Long ago man had been seen himself as being in the centre of the Universe, as its most important inhabitant. According to this point of view , the world was made for humans, for themselves to obtain from it what they wanted because they were the most favored creatures on it and everything that existed on this planet was for their sole pleasure.
This so called “Humanistic” view may be directly responsible for the terrible rape of our planet and our disregard for the rights of other beings which co-exist with us. For example there have been tragic cases where certain species of animals become extinct through needless slaughter by unsympathetic humans in pursuit of their sporting pleasure or business purposes. Even today the subjugation of nature by science and technology is being applauded. We must increase the number of those amongst us who have already realized the vast destruction that has been wrecked by man in the name of ‘progress’. Up until now nature has been most forgiving and it has allowed man to continue to think that this planet was made for him to rape and plunder at will, to satisfy his insatiable greed for material possessions and sensual gratification. Today there are many warning signs to indicate that the comfortable times are about to end. Hopefully, if Compassion and Right View will not save the world , then at least the same selfishness and desire for self-preservation and self-gratification will force man to give some sensible thought to our impoverished environment and our suffering fellow creatures on this earth.
To understand the place of man in the Universe from a Buddhist point of view we must first of all look at the Buddha’s views on the cosmos. According to Him, the Universe is to be understood in terms of a vast cosmic space. His teaching categorized the whole universe into three groups: planets with living beings, planets with elements and only space itself.
We can see man as a specially favored creature that had come into existence to enjoy the pleasures of a specially formed planet or the centre of the universe, Buddhism views man as a tiny being not only in strength but also in life span. Man is no more than just another creature but with intelligence that inhabits universe.
Biologically, humans are weaker than any other beings big or small. Other animals are born armed with some sort of weapon for their own protection and survival. Humans, on the other hand have their mind for every thing but not as a weapon. Humans are regarded as cultured living beings because they are to harmonize with others but not to destroy them. Religion was discovered by them for this purpose. Everything that lives share the same life force which energizes man. They are part of the same cosmic energy which takes various forms during endless rebirths, passing from human to animal, to divine form and back again, motivated by the powerful craving for existence (the survival instinct) which takes them from birth to death and to rebirth again in a never-ending cycle called samsara. The three detrimental sources of man which bind him to samsara are Greed, Hatred and Delusion.
This cycle can only be broken irrevocably through the development of Wisdom which destroy these fetters and puts an end to craving. Our share fate as beings who inhabit this planet is that we all want desperately to go on living.
‘All tremble at the rod
All fear death
One should neither strike
nor cause to strike’ (Dhammapada)
All things depend on each other for their existence. A man cannot see himself as different from (let alone being superior to) other beings because his body is solely dependent on food, which means he is dependent on plants, water, oxygen, etc. for his existence. At the same time his mind also exists dependently because the existence of thoughts rely on sense data which are derived from the external world of objects and persons. The whole universe must be seen as an immense net: if only one knot in it is shaken, the whole net vibrates. Man owes allegiance to the world because he is dependent on it for his existence both physically and mentally. His attitude towards the world should therefore not be the arrogance of a pampered only child but one of humility: the world was not made for him alone, nor is the world always made out in his favor. Worldly conditions have no favoritism; they are neither kind nor cruel but neutral. Man exists because the rest of the world allows him to do so.
Therefore he should not try to squeeze things out from the world only for his own benefit. He must maintain a sense of awe and respect towards nature and all beings. Man is a relative newcomer to the planet Earth. He must learn to respect his other brethren. He must learn to behave more like a guest rather than a player in a card game where the winner takes all.
It was in recognition of this interdependence that the Buddha advised his followers to practice metta (loving-kindness) to all, to radiate that compassion towards all beings. The Buddha does not mean that men should extend their love to fellow human beings only (he certainly does not recommend special treatment for their ‘fellow Buddhists’). Whenever he talks about loving others he always speaks of ‘all beings’ (sabbe satta) even those lacking material form, the conscious, the super conscious.
Three modes of birth: living beings are those that are moisture-born, egg-born, womb-born and those spontaneously arising in other planes of existence. Clearly the Buddha was teaching that if a man is to live on this planet he must develop an attitude of loving kindness towards not only fellow human beings but all beings that inhabit this planet as well as in other planes of existence. Only then can he vanquish the selfish thoughts which place his needs and survival above the needs of all others.
In Buddhist cosmology man is simply the inhabitant of one of the existing planes one can go to after death. These range from superconscious levels through the highly sensuous down to the four unhappy states. Man occupies a mid-way position in these realms. The so-called divine realms are ‘happy’ state but they too are impermanent. Although there are indications to lead us to believe that some intelligent living beings do exist in other world systems, it is not verifiable whether there are beings similar to humans in other planets of the universe. It is in terms of this infinite vast cosmic context that Buddhism tries to understand the place of man in the universe. In terms of that context man seems to be small. We must add to this man’s propensity for cruelty, for his ability to inflict pain on others which makes him at times far less admirable than animals which only attack to satisfy their basic need for food, shelter or sex.