Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, , at sacred-texts.com
The universe passes through incessant changes—Kalpas of various lengths—Kalpas of establishment, of destruction, &c.—Saha world—Sumeru mountain—The Southern continent is Jambudvipa—Heaven of the thirty-three—Tushita paradise—Upper tier of paradises—Heavens of form and of desire—Heavens without form—Brahma's paradise—No wise man is born there, because Brahma says he created the universe—The hells—Story from the "Ti-tsang Sutra."
THE universe, according to the Buddhists, is in a constant state of change. The periods in which its changes take place are called kalpas (kie-po or kie.) Eighty small kalpas make one large kalpa. The inhabitants of the Brahma heaven live through twenty small kalpas, and their chief, Mahabrahma, through sixty. Kalpas are divided into the small kalpa, the kalpa of establishment and destruction, and the great kalpa. In the small kalpa, the age of mankind diminishes from an immeasurable length to ten years, and then increases to a length of from ten to eighty thousand years. In twenty of such periods the world is completed. Through twenty more it remains in the same state. After twenty more the world is destroyed, and there remains nothing but vacancy during twenty more. The first forty mean kalpas make up the kalpa of establishment. The other forty compose that of destruction. All of them taken together form a great kalpa. We live in the second intermediate kalpa, or that
in which the world continues in its completed state, in a period called the hien kalpa or "Age of wise men" (Mahabhadra-kalpa). There are still eleven small kalpas to be passed before the age of destruction commences. During the "eighth kalpa" (Mandu-kalpa), immediately preceding the present, a hundred Buddhas successively appear. Shakyamuni is the fourth Buddha of the Mahabhadra-kalpa. In his time the age of man had already gradually diminished to a hundred years, and the same process of gradual subtraction by one year at a time is still going on. In the centre of the Saha world, or that ruled by Shakyamuni, is the Sumeru mountain. A wide sea separates this from eight other mountains. Outside these mountains, beyond another wide sea, is a great circular mountain mass of iron. A thousand such circular iron mountain chains constitute one "small world" (siau-ts‘ien-shï-kiai). Three thousand such walls form a "great world" (ta-ts‘ien-shï-kiai). This is the Saha world.
Within each iron wall are four continents, and a sun and moon to shine upon them. It is in the southernmost of these continents, Jambudvipa in the case of our own world, that India and all countries known to the Hindoos are situated. Far to the north is the Sumeru mountain, one million one hundred and twenty thousand miles high, and whose depth in the sea is equally great. It is composed of gold on its east side, of "lapis-lazuli" (lieu-li, spelt in full, according to the old pronunciation, be-lu-li and be-du-li; in Sanscrit, vaiduria 1) on the south, of "crystal" (p‘o-li, "glass;" in Sanscrit, sp‘atika) on the north, and silver on the west.
Travelling south from Jambudvipa across the Southern
ocean, there are three hundred and sixty thousand six hundred and sixty-three "yojanas" 1 (yeu-siün) to the circular mountain mass of iron. This mountain's depth in the sea is three hundred and twelve yojanas, and its height about the same. Its circumference is three million six hundred and ten thousand three hundred and fifty yojanas. Each iron-bound world has a Sumeru mountain in its centre. Supposing the world to be under the eternal law of change sketched above, Buddhist authorities give no account of its first origin, not feeling the need of a doctrine of creation. The physical causes engaged in its periodical formation and destruction are water, wind, and fire. These are three of the four elements ti, shui, hwo, feng, "earth, water, fire, and air," which are supposed to form the basis of all things. They are perhaps to be taken in the sense of elemental causes rather than elemental atoms.
Over and under this world of mountains, seas, and continents are two others, heaven and hell. Of celestial regions there are thirty-two inhabited by the divinities of the older Hindoo mythology. For the Buddhas and Bodhisattwas, peculiar to Buddhism, other abodes are found. Among the thirty-two heavenly regions, ten are called worlds of desire; including, among others, the heaven of the sun and moon, the heaven of the four kings of Devas, and the heaven of the thirty-three or paradise of Indra Shakra, who has under him thirty-three powerful Devas. There are also the Yama paradise, the Tushita paradise, the "Nimala paradise" (Hwa-lo), and the paradise of "Paranimita" (T‘a-hwa-tsï-tsai).
At the base of the Sumeru mountain reside shens, "spirits," and Yakshas. Half-way up the mountain is the paradise of the Four kings of Devas. On the summit is the Tau-li or "Trayastrinsha" (thirty-three) heaven,
i.e., the paradise of Shakra, king of the gods. The rest of these celestial abodes are fixed in vacancy, each as high again as the one beneath it.
The next tier of these paradisiacal regions consists of eighteen. They are called heavens of form, denoting that the senses are still in activity there, though there is freedom from that influence of the passions which is still felt in the regions of desire near the world of men. The eighteen heavens of form are divided into stages of contemplation. Three belong to the first, second, and third stages, and nine to the fourth. The first stage is appropriated to the Brahmas, divided into three classes, the (Mahabrahma or) "king," officers of state, and people. Each of these classes has a paradise assigned to it. The heavens above these have various names compounded of the ideas of purity, light, virtue, abstraction, and tranquillity. In the highest of them all, Akanit‘a, resides "Maha Ishwara," or Ma-he-shwa-ra.
The uppermost tier of four, "formless," as they are called, derive their names from the notions of vacancy, knowledge, destitution of all properties, and negation of all thought.
Of these thirty-two heavens, five are inhabited only by sages, twenty-five by sages and common men together, and two by common men alone. One of the latter is the paradise of Mahabrahma. A wise man can never be born in the abode of Brahma, say the Buddhist cosmogonists, because that deity, in his ignorance of causes, asserts that he can create heaven, earth, and all things. He being so arrogant as this, no wise man would go to live in his heaven. The other is the paradise of abstraction, where those heretics who disbelieve in the Nirvâna, but aim to gain a state of perfect mental abstraction, will hereafter be born. They will there enjoy five hundred years of freedom from the sufferings of life in a state of mindless vacancy; but since they will not tread the path of the Nirvâna, evil desires must afterwards arise, and they must
be born subsequently in hell. No wise man, therefore, would willingly go to that heaven.
One of the higher worlds is assigned for the residence of those disciples of Buddha who have attained the rank of Anagamins and Lo-hares. Those who are shortly to become Buddha are first born into the Tushita paradise.
Mara, king of the "demons" (mo-kwei), resides in the space below the Brahma heaven.
These heavens are peopled by Devas. Men from the four continents of our own world may be born into them by transmigration into the body of a Deva. The Devas are born and die, their bodies are of great stature, they wear clothing, have horses and elephants to ride upon, marry, eat and drink, and perform many other actions resembling mankind. Above the worlds of desire, there is no distinction of sexes.
To become an inhabitant of these worlds is regarded as a reward for good actions, for those who have lived previously in lower states of existence. But it is still a punishment when viewed in comparison with the attainment of Nirvâna or any of the higher grades of discipleship under the teaching of Buddha.
The Buddhist "hells" (in Sanscrit, niliya or naraka), the prisons of the lost, are in some cases situated under the region inhabited by man. Twenty thousand yojanas (280,000 miles) below the Jambu continent is one called the Avichi naraka, or the "Hell of unintermitted torments." The Yama naraka is half-way between. Others are among fabled mountains, or on the shores of a great sea. In Chinese books they are called by a common name ti-yü, "earth-prisons."
In the "Ti-tsang Sutra" is a story of a maiden of the Brahman caste, whose mother had been condemned to the Wu-kien ti-yü, or "Avichi naraka." Full of distress, she went to a temple to pray for help from an ancient Buddha whose image was there adored. In reply to her offerings and prayers a voice addressed her—that of the Buddha
represented by the image. She was told to sit at home and meditate on the name of the same Buddha. While doing so she fell, after a day thus spent, into a state of deep reverie, and found herself on the banks of an ocean. Here she saw many beasts of prey with iron bodies, flying and walking on the sea. Multitudes of unhappy men and women were also swimming there, and were constantly bitten by these ferocious animals. The maiden, supported by the power of Buddha, did not feel terrified. A demon king addressed her kindly, and informed her that she was come to the great iron mountain girdle that surrounds the world. "I have heard," said the maiden, "that hell is here; how can I reach it?" Ans. "Only by spiritual power, and of merit self-acquired." Qu. "And who are these unhappy criminals suffering in this sea?" Ans. "They are the wicked inhabitants of the Jambu continent who have recently died. After forty-five days, if no one performs any meritorious act for their benefit, they must first be transported to this place. Eastward are two other 'seas of misery' (k‘u-hai), where the punishment inflicted is still greater." Qu. "But where is hell?" Ans. "Within these three seas there are many thousand prisons, but of the larger kind only eighteen." Qu. "My mother died not long since; where now is her soul?" The good-hearted demon king answered this question by another. Qu. "O Bodhisattwa, what sort of life did your mother formerly lead?" Ans. "My mother held heretical opinions. She ridiculed and slandered the 'Three treasures' (Buddha, the Law, and the Priesthood). If she became a believer for a time, she soon ceased to honour them." Qu. "What was her name?" Ans. "My father and mother were both of the Brahman caste. Their names were Shira and Yetili." The demon king, holding up his joined hands respectfully to the Bodhisattwa, said, "Holy maiden, return. Dismiss all sad thoughts. It is now three days since the sinful Yetili was born an inhabitant of paradise. The filial love that prompted such acts to save a parent, and such piety
towards an ancient Buddha, are sufficient not only to preserve a mother from hell, but also to raise innumerable other persons to heaven." The Brahman maiden then returned to consciousness as from a dream. Reflecting on what had happened, she visited again the shrine of the ancient Buddha, and made a vow that through innumerable coming kalpas she would perform acts of merit for the deliverance from suffering of multitudes of living beings. Shakyamuni Buddha added, addressing Manjusiri, "That demon king and Brahman maiden have now become the Tsai-sheu Bodhisattwa and the Ti-tsang Bodhisattwa."
This story must serve instead of a detailed description of the Buddhist hells. It will be sufficient to say of them that they combine all that is horrible to each of the senses. Every form of torment, mental and physical, that can befall the unhappy violators of a good conscience and of the Buddhist law, are found there. The extremes of cold and heat, cutting, flaying, biting, insulting, and tantalising, have to be endured by such persons according to their deserts. Demons of the most monstrous shapes and most cruel dispositions terrify them in every possible way. All that fire and water, knives and clubs, can by ingenuity be made to do in tormenting, is there done.
The preceding brief sketch of the "three worlds" (san-kiai) almost all refers to what is common to the other native Hindoo sects. Buddhism adopted the national belief in regard to the form of the universe, including the worlds of reward and punishment. It belongs to all forms of Buddhism in China or elsewhere.
The Northern Buddhists have, however, gone further, and framed a much more extensive cosmogony, which deserves a separate consideration.
222:1 The d and t in these two Sanscrit words are the cerebral d and t, usually printed with a dot under them. They approach the sound of l. The Buddhist dictionary, Yi-ts‘ie-king-yin-i, says, that the word p’o-li is in its full Sanscrit form, sa-p‘a-ti-ka. In K‘ang-hi, we are told, "the Roman empire has glass of five colours," ta-ts‘in-yeu-wu-se-p‘o-li. In Buddhist books it means "rock crystal." Why the aspirate is not preserved in the common colloquial term po-li "glass," is not clear.
223:1 There are two kinds of yojana. One consists of four goshalas, the other of eight. A goshala is the distance at which the bellowing of a bull can be heard, or nearly two miles.