And those beings set to and fed on those creepers. And as they did so, their bodies became even coarser, and the difference in their looks increased still more (Agganna Sutta)
The story of the beginning of the universe in different religions says a lot about where that religion is at. And maybe it even says something about where we’re at. And at a push, it might even have something to say about the beginning of the universe. But I’m not too sure about that last part.
The Buddhist story of the beginning is firstly, not about the beginning of everything. In Buddhist cosmology, universes come into and out of existence, in the same way that individual beings within them do.
The first being to be born in the new universe is a god. They look around, see no other beings, and assume they created all this.
Other beings pop into existence (because of their karma from the previous universe), and the god thinks ‘Look at me! I’m creating all these beings without even trying!’
A bit of a prod at the pre-Buddhist Vedic religion of India if you ask me.
Anyway, these early beings are happy. They’re extremely ephemeral, no bodies (therefore they don’t need food or clothes), no gender or sexuality (therefore they don’t have all that sexual tension and pursuit). Essentially, they’ve got it sussed.
The Earth at this point is covered in a crust. At one point, out of the faintest whisp of boredom and craving for a modified sense experience, one of these beings of light tastes a piece of the crust.
They like it. They get into it. They become a crust eater. And their body becomes less ephemeral, more coarse.
Others see what’s going on. They want in on it too.
After a while, they can no longer live without eating the crust. And as their bodies become coarser and coarser, they become different. Some are more pleasing to look at than others. Well, I’m sure you can guess the rest.
So, from the traditional Buddhist point of view, that’s how we end up in our current predicament. Through an inability to remain utterly content. Craving don’t do no one no good. That, it appears, is the moral of this story.
Not massively different from Adam and Eve I guess. Eve wanted to taste that apple. She was doing fine, but she got tempted. And the apple was the apple of knowledge.
Key differences between Buddhist and Christian ‘in the beginning’s
I guess the difference between the Buddhist and Christian mythology here is:
a) Buddhism sees no need for a devil (or a creator god). Karma is the driving force. And the mind (which is shaped by karma, at least at first).
b) Buddhism sees knowledge as a good thing. Delusion and ignorance? Not so much. There’s no angry God that’s been disobeyed in the Buddhist story. Just a natural consequence of acting on craving.
c) All this wasn’t the fault of women, and women weren’t created from a part of a man (that’s not to suggest there’s no patriarchal nonsense in Buddhism though)
d) There’s no real beginning or end in Buddhist cosmology. And while heavens and hells exist in Buddhism, you don’t ‘end up’ there. You pass through, same as all the other realms.
e) This is a slightly different point, but Buddhism doesn’t regard non-human animals as being put on the Earth for the benefit of humanity. They’re there as a result of karma, same as us. And we’ve been them in the past, and there’s a good chance we’ll be them in the future. So show some respect!
Me and Christianity
I should point out that I’m not trying to have a go at Christianity here. Some of the people I respect most in the world are practising Christians. I’d far rather send my kid to a Christian school than a school that brings kids up on shopping malls and MTV.
I’ve never been a Christian, went straight from atheist to Buddhist atheist. I used to find Christianity more difficult to take seriously than I do now.
I still don’t get the inherent duality in Christianity (heaven and hell, good and evil) that is never transcended. But the fact that there are smart people I respect who are into Christianity makes me think I’ve got more to learn.
So this post isn’t a ‘diss Christians’ post. It’s a post about myth and underlying assumptions represented by them. Mkay? Mkay.