Buddhava.msa – 25 Samaasambuddha

While I was staying at Na Uyana Aranya in Sri Lanka in the first half of 2010, I read the English translation of the Buddhava.msa by …. and published by the Pali Text Society.  This book really needs a lot of editing and possibly a completely new translation. Despite imperfections in the book, I am grateful for the efforts of the translator and the PTS for making this attempt.  The Buddhava.msa is a relatively small book in the Khuddakanikaaya – “The Minor Anthologies”.  The Buddhava.msa and most of the other books in the Khuddakanikaaya is commonly believed to have been written long after the Parinibbaana of the Blessed One so I don’t have as much confidence in it as I do in the four main collections (Majjhima, Sa.myutta, Digha, Anguttara).  Even so the books in the Kuddhakanikaaya such as the Buddhava.msa, the Petavatthu and Vimaanavatthu and their associated commentaries enrich Buddhist culture and provide entertainment value at least.
I dare to provide the analogy of a block-buster movie such as Star Wars which inspired many subsequent graphic novels, paperback novels, animated serials and computer games all based in the “Star Wars universe”.  If you are into Star Wars, you will know what I mean. Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and many other examples exist.  Origin stories are typical in contemporary popular culture for comic book heros.  It seems plausible that there is a ready audience for apocryphal stories based on Buddhism.   I’ve seen how readily faithful Buddhist audiences listen to monks retelling these stories by way of illustrating a principle in the Dhamma.  In conversations with others, we often refer to various stories as support for the point we are trying to make whilst disregarding for the moment their historical accuracy. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if the stories are historically accurate. It would be impossible to test or prove accuracy anyway. The value in the stories is also greater than entertainment.  They are morality tales exemplifying the best possible way to live. When we consume the news of the world we mostly hear the worst of possibilities – depravity, fear and hopelessness.
Unlike popular fiction these Buddhist stories are not fantasies. They are true in principle.  They inspire the best in us.  Unlike Star Wars, these Buddhist stories are mostly consistent with the Dhamma in the other parts of the Tipitaka.  The motivations, intentions and views of the buddhas, the bodhisattas and various noble ones (ariyasaavaka) in these stories are the Dhamma. The historical details are not the issue.
While reading the PTS translation of the Buddhava.msa, I made notes and did some calculations. Here I present the results with the disclaimer that I have doubts about the accuracy of the PTS translation (which I don’t have at hand while writing this blog). I am not skilful enough in Paali to be able to do a better translation and don’t currently have time to try.
The following table shows the list of buddhas as appear in the Buddhava.msa and Cariyaapi.taka of the Khudakkanikaaya. Note that the suttas in the other four sutta pitaka (Majjhima, Digha, Sa.myutta, Anguttara) only mention 7 previous buddhas – those numbered 1-7 in the table below.  For example, refer to Nidaanasa.myutta S12.4-10 and Mahaapadaana Sutta in the Dighanikaaya (D14).
Table of Samaasambuddhas from the Buddhava.msa

n
Buddha
Height (ratana,
hattha) 
Height (metres)

Height adjusted
(metres) 
Life-span
(years)
Dhutanga
(years, months, days)
Vehicle
Kappa (aeon)
28
Ta.nha~nkara
The Buddhava.msa does not provide statistics on these three buddhas who are believed to have appeared before Diipankara Buddha
4 innumerables
27
Medha’nkara
26
Saara.na’nkara
25
Diipankara
80h
50
8.9
100,000
10m
elephant
24
Ko.n.da~n~na
88h
55
19.8
100,000
10m
chariot
3 innumerables
23
Ma’ngala
88r
33
5.9
90,000
8m
horse
2 innumerables
22
Sumana
90h
56.2
10
90,000
10m
elephant
21
Revata
80h
50
8.9
60,000
7m
chariot
20
Sobhita
58r
21.7
3.7
90,000
7d
palace
19
Anomadassin
58r
21.7
3.7
100,000
10m
palanquin
1 innumerable
18
Paduma
58r
21.7
3.7
100,000
8m
chariot
17
Naarada
88r
33
5.9
90,000
7d
on foot
16
Padumuttara
58r
21.7
3.7
100,000
7d
palace
100,000 kappa
15
Sumedha
88r
33
5.9
90,000
14d
elephant
30,000 kappa
14
Sujaata
50r
17.8
3.2
90,000
9m
horse
13
Piyadsssin
80h
50
8.9
90,000
6m
chariot
1800 kappa
12
Atthadassin
80h
50
8.9
100,000
8m
horse
11
Dhammadassin
80h
50
8.9
100,000
7d
palace
10
Siddhattha
60r
22.5
3.8
100,000
10m
palanquin
94 kappa
9
Tissa
60r
22.5
3.8
100,000
8m
horse
92 kappa
8
Phussa
58r
21.7
3.7
90,000
6m
elephant
7
Vipassin
80h
50
8.9
80,000
8m
chariot
6
Sikhin
70h
43.7
7.8
70,000
8m
elephant
31 kappa
5
Vesabhuu
60r
22.5
3.8
60,000
6m
palanquin
4
Kakusandha
40r
14.3
2.5
40,000
8m
chariot
Present kappa
3
Ko.naagamana
30h
10.7
3.3
30,000
6m
elephant
2
Kassapa
20r
7.1
1.3
20,000
7d
palace
1
Gotama
18h
11.2
2
100
6y
Horse
Metteya
A bodhisatta in the Tusita  deva realm waiting for the right time to take birth as a human and be the next sammasambuddha in this world system
Height
I highlighted a few parts of the above table to give readers a sense of the range and make a few points:
Sumana Buddha was the tallest Buddha in this group at 10m in height while Kassapa Buddha was the shortest Buddha at 1.3m in height. This variation can be explained in many ways though all are speculative.  I note that G.P. Malalasekera’s Dictionary of Pali Proper Names translates both hattha and ratana as “cubits”. So his where the biographical notes for the buddhas refers to height, it would correspond to the 4th column above rather than the adjusted height column. As you can see, if that were so, then Gotama Buddha would have been over 11m tall.  If he had been so tall, there would have been more references to this in the suttas. However, noting the difference between ratana and hattha and doing some calculations with the assumption that Gotama Buddha was no more than 2m tall then we may adjust the speculated heights of the other buddhas accordingly. Even adjusted, many buddhas remain extremely tall.

Perhaps those taller Buddhas existed during periods when the gravity of the “Earth” was weaker than we have now. Perhaps they lived on planets other than Earth or rings/orbitals?  Maybe the planetary gravity for Buddha Kassapa’s dispensation was stronger and made everyone shorter. Heights are relative and beings existing in periods of previous Buddhas would not know they were relatively high or relatively short compared with humans on Earth right now (or 2,500 years ago).  So this kind of speculation is really not important as far as the Dhamma goes. Height is not an impediment to realising the Dhamma.

Of course there are other explanations such as: it is all fiction; it is all fact but some of the details got muddled; and the other buddhas existed in parallel universes somewhere in the multiverse

Calculating height
The Paali terms for measuring length and weights are not precise or commonly agreed.  I have based my notes and calculations on A Pali-English Glossary of Buddhist Technical Terms compiled by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by the Buddhist Publication Society and footnotes from the Bhikkhu Bodhi translations of suttas.   I don’t know why the compilers of the Buddhava.msa chose to record the heights of past buddhas with two different measuring units – hattha (h) and ratana (r). I would like to carefully read the Paali text of the Buddhava.msa to see if the PTS translators were accurate with these details.

The Paali word hattha means “hand” but does not correspond to the size of the average human hand.  The reference books say that a hattha is a cubit and measures from the elbow to the extended little finger.

[ needs more work here]
1 yojana = 2.8 kilometres = 1.8 miles
1 yojana = 4 gaavuta; 1 gaavuta = 80 usabha; 1 usabha = 20 yatthi; 1 yatthi = 4 hattha  & 1 yatthi = 7 ratana; 1 ratana = 4/7 hattha = 0.57 hatta
18 hattha = 2 metres; 1 hattha = 200/18 cm = 11.1 cm
1 yojana = 4*80*20*4 = 25,600 hattha = 2.84 kilometres

The 3rd column in the table indicates the height as specified in either ratana or hattha.
The 4th column shows the heights as converted directly into metres.  I am not sure that the conversion rate for  ratana to metres or hattha to metres is correct. I (or someone) needs to study this matter further.  Readers will notice straight away that Gotama Buddha is supposed to be 18 hattha or 11.2 metres tall.  This is not possible.  So I made an assumption that Gotama Buddha was 2 metres tall. I based this assumption on references in the Suttas [need to find the references] that he was from the khattiya caste (warrior noble), a prince with a privileged upbringing as well as references to his above average height [need to find the references].
The 5th column shows my effort at adjusting the heights to a more “realistic” height. Assuming for the moment that the hattha and ratana to metre conversion rates are correct I maintained the relative difference in heights among the buddhas but adjusted them all downwards in the same proportion as adjusting Gotama Buddha’s apparent 11.2 metre height down to 2 metres. This calculation leads to the figures in the 6th column.  Even so, I am still doubtful about the height figures over all. 

Life-span
Nine Buddhas had the longest life-span of 100,000 years. Eight Buddhas had the second longest life span of 90,000 years.  Gotama Buddha has the shortest lifespan of 100 years. The next shortest lifespan is 20,000 years for Kassapa Buddha.  This lifespan is really quite short compared with other Buddhas in this table.   A longer life-span would mean a longer period to teach the Dhamma and I suppose that many more beings would have the chance to make merit and or realise the Dhamma.  It is amazing that the Buddha Dhamma has lasted even 2,500 years and people today can still benefit from these teachings. Even if we have relatively short life-spans, we are very fortunate to have been able to study and practice the Dhamma.  This is a rare opportunity.  In the suttas there are cases where people didn’t seem to study or practice much and yet had profound realisations. Time is not the issue; lifespan is not the issue;  Dhamma is akaaliko – timeless or beyond time.
Period of austerities (dhutanga)
All Buddhas in this table except Gotama Buddha attained enlightenment in 10 months or less after leaving home (the period of dhutanga). Gotama Buddha spent 6 years in austerities before attaining enlightenment.  This period is more than six times as long as any other Buddha in this table. I don’t have the reference, but I do recall reading that Gotama Buddha had to spend longer in austerities because of his bad speech as a bodhisatta named Jotipaala during the dispensation of Kassapa Buddha.  I encourage you read M81 Gha.tikaara Sutta from the Majjhimanikaaya for the complete version of this excellent story.  Even though the Jotipaala was impudent at the beginning, there is a happy ending when he ordains as a bhikkhu in the Sangha of Kassapa Buddha (great merit).  Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of the Majjhimanikaaya has a footnote comment from the commentary to this sutta “MA states that bodhisattas go forth under the Buddhas to purify their virtue, learn the Buddha’s teachings, practice the meditative life, and develop insight up to conformity knowledge (anuloma~naa.na  [the last stage of vipassana insight just prior to realization of Nibbaana]). But they do not make effort to attain the paths and fruits (which would terminate their bodhisatta career).”   
Bhikkhu Bodhi does not refer to the link between the bodhisatta Jotipaala’s bad speech and the long period of austerities endured by Bodhisatta Gotama prior to attaining Nibbaana.  The link seems plausible and speculative at the same time. If true, it indicates the severity of kamma one accumulates by verbally abusing the Sangha. Note that Gotama (was Jotipaala) Bodhisatta had previously and subsequently accumulated a vast (incalculable) store of good kamma and this would have mitigated most of the bad results of his unwholesome speech. This may be compared with someone convicted of a crime avoiding imprisonment because of their previous outstanding record so they only have to report regularly to a parole officer and do a long period of community service.

Five of the 25 buddhas in the table endured austerities for as little as 7 days.  They also lived during periods of human existence when the average maximum life-span was much greater than today – 20,000 to 100,000 years.  Relative to their life-span a period of seven days doing austerities would seem quite rapid.  Perhaps these buddhas had accumulated greater merit and were extremely mature.

Vehicles
The vehicles used by bodhisattas for leaving home vary a lot. The surprising vehicle is a palace. In the PTS translation this is written as a floating palace. I think the Paali for this term is probably “vimaana”.  Vimaana are usually the palaces of deva and according to sutta and commentary traditions can be extremely large – even larger than modern cities while other vimana may be as large as a car or carriage. Vimana are the houses and vehicles of deva.  According to tradition mature bodhisattas spend time in the Tusita heavenly realm as deva being waiting for the right conditions to take human birth and attain Nibbaana.  Buddhas are always human and never deva.
For some bodhisatta to leave home in a vimaana seems to me to imply some kind of high tech antigravity device.  Maybe technology of human civilization during those periods when bodhisatta (as human beings) are leaving home is very advanced (more advanced than we have now) and floating palaces (vimaana) with crew/servants are common for wealthy princes.  This point is not very important though. Whatever technology is in existence is irrelevant to the realisation of the Dhamma. Leaving home on foot or in a flying palace is essentially still renunciation.

A palanquin is a type of human-powered transport, usually a covered box with a cushioned platform or seat for a passenger with two long poles poking from either end.  Some palanquins have yokes attached to the poles so the weight is carried more directly on the carrier’s shoulders.  Two or more carriers lift and carry the box by holding on to the poles.  

Kappa (aeon)
The conception of cosmological time periods in the Buddhist tradition is very difficult to hold in one’s mind.  The terms are not precise though given the lengths of time being discussed and the state of science at the time these details were being written, it is not surprising that there may be some margins for error.  However, I personally find these details fascinating and helpful to put in perspective the vastness of sa.msaara (the round of becoming, birth and death).   Studying these details can inspire some people to put more effort into Dhamma study and practice without having to believe these details are literally true in the way that most people hold scientific facts to be literally true.  
Some readers may be interested in reading more about Buddhist cosmology. The suttas don’t have much detail and that is just as well.  The most details come from the Abhidhamma and the A.t.thakataa commentaries.  I offer some cautions to guide you.  Most of this field is speculative and it would be best to study it with an open mind.  There is no way for us to prove with any certainty any of this stuff. Ultimately proof of this cosmology is not required for realisation of Nibbaana. Remember what the Blessed One taught in the Rohitassa Sutta in the Devaputta Sa.myuttanikaaya (S2.26) “As to the end of the world, friend, where one is not born, does not age, does not die, does not pass away, and is not reborn- I say that is cannot be known, seen, or reached by travelling… However, friend, I say that without having reached the end of the world there is no marking an end to suffering. It is, friend in just this fathom-high carcass endowed with perception and mind that I make known the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the way leading to the cessation of the world.’   This last sentence is extremely valuable. Keep it in mind when you go exploring speculative theories. 
The following distinctions between types of aeons is derived from Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma which is a guide to the ancient classic Abhidhammattha Sangaha (a summary of the essential points in the abhidhamma commentaries that has been used as an ancient abhidhamma text book). 
Interim aeon – antarakappa is the time required for the life span of humans to rise from 10 years to a maximum of many thousands of years (100,000) and then fall back to 10 years.  It seems the cycle is currently in the declining phase, though it may appear to be rising during the past 100 years.   Human life spans may increase  to 10,000 years or more prior to the next human birth of Metteya Bodhisatta so he may attain Nibbaana and become the next samasambuddha.
Incalculable aeon – asa.nkheyyakappa is the time required for 64 interim aeons to pass.

Great aeon – mahaakappa is the time required for 4 incalculable aeons to pass which is the same as 256 interim aeons.
Innumerable number of aeons is an unknown but very large number of great aeons.  It is not infinite because it is impossible to have a bunch of infinities. Infinity is not quantifiable at all, it is a concept of endlessness. An innumerable number of aeons is quantifiable by buddhas but not by ordinary humans or any deities including even those brahma deities with the longest life spans.  Maybe buddhas know it but are unable to explain it to anyone else in everyday language?  So four innumberables in the past is a very long time ago. It is really just a concept that has is beyond my everyday reality.
When contemplating these vast periods of time, don’t assume that human existence is a constant. It seems there may be vast periods of time when there are no humans, only brahma deities whose life spans are also very very long indeed. I shall write about that in another post about heavenly realms, deva and knowing previous existences.
Perhaps an interim kappa is the same length as the period between big bang events. The universe is currently 13.7×109 (13.7 billion) years old.  According to speculative theories by some physicists the eventual heat death of the universe may occur in about 10100 years (1 with 100 zeros after it).  So maybe a kappa is 10100 years. 
In the table above, there are buddhas who appeared 4 innumerables ago, 3 innumerables ago, 2…, 1…, and then 100,000 kappa, 30,000 kappa and down until in our present fortunate kappa there have been 4 buddhas already with one more to arise before the end of this kappa. Given the vast periods of time here, it is truly auspicious for us to be born as humans who know Buddhism during a kappa with 5 buddhas. Buddhas are rare events. Incredibly rare.  After Metteya Buddha’s dispensation there may not be another Buddha for many kappa – who knows. This thought can inspire us to put more energy into study and practice while we have this rare opportunity.  By comparison we might wonder if it is really important to watch TV or play a game.   
[Pedantic note: Another caution is the common English use of the word incalculable for referring to large bunch of aeons (not just one incalculable aeon – an unknown large number of aeons. This leads to confusion and may have resulted from an early PTS editing error. I would like everyone to commit to using “innumerable” aeons for referring to an unknown large number of aeons so we can reserve the word “incalculable” for referring to a single aeon of indeterminately long period. ]
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