Upgrading Your Uposatha Observance: five then eight and beyond

The Dhamma is internally consistent and truthful. It is amazingly complete and flawless.  It is possible to take almost any aspect of the Dhamma and see relations with most other aspects of the Dhamma.
Some people misunderstand precepts and think that more is better. Thus someone practicing ten precepts might be considered more virtuous than an eight preceptor and even more superior than a five preceptor. According to this incorrect understanding, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be inherently more virtuous than lay people because they are obliged to practice over 200 or over 300 rules respectively.  Think about it though: are bhikkhunis more virtuous than bhikkhus because they have more rules?  The first five bhikkhus (pancasaavakaa) and maybe even the first few hundred thousand bhikkhus did not have any rules. Vinaaya rules were created over time to guide worldling-putthujana monastics. Many of these lacked mindfulness and may have been motivated to join the Sangha for because the Buddhasangha was popular, well supported by lay benefactors and rapidly growing in size and influence.  So the number of precepts or rules is not a measure of virtue. 

Virtue-siila, concentration-samaadhi and wisdom-pa~n~naa are all related and integrated parts of the eightfold noble path.   Virtue and other aspects of the path are qualities rather than quantities.  Greater virtue necessarily implies deeper concentration and profounder wisdom. The three go together simultaneously developed and improved as qualities. 

We need to focus on the practice and the results, the cause and effect of actions – kamma.  Wholesome/skilful – kusala actions such as observing Uposatha precepts will lead to pleasant results and visa-versa.   The precepts are guides to daily life that help us reduce the chances of unwholesome/unskilful akusala actions that lead to harmful results.   Monastics who are supposed to be free from the usual distractions of sensuality, earning a living and supporting families are able to use the observance of so many rules to develop deep concentration – samaadhi and with that concentration are able to gain insight into the Dhamma and find liberation from suffering.  Lay people can do this as well. The principles are the same though the lifestyle may be different.    

First five precepts. By not taking life, we are compassionate and loving toward all beings that fear death and prefer to live. We also give the gift of life. By not taking what is not given, we reduce the fear that other beings have for losing their belongings.  We also give material things to others. By refraining from sexual misconduct or indeed any sexual conduct, we reduce opportunities for our minds and the minds of our lovers to be flooded with extreme emotions which reduce mindfulness and create conditions for suffering.  We also give social harmony to our communities.  By refraining from lies, abusive speech other wrong speech acts, we avoid harming other’s reputations, we avoid inflaming their anger and confusing them with ignorance.  By refraining from intoxicating drinks and other substances, we keep our minds relatively clear and sharp so we can remember the Dhamma and act wisely in all situations.   Intoxicated people are more likely to break the other precepts due to their degraded senses. 

The perpetrators and victims of acts of violence, theft, molestation, slander and so on are at least temporarily mentally disturbed and restless. Without a perspective of the Dhamma and some degree of Right View (sammaadi.t.thi) the victims may seek revenge and due to their confusion, harm others.  By doing so, they perpetuate the cycle of suffering and rebirth.  Only by love is hate quenched. Only by renunciation is lust abated. Only by wisdom is ignorance destroyed.  

Other beings will feel less fear in our presence due to our practice of virtue-siila.  This wholesome behaviour will immediately increase environmental peace and safety.  Our good example may inspire others to practice .  Imagine how peaceful our lives would be if we did not have to worry about murder, theft, molestation of self and family, verbal abuse and so forth. Thus with quieter and safer environmental conditions, people will be better able to see clearly what is happening in mind and body. There will naturally be more opportunities for developing the higher mind and possibly achieving a breakthrough in the Dhamma

The last three Uposatha precepts. Most lay people temporarily observe the last three Uposatha precepts either on meditation retreats or on Uposatha days.  Not observing these last three precepts doesn’t obviously lead to harm for ourselves and others so why observe them?  We observe the other three precepts in order to simplify our lives and avoid indulgence in sensual pleasure.  Sensual pleasure is the practice of the lay person in daily life, not the practice of a someone intensifying their progress on the eightfold noble path.  In itself, sensual pleasure is not wrong so don’t get all guilty about having fun.  However, sensual pleasure is distracting, reduces concentration and reduces the opportunities for wisdom to arise.  In other words sensual pleasures slow you down your progress on the spiritual path.  The suttas have many references to sensual pleasures being inherently disappointing and unsatisfactory with only the most fleeting sense of gratification.  Thus by observing the eight Uposatha precepts we can create more conditions for environmental peace and concentration (samaadhi). 

The last three precepts are like an upgrade on the first five. The reduced indulgence in sensuality will help us to maintain a clear peaceful mind in which samaadhi and the other controlling faculties (panc’indriya) can develop.   The difference between an enlightened being and an ordinary worldling is the development of the controlling faculties.

The benefits arising from observing the last three Uposatha precepts is highly dependent on successfully observing the first five precepts. The first five precepts are the basic foundation and the last three are the more advanced practice with more profound results.   

Upgrading Uposatha.  
Some Buddhists may not have convenient living conditions to formally observe Uposatha precepts in all respects. For example, they may feel obliged to wear cosmetics and jewellery to work and may have to eat an evening meal with non-Buddhist family.  Perhaps a non-Buddhist lover may seduce us or demand services on Uposatha day.

Some Buddhists may observe Uposatha precepts regularly but feel they are not making much progress or struggle to see how it is beneficial.  It is inconvenient and maybe they feel dissatisfied.  So how do we upgrade or revive our spiritual life in these two sets of circumstances?   

I suggest below a few ways to give some focus to your observance of Uposatha whether you can practice eight precepts or not. This should give you some ideas which you can adapt for your particular lifestyle and background.

Loving-kindness/friendliness – mettaa and compassion – karunaa. It is helpful to deliberately observe five precepts and Uposatha precepts with mettaa and karunaa in mind. Restraining ourselves from harming others is loving and compassionate. We wish other beings were happy and well. We wish other beings were free from harm and suffering.  It would be odd to attempt mettaa and karunaa practice while not keeping at least the first five precepts because in breaking any of these precepts, we would be directly harming others or intoxicating the mind so that it is unable to concentrate. Beware the near-enemies of mettaa and karunaa.  Beginners in the practice or those who are intoxicated may confuse mettaa with lust or karunaa with pity. 
Observing the five precepts or the Uposatha precepts is practicing love and compassion towards ourselves because we don’t create unwholesome/unskilful kamma that will result in our suffering.  Lord Buddha said that sincerely observing the five precepts will result in a heavenly rebirth, how much more beneficial would be the results of observing Uposatha precepts.  Note that aiming for a heavenly rebirth would be a ‘wrong aim’.  It is better to aim for liberation from the cycle of rebirths altogether.

Sympathetic joy – muditaa. When we go onto Facebook or attend the temple, we may come to know about other Buddhists who practice the five precepts or the eight Uposatha precepts. We can deliberately practice muditaa for these fellow Buddhists, recollecting that they are excellent, practicing in the good way, the true way, the straight way and the proper way.  By recollecting that these fellow Buddhists will be happier and will benefit greatly from this practice we also share in their merits. We say “saadhu, saadhu, saadhu…” congratulations, well done!  Beware the near enemy of muditaa is pride in the achievements of others. Pride in the achievements of others includes attachment.  Muditaa is similar to mettaa and karunaa because it has no aspect of attachment.

Equanimity – upekkhaa. In daily life we will meet many people who do not consciously practice the Uposatha precepts or any precepts. As a result these people wander about in ignorance and suffering. It is not easy for anyone to lead another person to follow the right path. There may be small chances here and there to influence others. Usually, we wait until others ask questions. So we practice equanimity for the sufferings of others.  Remembering that everyone will get the results of their actions. Note that equanimity is not the same as indifference which is allied with ignorance. Equanimity is allied with wisdom and insight.  Equanimity is an underlying component in the other three divine abodes and present in all wholesome mental states. 
It is possible to develop mental aborptions – jhaana with any of the four divine abodes above though traditionally mettaa, karunaa and muditaa can be used for 1st-3rd jhaana while upekkhaa can be used only for 4th jhaana. This is a technical topic for another post. You can read more in the Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga and other meditation manuals. However, there is a lot of benefit from just reflecting on the four divine abodes during the day. As we refrain from taking life, or stealing etc. we can say to our selves “may all beings be happy and well, may all beings be free from harm and suffering…” I find this useful on the bus crowded with noisy people when commuting to work.  When I find a cockroach or spider in the home I capture it and recite “may all beings be happy and well….” as I gently take the insect outside. 
It is also useful to just recite “may all beings be happy and well” at free times during the day. It is relaxing and wholesome. This practice helps keep unwholesome objects from taking over.  
Dhamma study. Choose one Dhamma topic, read a bit, write some brief notes and then reflect on it throughout the day. For example, read about the one of the seven sets in the 37 seven aids to enlightenment – Bodhipakkhiyadhamma. Maybe start with the seven factors for enlightenment – Bojjhanga. Try to remember the Paali words for the factors and memorise the correct sequence of factors. On another day, read about what the commentaries say for ways to cultivate and improve the seven enlightenment factors.  On another day read some more suttas that might refer to the seven factors and may refer to some of the benefits (such as improving health and length of life) in recollecting the seven factors.

As you contemplate the Dhamma in this way you will be practicing dhammanusati which is one of the six recollections recommended by the Blessed One for purifying the mind.  This works because the mind is focussed on a wholesome/skilful object and not distracted with lust, anger or delusion. 

Siilanusati – recollection of virtue.  As someone who is keeping precepts you may be feel confident enough to reflect on your accumulating virtue.  If you have been able to keep five precepts and eight precepts then you have good grounds for reflecting on the merits of your practice. Without necessarily getting  big-headed about it, you objectively realise that this practice is beneficial, it is purifying, creating conditions for happiness and leading you to more wholesome mental states.  Someone who is able to keep precepts is also someone who has enough mindfulness and Right View to control impulsive cravings and has learned to live peacefully to some extent. This is the foundation of training for higher mental development.  On occasions when there are breaks in the precepts (hopefully minor) then one immediately determines to sincerely refrain from breaking the precepts again. It is possible to recover a mind free from remorse, a mind settled and peaceful once again.  Do not underestimate the power of keeping precepts even for a short time such as one minute.  If one is sincere, there are great benefits here and now including greater self-esteem, courage and confidence.

Caaganusati – recollection of generosity. In being generous, by giving and sharing, you have been reducing attachment and clinging.  This wholesome conduct will benefit others and oneself and lead to more wholesome states. This is faultless behaviour. 

32 parts of the body. For those of us who are living a celibate life, I recommend memorising the 32 parts of the body in forward and reverse order as outlined in the Visuddhimagga.  I found this practice is very effective in temporarily overcoming lustful states of mind.  Remembering this famous list is a useful way to concentrate the mind and give it temporary relief from worry and strife. Note there are intensive ways of practicing the 32 parts of the body which can lead to first mental absorption – jhaana though that need not be the goal of the practice.  There are many benefits without necessarily attaining jhaana. Again I refer keen readers to the various meditation manuals for more details.  
Devanusati.  On Uposatha day and other days deliberately recollect that the devas attained their fortunate rebirth and powers on account of previously virtuous conduct such as practising the five precepts and the eight Uposatha precepts. Now you and other sincere Buddhists are practicing in this same way and likely to attain a fortunate rebirth in a heavenly realm. As you practice in this way, you may sometimes  recite “may the devas be happy and well…”.  Remember that many devas are Buddhists and have attained various paths and fruits in the Buddha’s dispensation.  You may recollect these noble devas as part of the ariyasangha
In times when you feel afraid that someone maybe going to hurt you, recollect the devas and maybe you can overcome your fears. But don’t just rely on the devas to protect you. Use common sense and find safety.  Note that overcoming fears in this way is possible with other wholesome objects such as recollecting any or all of the three refuges (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha)
Death – maranaanusati. On Uposatha day and other days, deliberately recollect the certain fact that you will die and so will all the people you know. Recollecting death is a way to put our lives in perspective and determine what is really important.  In Australian culture, recollecting death is considered a negative and gloomy occupation. Actually it is a wholesome and sensible activity.  Some people may find it difficult at first to overcome previous preconceptions and biases. If you persevere you may develop some equanimity and a completely different set of priorities will emerge. I found that recollecting the inevitable nature of death gave me a greater sense of spiritual urgency – sa.mvega. This really motivates and intensifies the practice.  You may find it much easier to practice the five precepts and eight Uposatha precepts after you have deepened your maranaanutsati.
Summary. By simplifying our lives and deepening our practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods outlined above we will definitely be upgrading our Uposatha observance.   The basic peace in life created by the first five precepts can be deepened by the 8 Uposatha precepts. This results in greater peace and concentration – samaadhi. The deliberate practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods is further deepening of the practice that will bring enormous benefits to ourselves and all others in the environment.
May you dear reader feel inspired to go deeper into the Dhamma. May you be free from harm and suffering.

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

Height (ratana,
Height (metres)

Height adjusted
(years, months, days)
Kappa (aeon)
The Buddhava.msa does not provide statistics on these three buddhas who are believed to have appeared before Diipankara Buddha
4 innumerables
3 innumerables
2 innumerables
1 innumerable
on foot
100,000 kappa
30,000 kappa
1800 kappa
94 kappa
92 kappa
31 kappa
Present kappa
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
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. 

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.

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. ]

3 Month Retreat in Cibodas, Indonesia

I recieved the following message by e-mail and would like to share the notice with blog readers.  I encourage you to participate if you have time and resources to attend this retreat.  May the teachers, assistants, supporters, donors, participants, deva and others who support this retreat gain great merit. May they all develop the five controlling faculties and realise Nibbaana soon.
Hello Dhamma Friends,
Hadaya Vatthu Foundation will organize a 3 months Samatha-Vipassana Meditation Retreat conducted by Sayadaw U Revata.
Retreat will begin on 25 of December 2010 and end on 26 of March 2011
Place : Kayagata Sati Meditation Centre, Cibodas, Indonesia
Register via e-mail to : daftarhadaya@gmail.com
For more information please contact : Charles @ 62-812-105-0996
Please share this information with the other friends who love meditation.
 Sayadaw U Revata.jpg
Short biography of Sayadaw U Revata:
Sayadaw U Revata was born on 1st September 1971 in Mawlamyine, Myanmar. He is the eighth son of Oo Thar Tun and Daw Mya Sein.
In 1994, he graduated from the Yangon University with a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree, and establishing his own teaching room he made his living by teaching the computer technology in his native place for five years.
Since 1990 he learned meditation at Mahasi Meditation Centre, Mawlamyine and in 1998 he join at Pa Auk Tawya Meditation Centre, Mawlamyine, until now.
In 1999 November 10th, he was ordained a Theravada bhikkhu at the Pa-Auk Meditation Centre (main). His preceptor is the Most Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw, U Acinna. He practised meditation under the guidance of the Most Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw U Acinna, Sayadaw U Cittara and Venerable U Sila. 
He learns and studies Pali literature and commentaries. He speaks Burmese, English and Thai.
He has been teaching meditation to local and foreign yogies – Theravada bhikkhus, Mahayana bhikkhus and bhikkhunies, nuns, novices and layman from different countries since the year 2002 up to now at the Pa-Auk Meditation Centre.
He is an assistant teacher of the Most Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw. Teaching the local and foreign yogies, and training the successful ones to be teachers in the future is his responsibility as well.
He has delivered several English and Myanmar Dhamma talks both in and out of the country.
He wrote three books in native language with the Most Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw, and one in English, Awaken, Oh World! as well.
In 2005 he was invited to do meditation retreat in Singapore with the Most Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw.
In 2008 May and June 2 months retreat was conducted by him in Bong‐In‐Sa and in the same year November     one month retreat in O Dauk Centre with the Most Venerable Pa‐Auk Sayadaw in South Korea too.
In the year 2008 he wrote a new book in Burmese, and it was already published.
In 2009 he was again invited to Korea to conduct June and July 2 months retreat in Bong‐In‐Sa Centre.
Sayadaw spent his 2010 Vassa at  Pa-Auk Latvia International Meditation Center – Latvia, Europe.

International Petition to Protect Lumbini’s Environment

I encourage readers to research this issue and (electronically) sign the petition. There is room for you to leave comments on the petition form if you wish.


Here is an on line document related to the peititon with back ground information that you may find interesting.

Here is a recent op-ed piece in the Kathmandu Post written by James G. Heller about this issue: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2010/10/25/oped/restoring-lumbinis-integrity/214140/

I hope the Government of Nepal can create more employment and develop industry for the economic prosperity of its people. I can’t see any factories nearby Lumbini on Google Maps. There are many farms nearby. I remember the roads all around are narrow and very poor quality with many pot holes (probably created by cement trucks).

The Nepal Government is already aware of the sensitivity of this area and has responded to international pressure by preserving this World Heritage area many years ago. There has been a lot of international funds (Japanese and Taiwanese etc.) invested at the site and the Nepal Government agreed to move an old Hindu temple that had been built on top of the Buddha’s birth spot. The old carving of Queen Mahaamaaya giving birth to the Bodhisatta was interpreted wrongly by later Hindus as a Hindu goddess so they built a Hindu temple around it. Now the Hindu temple is moved to another location and the birth site preserved as a sacred Buddhist site. Though now it is less sacred than it is an archaeological site, where many Hindu and Muslim tourists pass through every day, laughing and joking.

Most of these Buddhist sacred sites in India and Nepal are preserved as large parks with lots of grass and trees. International funding for gardeners and walls and ticket offices are helping this. Then the locals use these places as recreational parks for family picnics and romance. I saw it with my own sad eyes. There is even graffiti on stupas such as the Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath (Isipitana) where the Lord Buddha set the wheel of the Dhamma rolling with the first Dhamma talk (Dhammacakkhapavatana sutta) to the first five disciples (pancasaavakii) . Foreigners must pay about US$5 to enter these parks while locals pay about 20 cents each.

I went to Lumbini in December 2009. From memory there appeared to be more dust and pollution from deforestation than any factories. There seemed to be a lot of soil erosion in the area. It is not mountainous in this southern part of Nepal, very close to the northern border of India. This whole area was once verdant with forests. Locals use wood for fuel to cook and heat their houses. Hindus also burn wood as part of their rituals for fire worship. Now with massive population increase due to better food and medical facilities (though these are still very bad compared to many other countries), there is great demand for resources.

Image from

The column on the left is an Asoka pillar. The white building is a steel framed structure sheltering the birth spot of the Buddha Gotama.  There is a tank in the foreground and behind the photographer is a large Bodhi Tree. The ticket office is outside the frame to the right.  I wrote about my experience visiting this place in December 2009.

I doubt this petition will help the people of Nepal or prevent the decline of Buddhist parks and sacred sites. All these places will disappear sooner or later. It is dhamma – conditioned phenomena. Try not to be too attached to them. It is better to work for your own salvation and the well being of living people. It may be that with some better living conditions and a better environment, Nepalese and Indian people can learn to appreciate their heritage. Maybe not though. Australians don’t appreciate Australian heritage very much. Little is done to preserve Aboriginal culture. Sacred sites are bulldozed for mines and railways. This sort of thing happens in every country.

There is also a danger that instead of taking real world political action, many people sitting at home will feel comforted by signing a petition safely in Australia or Canada far from the suffering of the Nepal and Indian people.  I’m not sure that signing petitions such as this counts as ‘socially engaged Buddhism’.  However, it may be the beginning of a more active involvement.

Even so, I signed the petition and encourage you to also sign. Perhaps if many people sign the petition there maybe change for the better.

I quote below half of a sutta from the Sutta Nipaata with a reference to Lumbini as the birthplace of BuddhaGotama. I don’t quite like the style of the translation – it is a bit archaic and may be difficult for ESL people to understand. I changed a few phrases but tried not to interfere too much. The numbers in square brackets refer to the verse number.  The published translation also included Paali text in Roman characters that I have not reproduced in this blog.

Naalakasutta The Discourse to Naalaka in the Sutta Nipaata, translated into English by N. A. Jayawickrama [alternative translation by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu]

The seer Asita saw at this noonday rest the shining ones of Taavati.msa (together) with Inda and the deva (clad) in immaculate clothing, overjoyed  and delighted, exultantly singing praises, clutching their garments; [679]

Seeing the deva with joyful hearts and intent, showing due respect, he said therat: ‘Why are the shining ones in such high festive appearance and for what reason do you take garments in hand and twirl them?'[680]

When the war was on with the Asuras and victory  was with the deva and the Asuras were defeated, even then there was no hair-raising (merriment) such as this; seeing what miracle are the deva delighted?’ [681]

‘They whistle, sing, play instrumental music, clap hands and dance; I ask you, O dwellers on the summit of Mount Meru, soon dispel my doubt.’ [682]

(The deva)
‘That Enlightened One-to-be, the noble treasure beyond compare, is born in the human world for (their) weal and welfare, in the village of Lumbini, in the territory of the Sakyans; therefore are we pleased and in such high festive appearance.’ [683]

‘He, the noblest among all beings, the highest individual, the mighty bull among men, the noblest among all creatures, like the roaring lion, the mighty king of beasts will set in motion the wheel (of the Dhamma) and forest grove named Isi.’ [684] [“Isi” refers to Isipitana, also known as Sarnath, near old Benares which is now known as Varanasi]

Then listening to that word he hastily descended and went to the abode of Suddhodana; seated there he told the Sakyans: ‘Where is the prince? I too wish to see him.’ [685]

Then unto him named Asita did the Sakyans show their son, the prince, like blazing gold fashioned by a skilled craftsman in an open forge, in all glory and splendid appearance. [686]

Seeing the prince, like a crested flame all ablaze, clean as the spotless moon, the lord of the stars, the sky roamer, and shining like the sun in the autumnal sky free of clouds, he, overjoyed, gained immense delight.[687]

The sky deva held aloft a parasol (of state) with countless ribs and a thousand tiers, and yak tailed whisks with golden handles fanned but the bearers of the whisks and parasol were not to be seen (invisible deva were doing the work). [688]

When the matted hair ascetic the sage named Ka.nhasiri saw him who was like a golden ornament placed upon a woollen blanket, with the white parasol of state held above, he with heart intent, and pleased in mind received (the child).  [689]

Receiving (in his arms) the bull-like male, (son) of the Sakyans, he (Asita) who had gained mastery in the lore of signs (of a great being) and the (Vedic) hymns, as he investigated, with gladdened heart cried out: ‘Unsurpassed is he, the noblest of men.’ [690]

Then calling to mind his own departure (from this world) he shed tears in unbecoming manner. The Sakyans seeing the seer weeping said to him: ‘Let there be no danger for the prince!’ [691]

Seeing the Sakyans saddened the seer said: ‘I call to mind no harm coming upon the prince, nor will any danger befall him; he is not an insignificant man, be comforted in heart. [692]

This prince will attain the highest enlightenment, he, the one who visions the supreme purity, with compassion for the many folk for their welfare, will turn the wheel of Dhamma and the holy life (proclaimed by him) will be widespread. [693]

‘And what is left of my life here will not be long and before that my death will take place and such as I am I will not hear the teaching of him of unique endeavour, therefore am I afflicted, overcome by calamity and distressed. [694]

Arousing immense joy to the Sakyans, he who led a life of celibacy (Asita), set out from the royal court and with compassion for his own nephew stirred him  in the teaching of the one of unique endeavour. [695]

‘Immediately you hear someone say the (word) “the Enlightened One” (Buddho) and that with perfect enlightenment (Sammaasambuddho) attained he travels the path of Dhamma, go there, and asking him about the teaching, lead the holy life under that Exalted One (ask for ordination as a bhikkhu). [696]

Being counselled by him of such benevolent thoughts, by him who had seen for the future the highest purity (for him), that Naalaka [Asita’s nephew] with an accumulation of a vast store of merit, with faculties guarded, dwelt (as a recluse) awaiting the Conqueror. [697]

‘Hearing the report of the Supreme Conqueror’s turning of the wheel of the Dhamma, he went up to him and gaining favour on seeing him, the mighty bull among seers, asked the great Sage about the highest way of life of a sage when the message of him named Asita came true. [698]

The rest of this sutta refer to Ven. Naalaka’s conversation with the Blessed One.

Gain, Honour and Praise

S17.5 Laabhasakkaarasa.myutta, Connected discourses on Gains and Honour translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

At Saavatthii. “Bhikkhus, dreadful are gain, honour, and praise, bitter, vile, obstructive to achieving the unsurpassed security from bondage. Suppose there was a beetle, a dung-eater, stuffed with dung, full of dung, and in front of her was a large dunghill. Because of this she would despise the other beetles, thinking: ‘I am a dung-eater, stuffed with dung, full of dung, and in front of me there is a large dunghill.’  So too, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by gain, honour and praise dresses in the morning and taking bowl and robe, enters a village or town for alms. There he would  eat as much as he wants, he would be invited for the next day’s meal, and his almsfood would be plentiful. When he goes back to the monastery, he boasts before a group of bhikkhus: ‘I have eaten as much as I want, I have been invited for tomorrow’s meal, and my almsfood is plentiful.  I am one who gains robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicinal requisites, but these other bhikkhus have little merit and influence, and they do not gain robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicinal requisites.’ Thus, because his mind is overcome and obsessed by gain, honour and praise, he despises the other well-behaved bhikkhus. That will lead to the harm and suffering of this senseless person for a long time. So dreadful, bhikkhus, are gain, honour and praise, so bitter, vile, obstructive to achieving the unsurpassed security from bondage. Therefore, bhikkhus you should train yourselves thus: ‘”We will abandon the arisen gain, honour, and praise, and we will not let the arisen gain, honour and praise persist in obsessing our minds.’ Thus you should train yourselves.”

The simile of the dung beetle and the dung hill is interesting since it shows the true value of material requisites such as food, clothing, lodging and medicines. These are useful to provide the conditions for life but are not to be clung to or obsessed over. These items are simply a means to support life so that we may develop higher faculties and overcome suffering once and for all.

The hindrance here is the maana-conceit of comparing oneself with others.  Although the Blessed One has pointed out the case of someone who believes they are superior to others, there is also the harm caused by someone who thinks they are inferior to others. Both people are at fault for judging themselves and others and comparing criteria that are not important. This latter point indicates the source of the problem is a type of wrong view. For those who consider themselves superior or inferior by assessing material possessions are implying that material possessions are important and may even go as far as assuming a permanent self that is superior to others that also have a permanent self or soul. It is a short step to then construing a view that a deity may have blessed them with gain, honour and praise because of their inherent and enduring superiority or alternatively cursed them on account of their inherent inferiority.

For those obsessed with gain, honour and praise are more likely to kill, steal, lie, sexually misbehave and do other evil deeds in order to satisfy their desires. Being obsessed and overcome with gain, honour and praise is distracting and spoils concentration. With a mind easily distracted and concentration weakened, a person is unlikely to develop wisdom and find liberation from suffering.  In fact, with low concentration and being easily distracted, one is likely to find pain and suffering in this life.

The following sutta includes a reference to those who are obsessed by a lack of honour…

S17.10 Laabhasakkaarasa.myutta, Connected discourses on Gains and Honour translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

At Saavatthii. “Bhikkhus, dreadful are gain, honour, and praise…. Bhikkhus, I see some person here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by honour, with the breakup of the body, after death, reborn in a state of misery, in a bad desitnation, in the netherworld, in hell.  Then I see some person here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by lack of honour… reborn in a state of misery… Then I see some person here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by both honour and lack of honour, with the breakup of the body, after death, reborn in a state of misery, in a bad destination, in the netherworld, in hell. So dreadful, bhikkhus are gain, honour, and praise… Thus you should train yourselves.”
  This is what the Blessed One said. Having said this, the Fortunate One, the Teacher, further said this:
  “Whether he is showered with honour,
  Shown dishonour, or offered both,
  His concentration does not vacillate
  As he dwells in the measureless state.

  When he meditates with perseverance, 
  An insight-seer of subtle view
  Delighting in the destruction of clinging,
  They call him truly are superior man.”

Perhaps a person obsessed by gain, honour and praise would seek to protect or increase existing levels by committing various crimes. Others who are obsessed by an apparent lack of gain, honour and praise may give up trying to increase their own gain, honour and praise, and instead through jealousy, work hard to reduce their rivals’ gain, honour and praise.  They may also commit various crimes in the process. Either way, anyone obsessed in this way will take the dark path and increase suffering for themselves.

Striving for the Breakthrough

S13.1 Abhisamayasa.mutta, Connected Discourses on the Breakthrough, translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
(ATI translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

Thus I have heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Saavatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anaathapi.n.dika’s Park. Then the Blessed One took up a little bit of soil in his fingernail and addressed the bhikkhus thus:
  “Bhikkhus, what do you think, which is more: the little bit of soil that I have taken up in my fingernail or this great earth?”
  “Venerable sir, the great earth is more. The little bit of soil that the Blessed One has taken up in his fingernail is trifling. It does not amount to a hundredth part, or a thousandth part, or a hundred thousandth part of the great earth.”
  “So too, bhikkhus, for a noble disciple, a person accomplished in view, who has made the breakthrough, the suffering that has been destroyed and eliminated is more, while that which remains is trifling. The latter does not amount to a hundredth of the former mass of suffering that has been destroyed and eliminated, as there is a maximum of seven more lives. Of such great benefit, bhikkhus, is the breakthrough to the Dhamma, of such great benefit is it to obtain the vision of the Dhamma.”

The “breakthrough to the Dhamma” and “to obtain the vision of the Dhamma” are metaphors for the attainment of stream entry – sotapanna. This is a very important stage of development.

Many lay followers obtained this breakthrough and vision during the lifetime of Gotama Buddha. Strive with diligence.

Kalaapa update

In an earlier post about jhaana – absorption, I mentioned kalaapa.

There is a reference to kalaapa in “Abhidhammatha Sangaha: A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma” by Ven. Aacariya Anuruddha and translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi with commentary by Ven. Sayadaw U Silananda and Ven Rewatadhamma.

You can also read about kalaapa here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/khin/wheel231.html and do a text search for “kalapa”.

  • “The real meaning of Anicca is that Impermanence or Decay is the inherent nature of everything that exists in the Universe — whether animate or inanimate. The Buddha taught His disciples that everything that exists at the material level is composed of “Kalapas.” Kalapas are material units very much smaller than atoms, which die out immediately after they come into being. Each kalapa is a mass formed of the eight basic constituents of matter, the solid, liquid, calorific and oscillatory, together with color, smell, taste, and nutriment. The first four are called primary qualities, and are predominant in a kalapa. The other four are subsidiaries, dependent upon and springing from the former. A kalapa is the minutest particle in the physical plane — still beyond the range of science today. It is only when the eight basic material constituents unite together that the kalapa is formed. In other words, the momentary collocation of these eight basic elements of behavior makes a man just for that moment, which in Buddhism is known as a kalapa. The life-span of a kalapa is termed a moment, and a trillion such moments are said to elapse during the wink of a man’s eye. These kalapas are all in a state of perpetual change or flux. To a developed student in Vipassana Meditation they can be felt as a stream of energy.”

The quote above is the view of some adbhidhamma scholars and the orthodox scholastic Theravada Buddhism. I personally don’t follow that line. I give preference to the suttas. It seems to me that the abhidhamma distorts the Buddha Dhamma in a number of ways. I may try to elaborate on this in future blogs. It may take a few years to write about though. I still have a lot to learn. It is even possible that as I study, I may develop different preferences than those I currently have. Ideally, we go beyond all preferences.

There is an alternative tradition that does not take the abhidhamma as the word of the Buddha. Abhidhamma was developed after the Blessed One’s parinibbaana and went through a period of development over 200-300 years until ancient Theravada Buddhists established the canonical texts. The abhidhamma doctrine was developed further in the commentaries which were not written down in the form that we have them now until about 1500 years ago by Ven. Buddhaghosa.  During the past 1500 years many sub-commentaries have been written about the abhidhamma.

These days meditation teachers take various stands regarding the abhidhamma intepretation of the Dhamma.  Some teachers ignore the abhidhamma and don’t comment on it. Some teachers openly say that the abhidhamma distorts the Buddhadhamma. And yet other teachers teach in conformity with the orthodox abhidhamma doctrine. Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw is in the later group.