Lucas: Your quote from the sutta is: “With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to the knowledge of the recollection of past lives (lit: previous homes). He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion,“
The original Pali version: “So evaṃ samāhite citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe vigatūpakkilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite āneñjappatte pubbenivāsānussatiñāṇāya cittaṃ abhinīharati abhininnāmeti. So anekavihitaṃ pubbenivāsaṃ anussarati, seyyathidaṃ—ekampi jātiṃ dvepi jātiyo tissopi jātiyo catassopi jātiyo pañcapi jātiyo dasapi jātiyo vīsampi jātiyo tiṃsampi jātiyo cattālīsampi jātiyo paññāsampi jātiyo jātisatampi jātisahassampi jātisatasahassampi anekepi saṃvaṭṭakappe anekepi vivaṭṭakappe anekepi saṃvaṭṭavivaṭṭakappe,”
Bhikkhu Sujato’s translation: “When their mind has become immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—they extend it and project it toward recollection of past lives. They recollect many kinds of past lives, that is, one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand rebirths; many eons of the world contracting, many eons of the world expanding, many eons of the world contracting and expanding..”
The original version and Bhikkhu Sujato’s translation at: “Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2)”
Now, let us look at the key Pali words individually:
“Aneka” (in anekepi) means “numerous” or “many”.
A saṃvaṭṭa kappa (in saṃvaṭṭakappe) is the time taken to re-form the Earth. That means to re-form the whole 10,000 world systems.
– “Samvatta” (“san” + “vatta”) indicates the formation. As we know the word “san” means “adding up” or “aggregation.”
A vivaṭṭa kappa (in vivaṭṭakappe) is the time taken to break-up the Earth. That means to break-up the whole 10,000 world systems.
– “Vivatta” (“vi” + “vatta”) indicates “breaking up.”
We need to keep in mind that in that sutta, the focus was on the Earth. But when the Earth is destroyed (via the blowing up of a star,) the whole world system with 10,000 stars is destroyed.
– That is confirmed by modern science, of course, we do not know how many stars are destroyed. A supernova destroys the “whole neighborhood.”
Therefore, that passage in the sutta says that a person who gains the ability to recollect past lives may be able to recollect many past lives depending on the level of iddhi powers developed.
In the Agganna Sutta, the Buddha has described the destruction and “re-formation” of the Earth (together with the 10,000 world systems) over a (kappa.) That is the “kappa” in saṃvaṭṭa kappa or vivaṭṭa kappa in the verse quoted from the Samaññaphala Sutta.
Those who have cultivated to the extreme levels can recall past lives going back to many such kappa.
Therefore, the confusion is with the translation of a “kappa” as the age of the universe in terms of an eon meaning the time since the ‘Big Bang.” In modern science, ALL star systems that CAN BE SEEN TODAY are supposed to have arisen in the Big Bang. All stars mean an UNCOUNTABLE number of stars!
– Let me emphasize. In modern science, ALL stars (or more precisely ALL MATTER for the existing stars) were created in a single “Big Bang.” P.S. I added the statement within brackets per comment below by y not.
– In the Buddha’s version, only a TINE FRACTION of the stars undergo destruction at a given time. That destruction takes a kappa, which is a saṃvaṭṭa kappa. Then, the “re-formation” process also takes a kappa. That is a vivaṭṭa kappa
– Those are two very different models. Problems arise when the terminologies are mixed up.