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Heavens II

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It is a common pattern in Asian religions that hells below complement heavens above. In Buddhism, just as there are many hells, there are coundess numbers of devas, and a multitude of heavens. he Realm of the Four Great Kings (Catur-maharaja-kayikahj The part of Mount Sumeru that appears above the sea is a cube, each side 80,000yojanas long. The Four Great Kings and their subordinates live in four separate tiers on the lower half of the cube (see figure 18). Ten thousandyojanas above the sea, a kind of terrace juts out 16,000 yojanas on all four sides, and another, 10,000 yojanas above the first, juts out 8,000 yojanas. Ten thousand yojanas above this there is yet another, which juts out 4,000 yojanas, and then a fourth, 10,000 yojanas higher, which juts out 2,000 yyanas. The tapered effect can no doubt be attributed to what we would call today the right to sunshine.

On the uppermost terrace live the Four Great Kings (also called the Four Heavenly Kings) and their servants. The kings are Dhrtarastra, guardian of the east (in Japanese Jikoku-ten, “protector of the country”); Virudhaka, guardian of the south (in Japanese ^ocAo-fen, “one who gains power”); Virupaksa, guardian of the west (in Japanese Komoku-ten, “wide eyes”); and Vaisravana, guardian of the north (in Japanese Tomon-ten, Bishamon-ten, “much hearing”). The roles of these kings are not explained well in the texts. Their subordinates live on the lower three tiers, in the seven mountain ranges, and on the sun and moon (which revolve at a height halfway up the mountain).

The heaven of the thirty-three gods. On the summit of Mount Sumeru is the heaven of the thirty-three gods jrayas-tnmsdhj whose roles are also somewhat mysterious, except for Indra. The summit is an area 80,000 yyanas square, with a peak in each corner 500 yojanas tall, where the Vajra-pani live, demigods calledyaksas. In the middle of that heaven is a city called Lovely View (Sudarsana), 2,yojanas square and \.5yojanas high. Its buildings are made of gold, and its ground is of a cotton-like substance (a cloud, perhaps) called tulapicu. In the center of the city is a palace, 250 yyanas square, called the Palace of Victory (Vaijayanta). Adorned with various kinds of jewels, it is peerless. Here dwells the greatest of the thirty-three gods, Indra (Sakro devanam indrah). The Buddhist Indra, of course, derives from the Brahmanic deity of that name. (See figure 19 for the dwellings of the other thirty-two gods.) There are four parks in the four directions of the city, called Caitra-ratha, Parusya, Misra, and Nandana. These names seem to derive either from the names of their makers or from the names of the trees planted in them. For example, in the Mahabharata, Caitra-ratha is the garden of the god Kubera, made by the gandharva Citra-ratha, one of Indra’s demigod musicians. Parusya might be a garden containing trees like aloe (parusya). In the same source, Nandana appears as the name of Indra’s garden. On the four sides of each of these gardens are pleasure areas, each twenty yojanas distant from its garden. Outside the city on the northeast corner is a tree called a parijata, and on the southwest corner, a hall called Sudharman. The roots of the parijata tree stretch fiftyyojanas into the earth (which is actually sand made up of the four jewels), and its trunk and leaves extend \00 yojanas into the sky. The scent of its flowers and leaves is carried one hundredyojanas in a favorable wind and fifty in an adverse wind.

The six abodes of the gods of the realm of desire. The abodes of the Four Great Kings and their subordinates and the abode of the thirty-three gods are of the earthly realm, whereas the other four abodes of the gods of the realm of desire belong to the aerial sphere. The inhabitants of all six of these abodes belong to the realm of desire (kama-dhatu), differing little from human beings in their actions, although their power is much greater. Ethically, theirs remains an imperfect existence, for desires still hold them captive. Still, some have proceeded farther along the way of religious training than others. Although they all burn with the flames of the passions, the higher the heaven in which they dwell, the more sublimated is their method of quenching their passion. For example, the gods of the earthly realm (the Four Great Kings and the thirty-three gods) cannot quench their desires without sexual contact, but their passion, unlike men’s, disperses with the ejection not of semen but of wind. In this sense they are considered higher than human beings. In the case of the inhabitants of the four aerial realms, gods in the Yama heaven are able to fulfill their passion through a simple embrace, those in the Tusita heaven through clasping the hands, those in the Nirmana-rati heaven through a smiling glance, and those in the Para-nirmita-vasavartin heaven through a glance alone.

Children are conceived through wind rather than semen. The process of birth is also different from that of human beings. The Abhidharmakosa says, “There are both male and female deities; deva boys and deva girls are born upon their knees.”18 The higher the heaven, the more mature children are at birth. Children of the Four Great Kings and their attendants appear to be five years old at birth; those of the thirty-three gods, six; those of the inhabitants of the Yama heaven, seven; those of the Tusita heaven, eight; those of the Nirmana-rati heaven, nine; and those of the Para-nirmita-vasavartin heaven, ten. This picture of deities with wives and children leading a life of pleasure is somewhat different from our usual picture of a god.

Eighty thousand yojanas above the summit of Mount Sumeru is the heavenly palace (mmand) of Yama and his attendants, 80,000 yojanas square, the same size as the summit of Sumeru. There is no indication of how deeply it extends. Yama is known in Japan as Emma, lord of the dead. (We shall see in chapter 8 why he lives here, rather than in hell.) One hundred sixty thousand yojanas above Yama’s palace is the palace of the Tusita deities (from tusita, “satisfied”); the Tusita may be deities who know satisfaction. A further 320,000 yojanas above this is the abode of the Nirmana-rati, the deities who create their own enjoyment, and then 640,000yojanas higher the palace of the Para-nirmita-vasavartins (meaning “who can change the pleasure created by others into [his own pleasure]”). These gods may desire not so much their own pleasure as to create pleasure themselves, and they are advanced in relinquishing desire. In size all these abodes are the same as the palace of Yama.

The Realm of the Dhyana Practitioner

So far we have seen a universe with inhabitants living on the earth, in hells, in the realm of hungry spirits, and in heavens. It shares many elements with the cosmologies of other religions. Buddhism, though, is perhaps unique in positing an additional realm of dhyana practitioners above the realm of gods. This consists of the “realm of form” Irupa-dhatu} and the “realm of formlessness” (arupya-dhatu}.

Form {rupd} is that which has shape and is characterized by constant change and destruction. Rupa-dhatu, therefore, is where those having form dwell. Of course the possession of form is a condition shared also by those who occupy the realm of desire (kama-dhatu}. Nevertheless when we speak of the realm of form we do not include the realm of desire, for those who dwell there have gained release from all desires, so that only their physical bodies remain. This is the realm of those who practice dhyana (“meditation”), which includes the two practices of “quieting the mind” and “observing the nature of things.” Buddhist priests, and indeed we ourselves, may climb to a realm higher than that inhabited by the gods by pursuing the practice of meditation to its limits.

The realm of form is divided broadly into four areas, the First through Fourth Dhyanas (in ascending order). The First Dhyana consists of three Brahma realms: Brahma-kayika, where the subordinates of Brahma dwell; Brahma-purohita, where the attendants, ministers, and officials of Brahma dwell; and Mahabrahma, “great Brahma.” The realm of Brahmakayika is 1,280,000 yojanas above the highest heaven of the realm of desire, Para-nirmita-vasavartin. Its extent is “as broad as the four landmasses,” Purvavideha, Jambudvipa, Apara-godaniya, and Uttarakuru. This is an extremely vague expression, but one possibility is that it means the area of a circle whose circumference is described around the four points that are the landmasses (see figure 20). If we consider that the four landmasses are located in the center of the salt sea, the area would thus be a circle with a radius of 420,086.5 yojanas. The inhabitants of this heaven have bodies half a yojana tall. The heaven of Brahma-purohita is 2,560,000yyanas above Brahmakayika and is the same size as the latter. Its inhabitants are one yojana tall. If the populations of the two were the same, those living in Brahma-purohita might be rather cramped. Still, because they are officials, they may be fewer in number. Mahabrahma is 5,120,000 yojanas above Brahma-purohita and is the same size. Its inhabitants are 1.5 yojanas tall.

Though we are now in the realm of form, the First Dhyana is still concerned with the world of myth. Brahma was originally a Brahmanic god, the highest of the pantheon. He appears in the First Dhyana more as a symbol of separation from desires and of purity than as a god per se. The Mahabrahma heaven reminds us of the possibility of gaining release from the realm of desire through meditation, and is the realm where those whose virtue is equal to that of Brahma himself gather. The various mind functions of the deities of the First Dhyana have not yet stopped working, but these deities take joy in the fact that they have nothing to do with desires or with anything evil.

The Second Dhyana also has three heavens; in ascending order, these are Parittabha (“limited radiance”), Apramanabha (“boundless radiance”), and Abhasvara (“ultimate radiant purity”). All of them are replete with virtue, symbolized by various kinds of light. Parittabha is 10,240,000 yojanas above the Maha-brahma heaven, Apramanabha is 20,480,000 yojanas above Parittabha, and Abhasvara is 40,960,000 yojanas above Apramanabha. They are all the same size, one “small-thousand-world.” (A “small single world” denotes a volume of space incorporating all of the realm of desire and the First Dhyana of the realm of form. A “small-thousand-world” is a measure of one thousand such “small worlds.”) Whether we can assign a position to this vast space is somewhat doubtful (see figure 21). In the realm of the Second Dhyana there is no discursive thought or reasoning. All that remains is the delight born of intensely tranquil and concentrated meditation (samadhi).

Like the First and Second Dhyanas, the Third Dhyana has three heavens, which are, in ascending order, Parinasubha (“limited purity”), Apramanasubha (“unlimited purity”), and Subhakrisna (“complete purity”). Parinasubha is 81,920,000yojanas above the highest stratum of the Second Dhyana, Abhasvara; Apramanasubha is 163,840,000 yojanas above Parinasubha; and Subhakrisna is a further 327,680,000 yojanas above Apramanasubha. In size, each is a medium-thousandworld, that is, one thousand small-thousand-worlds. In the Third Dhyana, all joy in meditation is eliminated and only a sublime delight remains, experienced when the meditator is one with truth. There is no greater tranquillity, and it may be the equivalent of what Greek philosophy terms ataraxia, imperturbability of mind and body, the goal of human life.

The first three Dhyana realms are alike in that delight (sukha) remains. Therefore they are termed sukha-upapatti, “realms of delight.” The realm of form does not end here, however. Next is the Fourth Dhyana, the stage where all suffering and all delight have been transcended. It is made up of eight heavens, which I list without going into the subde differences among them, leaving that to more scholarly studies. They are: Anabhraka (“cloudless gods”), Punyaprasava (“gods produced by virtue”), Brhatphala (“gods of great fruit”), Abrha (“undefiled gods”), Atapa (“gods of no heat”), Sudrsa (“gods looking handsome”), Sudarsana (also “gods looking handsome”), and Akanistha (“gods of the extremity of the realm of form”). All of the gods, from those of Brahma to those of Akanistha, belong to the realm of form and are therefore material, with physical bodies. In the realm of formlessness, however, no material form remains, only spirit. This realm is discussed in the “Enlightenment” section of chapter 3.