Points of Controversy or Subjects of Discourse: Being a Translation of the Kathā-vatthu from the Abhidhamma-Piṭaka , (Pali Text Society, London 1915 ).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bodhi Bhikkhu , The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya , (Wisdom, Somerville, Mass. 2000 ).

  • Bodhi Bhikkhu “Dhamma without Rebirth?” Access to Insight 2010 accessed 27 March 2013 url www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay-06.html

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bodhi Bhikkhu , The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya , (Wisdom, Somerville, Mass. 2012 ).

  • Braarvig Jens , '“The Buddhist Hell: An Early Instance of the Idea?” ' (2009 ) 56 (2-3 ) Numen : 254 -281.

  • Braithwaite R. B. , '“An Empiricist’s View of the Nature of Religious Belief” ', in Basil Mitchell (ed), The Philosophy of Religion , (Oxford University Press , Oxford 1971[1955] ) 72 -91.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brockington J. L. , The Sacred Thread: Hinduism in Its Continuity and Diversity , (Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 1996 ).

  • Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu , Donald K. Swearer (ed), Toward the Truth , (Westminster Press, Philadelphia 1971 ).

  • Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu Bhikkhu Ariyananda , Two Kinds of Language , (Sublime Life Mission, Bangkok 1974 ).

  • Bultmann Rudolf Fuller Reginald H. , '“New Testament and Mythology” ', in Hans-Werner Bartsch (ed), Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate , (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge , London 1972 [1941] ) 1 -44.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Burley Mikel , Rebirth and the Stream of Life: A Philosophical Study of Reincarnation, Karma and Ethics , (Bloomsbury, New York 2016 ).

  • Carter John Ross & Palihawadana Mahinda , The Dhammapada , (Oxford University Press, New York 1987 ).

  • Carpenter Amber D. , '“Persons Keeping Their Karma Together: The Reasons for the Pudgalavāda in Early Buddhism” ', in Koji Tanaka, Yasuo Deguchi, Jay L. Garfield & Graham Priest (eds), The Moon Points Back , (Oxford University Press , New York 2015 ) 1 -44.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Casey John , After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory , (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2009 ).

  • Cho Francisca , '“Buddhism and Science: Translating and Re-translating Culture” ', in David L. McMahan (ed), Buddhism in the Modern World , (Routledge , Abingdon 2012 ) 273 -288.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Collins Steven , Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravāda Buddhism , (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1982 ).

  • Doniger Wendy , The Hindus: An Alternative History , (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2010 ).

  • Dumont Louis , '“World Renunciation in Indian Religions” ' (1960 ) 4 Contributions to Indian Sociology : 33 -62.

  • Evans-Wentz W. Y. , The Tibetan Book of the Dead , (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2000 ).

  • M. Leon Feer (ed), Saṃyutta-Nikâya of the Sutta-Piṭaka , (Pali Text Society , London 1884-1898 ) 5 vols.

  • Florida Robert E. , '“The Lotus Sūtra and Health Care Ethics” ' (1998 ) 5 Journal of Buddhist Ethics : 170 -189.

  • Gethin Rupert , '“Cosmology and Meditation: From the Aggañña Sutta to the Mahāyāna” ' (1997 ) 36 (3 ) History of Religions : 183 -217.

  • Gethin Rupert , Foundations of Buddhism , (Oxford University Press, Oxford 1998 ).

  • Gethin Rupert , '“Cosmology” ', in Encyclopedia of Buddhism , (Macmillan Reference USA , New York 2004 ) 183 -187.

  • Gombrich R. F. , '“Ancient Indian Cosmology” ', in Carmen Blacker & Michael Loewe (eds), Ancient Cosmologies , (Allen & Unwin , London 1975 ) 110 -142.

  • Gombrich R. F. , How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings , (Routledge, London 2006 ).

  • Hamilton Sue , Identity and Experience: The Constitution of the Human Being according to Early Buddhism , (Luzac Oriental, Oxford 1996 ).

  • Hamilton Sue , Early Buddhism: A New Approach. , (Routledge, Abingdon 2000 ).

  • Hayes Richard P. , '“Nāgārjuna’s Appeal” ', in Journal of Indian Philosophy , (1994 ) 299 -378.

  • Hayes Richard P. , '"Abhidharma Schools” ', in Encyclopedia of Buddhism , (Routledge , London 2010 ) 3 -6.

  • Heesterman J. C. , The Inner Conflict of Tradition: Essays in Indian Ritual, Kingship, and Society , (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1985 ).

  • Heidegger Martin Macquarrie John & Robinson Edward , Being and Time , (Blackwell, Oxford 1962 [1927] ).

  • von Hinüber Oskar , A Handbook of Pāli Literature , (De Gruyter, Berlin 1996 ).

  • Humphreys Christmas , Karma and Rebirth , (Curzon, London 1983 ).

  • Inada Kenneth K. , '“Buddhist Naturalism and the Myth of Rebirth” ', in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion , (1970 ) 43 -53.

  • Ireland John D. , The Udāna and the Itivuttaka , (Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy 1997 ).

  • Jackson Peter A. , Buddhadāsa: Theravada Buddhism and Modernist Reform in Thailand , (Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai 2003 ).

  • Jennings J. G. , The Vedāntic Buddhism of the Buddha , (Oxford University Press, London 1947 ).

  • Kariyawasam A. G. S. , '“Health” ', in Encyclopaedia of Buddhism , (Government of Sri Lanka , Sri Lanka 1992 ) 421.

  • Keown Damien , '“Paternalism in the Lotus Sūtra” ' (1998 ) 5 Journal of Buddhist Ethics : 190 -207.

  • Keown Damien , A Dictionary of Buddhism , (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2004 ).

  • Keown Damien , '“Cosmology and Rebirth” ', in Encyclopedia of Buddhism , (Routledge , London 2010 ) 245 -250.

  • Kern Hendrik , The Saddharma-Pundarîka, or The Lotus of the True Law , (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1884 ).

  • Kinnard Jacob N. , The Emergence of Buddhism: Classical Traditions in Contemporary Perspective , (Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2011 ).

  • Kloetzli W. Randolph , Buddhist Cosmology: Science and Theology in the Images of Motion and Light , (Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1983 ).

  • Lakoff George & Johnson Mark , Metaphors We Live By , (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2003 [1980] ).

  • de La Vallée Poussin Louis , '“Cosmogony and Cosmology (Buddhist)” ', in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , (T & T Clark , Edinburgh 1911 ) 129 -138.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lopez Donald S. Jr. , Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed , (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2008 ).

  • Lopez Donald S. Jr. , The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life , (Yale University Press, New Haven 2012 ).

  • Marasinghe M. M. J. , Gods in Early Buddhism: A Study in Their Social and Mythological Milieu as Depicted in the Nikāyas of the Pāli Canon , (University of Sri Lanka, Kelaniya 1974 ).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Masefield Peter , '“Mind/Cosmos Maps in the Pāli Nikāyas” ', in Nathan Katz (ed), Buddhist and Western Psychology , (Prajñā Press , Boulder, Colo. 1983 ) 69 -93.

  • Masefield Peter , Divine Revelation in Pali Buddhism , (Sri Lankan Institute of Traditional Studies, Colombo 1986 ).

  • Masefield Peter , The Udāna , (Pali Text Society, Lancaster 1994 ).

  • McFague Sallie , Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language , (Fortress Press, Minneapolis 1982 ).

  • McMahan David L. , The Making of Buddhist Modernism , (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008 ).

  • Monier-Williams Monier , A Sanskrit-English Dictionary , (Oxford University Press, Oxford 1899 ).

  • Nagapriya , Exploring Karma and Rebirth , (Windhorse, Birmingham 2004 ).

  • Nakamura Hajime Sekimori Gaynor , '“Foreword” ', in Akira Sadakata (ed), Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins , (Kōsei , Tokyo 1997 ) 11 -12.

  • Ñāṇamoli Bhikkhu & Bodhi Bhikkhu , The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya , (Wisdom, Somerville, Mass. 2009 ).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nyanatiloka , Nyanaponika (ed), Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines , (Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy 1980 ).

  • Olivelle Patrick , The Early Upaniṣads: Annotated Text and Translation , (Oxford University Press, Oxford 1998 ).

  • Pedersen Poul , '“Tibet, Theosophy, and the Psychologization of Buddhism” ', in Thierry Dodin & Heinz Räther (eds), Imagining Tibet: Perceptions, Projections, and Fantasies , (Wisdom , Somerville, Mass. 2001 ) 151 -166.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ratcliffe Matthew , Feelings of Being: Phenomenology, Psychiatry and the Sense of Reality , (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008 ).

  • T. W. Rhys Davids & J. Estlin Carpenter (eds), The Dīgha Nikāya , (Pali Text Society, London 1890 ).

  • Rhys Davids T. W. & Stede William , Pali-English Dictionary , (Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1993 [1921-1925] ).

  • Sadakata Akira Sekimori Gaynor , Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins , (Kōsei, Tokyo 1997 ).

  • Schroeder John W. , Skillful Means: The Heart of Buddhist Compassion , (University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu 2001 ).

  • Sharf Robert H. , '“Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience” ', in Numen , (1995 ) 228 -283.

  • Paul Steinthal (ed), Udânaṃ , (Pali Text Society, London 1885 ).

  • Story Francis , Rebirth as Doctrine and Experience: Essays and Case Studies , (Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy 2000 ).

  • Strong D. M. , The Udāna, or The Solemn Utterances of the Buddha , (Luzac, London 1902 ).

  • Stubenberg Leopold , '“Neutral Monism” ' (2013 ) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy URL http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/neutral-monism/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Styron William , Darkness Visible , (Vintage, London 2004 [1990] ).

  • Bhikkhu Ṭhānissaro Udāna: Exclamations 2012 accessed 22 March 2014 URL www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/udana.pdf

  • Tracy David , '“Metaphor and Religion: The Test Case of Christian Texts” ' (1978 ) 5 (1 ) Critical Inquiry : 91 -106.

  • Trungpa Chögyam , The Heart of the Buddha: Entering the Tibetan Buddhist Path , (Shambhala, Boston 1991 ).

  • Trungpa Chögyam , The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation , (Shambhala, Boston 2002 [1976] ).

  • Vasubandhu de La Vallée Poussi Louis & Pruden Leo M. , Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam , (Asian Humanities Press , Berkeley 1991 ) 4 vols.

  • Walshe Maurice , The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya , (Wisdom, Somerville, Mass. 1995 ).

  • Williams Paul, Tribe Anthony & Wynne Alexander , Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition , (Routledge, London 2012 ).

  • Woodward F. L. , The Minor Anthologies of the Pali Canon , (Oxford University Press , London 1935 ) Part 2.

  • 6

    See, e.g., Sadakata 1997, chapter 2, whose account is based primarily on the third chapter of the Abhidharmakośa and its bhāṣya (hereafter “AKBh”), which is in turn based on earlier sources (as noted by La Vallée Poussin 1911: 130-131).

  • 9

    See Monier-Williams 1899: 529, 553; Rhys Davids and Stede 1993: 347, 369-370. The term naraka, for instance, occurs twice in Saṃyutta Nikāya 1.209 (Feer 1884), where Bhikkhu Bodhi renders it as “an inferno” (2000: 309).

  • 14

    Cf. Nagapriya 2004: 99: “Hell beings . . . live in a very isolated world dominated by nightmares, horror, fear, and desperation. Conditions such as paranoid schizophrenia exemplify this kind of experience all too graphically.”

  • 16

    See especially McMahan 2008, chapter 4; Lopez 2008, 2012; Cho 2012.

  • 27

    For the Pāli text, see Steinthal 1885: 9. I have used the term “condition,” which I take to be relatively ontologically neutral, because the text specifies neither a physical location nor a state of mind; it reads simply “Wherein [yattha] . . . therein [tattha] . . .” (cf. Masefield 1994: 11).

  • 29

    For the Pāli text, see Steinthal 1885: 80; but see also the correction in Woodward 1935: 97 n. 3. Āyatana is translated by Woodward 1935: 97 as “condition” in its first occurrence in this passage and as “sphere” thereafter. It is consistently rendered as “base” in Masefield 1994: 165 and Ireland 1997: 96, “sphere” in Masefield 1983: 82, “state” in Strong 1902: 111, and “dimension” in Ṭhānissaro 2012: 112.

  • 30

    See also Heesterman 1985: 38-39; Doniger 2010: 174; Kinnard 2011: 10. For further discussion and references, see Collins 1982: 61, 214-215.

  • 32

    Cf. Dumont 1960: 50: “[W]ithout transmigration the liberation or extinction (nirvāṇa) which he [i.e., the Buddha] recommends would lose all meaning . . .”

  • 33

    See also Bodhi 2010: “The aim of the Buddhist path is liberation from suffering, and the Buddha makes it abundantly clear that the suffering from which liberation is needed is the suffering of bondage to samsara, the round of repeated birth and death.”

  • 38

    Cf. Heidegger 1962, esp. 78-90, 149-180.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 269 72 9
Full Text Views 224 13 1
PDF Views & Downloads 50 12 2