“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?”
—Assu Sutta SN 15.3
An important concept in Buddhism is the notion of Samsara, which means “aimless wandering”. The Buddha, while deeply meditating under the Bodhi Tree on the night of his Enlightenment, saw all his past lives laid out before him: princes, paupers, animals, etc. The number of lives was countless, and he realized that if he continued on as he did, he would continue to wander aimless through countless, countless cycles of rebirth. These eons and eons of lifetimes were measured in kalpas, which is a very long span of time in Indian culture. The exact definition of a kalpa varies, but it can often be measured in hundreds of thousands of years at minimum, or even as great as millions or even billions of years.
Our Big Universe
In ancient Indian-Buddhist cosmology, the universe is seen as near-infinitely large, and near-infinitely old. Unlike religions that see a definite, often short, beginning and a precise moment where it will end, Buddhism sees the Universe as beyond measure and ultimately unknowable. Though ancient Indian people knew nothing of astronomy, modern-day scientists have confirmed that the known Universe is indeed very old (13.7 billion years old), and 28 billion parsecs or 53,200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles across and growing faster and faster. Also, what lies before the Big Bang is unknowable at this time.
Perhaps the ancient Indians were not so far off as one might expect…
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