Cosmology as Described in the Trai Phum Phra Ruang
By Sumalai Ganwiboon
The Trai Phum Phra Ruang or the Three Worlds according to King Ruang. King Ruang was the most important element of Thai Buddhism for at least five hundred years. It was regarded to be almost as important as the Pāli Tipitaka.
The three worlds are:
(ii) the form world, and
(iii) the formless world.
Cosmology is the term for the study of cosmic views in general and for the specific view or collection of images concerning the universe held in a religion or cultural tradition. The twofold meaning of the term is reminiscent of the double meaning of mythology, which is at the same time the study of myths and the dominant or representative assemblage of myths in a given tradition. However, the double usage of the term, it
relates also to inquiries in the natural science. It is customary in the natural science to associate the term primarily with the first meaning given; more specifically, these science reserve cosmology for the scientific study of the universe considered as a whole. Thus, it is the most encompassing task of astronomy and is distinct from, even if presupposed by, sciences with a comparatively more limited object, such as physics or geology. We may say that, Buddhist cosmology seems to have connection with the myth part.
The Buddhists believe that the universe consists of innumerable Cakkavālas (world-system of sphere), scattered throughout the infinite space, in group of three, and touching each other and causing a dark region called Lokantarika hell in the triangular space of the three Cakkavālas. These Cakkavālas are grouped in different kinds of chiliocosms, which according to the Aguttaranikāya, are of the following kinds:
The center of each Cakkavālas is occupied by Mount Sineru. It is one hundred and sixty-eight thousand Yojanas in height, half of which is submerged in the sea. Mount Sineru is surrounded by seven circles of rocks namely, the Yugandhara, Īsadhara, Karavīka, Sudassana, Nemindhara, Vintaka, and Assakaa, each being half the height of the preceeding one, commencing form Sineru. These seven celestial ranges are inhabited by the regent gods (Mahārājas), the Yakkhas, and deities.
In each Cakkavāla, between the seven rocky circles and the Cakkavālasilā, there are four great island continents. They are Jambudīpa to the south, Aparagoyāna to the west, Pubbavideha to the east, and Uttarakuru to the north of Mahāmeru.
Jambudipa provides an important exception to the superhuman and unchanging durations of life found in the other islands. The length of human life in Jambudipa varies. Another distinguishing feature of Jambudipa is that all the hells are situated beneath this island. Series of heavens is arrayed above the Cakravāla in three great divisions: (i) those heavens in the realm of desire (Kāmadhātu) corresponding to the six classes of the ‘gods of desire’ (Kāmadeva), (ii) the seventeen heavens belonging to the ‘realm of form’ (Rūpadhātu), and the four ‘infinities’ of the ‘realm of non-form’ (Arūpadhātu).
B. The Three Worlds according to King Ruang and Its Significant:
The Trai Phum Phra Ruang was written about seven hundred years ago, in Khmer script, ancient Thai language. The original text was based on the Pāli Canon and its Commentaries, by Phya Lithai, a Thai king. Its original title was the Traibhumikathā or the Sermon on the Three Worlds, later on it became well known as the Trai Phum Phra Ruang or the Three Worlds according to King Ruang. King Ruang. Phra Ruang, or Phya Lithai was the name of a son of King Lelithai who reigned in the city of Sri-Sajjanālaya of Sukhothai dynasty.
According to Sulak Sivalaksa, the book has strong political connotations, especially concerning the concept of Kamma. After Sukhothai, Ayudhya was the capital for almost five hundred years. The Three Worlds according to King Ruang still played a significant role in transmitting, and transforming popular Buddhism into the Thai worldview. Indeed, the text also influenced the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia. The Three Worlds according to King Ruang remained the supreme text even after the destruction of Ayudhya about two hundred and fifty years ago. As soon as the new dynasty was established at Dhonburi, and later
Bangkok, The Three Worlds according to King Ruang was copied and distributed widely under royal mandate, and mural paintings adorned new royal temples. However, the text pays an important rolled until the modernized of king Rama V who reformed the kingdom improved the western colonial administration under a centralized bureaucracy and absolute monarchy with modern army to suppress it citizens or provincial governors to be totally loyal to the Crown and Bangkok. Western education introduced by the king was entirely secular, with no room for developing Buddhist ethics or meditation. Although Buddhism was taught in the schools, it was taught ineffectively.
According to The Three Worlds according to King Ruang, beings take cycles of birth within the three worlds i.e., the World of Sensual Desire (Kāmāvacara Bhūmi), the World of Material Factors (Rūpāvacara Bhūmi), and the World Without Material Factors (Arūpāvacara Bhūmi).
Generally, most people are born in the Kāmāvacara bhūmi both in Sugati planes and Duggati planes. Etymologically, the word ‘Kāmāvacara’ comprises of two components ÑKāma and Avacara. ‘Kāma’ means with subjective sensual craving or sensuous objects such as form, sound, odour, taste and contact. Again, by ‘Kāma’ is also meant the four states of misery (Apāya), the
state of human beings and the six celestial states (Sagga). Avacara means that which move about ‘Kāmāvacara’, therefore, means that which mostly move about in the sentient plane to the sense and their corresponding objects. It means that those who have desire of sensual pleasure, i.e. visible object, audible object, odorous object, sapid object, tangible object, or who have attachment to these sensual desires are Kāmāvacara beings.
b. Kāmasugati Bhūmi:
B. Rūpāvacara Bhūmi:
Rūpa Bhūmi is a technical name of a type of the living place of the divine being know as Rūpa Bhahmā. Because of habitation of Rūpa Brahmā in this plane of existence, it is named as Rūpa Bhūmi after them. The word ‘Rūpa Bhūmi’, or ‘Rūpāvacara Bhūmi’, or ‘Rūpa Bhava’, is used in the same sense, which is referred to the subtle residuum of matter. On the other words, the Rūpāvacara Bhūmi stands for the consciousness and psychic factors of those who practices Jhāna and are born in one of the sixteen planes of
the world of the Brahma, i.e., the lowest from the Brahmaparisajja Bhūmi up to the highest Akanittha Bhūmi. The Rūpāvacara Bhūmi, in accordance with the four stages of Jhānas, is of sixteen realms, which are subdivided into four groups i.e.,
a. Pahama Jhāna:
(iii) the Great Brahma (Mahābrahma).
b. Dutiya Jhāna:
(iii) the Radiant Brahma (Ābhassarā).
c. Tatiya Jhāna:
(iii) the Complete Beautiful Brahma (Subhakihā).
d. Catuttha Jhāna:
Now we come across the highest worldly Kamma, which are involving in the culmination of the attainment of formless meditation. Obviously, Arūpa Bhūmi or Arūpaloka means the planes without material bodies, only the mind exists in these planes. As we have discussed before where there is consciousness (Viññāa) there are mind and body. Both mind and matter interrelate together, cannot be separated. But because of the power of meditation and under exceptional
circumstances, the mind could be separated, as venerable Nārada’s argument suggests that it is possible to suspend a piece of iron in air by some magnetic force. Thus, mind can be separated because of the result of Kamma dealing with reciting and holding immaterial subjects as the meditate object.
The concept of the three worlds is also mentioned in the Pāli text as in the Aguttaranikāya. It mentions about the three Dhātus. The term Dhātu is used in a cosmological sense to mean the three spheres or planes into which the entire universe is analyzed from an ethical and spiritual point of view. This analysis gives the different aggregates (Khandha) or the elements (Dhātu 2 or Dhamma 2) that obtain in the three sphere, indicating the different levels of spiritual
and ethical progress reached by beings belonging to the three spheres. The spheres are (i) the sensual sphere (Kāma-dhātu), (ii) the material sphere (Rūpa-dhātu), and (iii) the immaterial sphere (Arūpa-dhātu). They are also called the three worlds (Loka): the sensuous world (Kāma-loka), the material world (Rūpa-loka), and the immaterial world (Arūpa-loka), as well as the three regions (Bhūmi): the sensuous region (Kāmāvacara-bhūmi), the material region (Rūpāvacara-bhūmi), and the immaterial region (Arūpāvacara-bhūmi).
Life in the above-mentioned realms is not permanent. All of these beings are still bound up in Sasāra until they reach the final stage of liberation. Rebirth in any of these realms is the result of Kamma. The good Kamma leads the doer to be reborn in human world up to the Nevasaññānāsaññāyatana Bhūmi. The bad Kamma leads the doer to be reborn in animal world or even hell.