Are We Alone?

The image of Brahmajala, or Indra’s Net, is used as a metaphor to describe the unimpeded interpretation of the entire cosmos. At each interval of this net there is a luminous gem which not only mirrors the other gems, but also all of the multiple images that are reflected in them as well – ad infinitum. Therefore Indra’s Net represents a chiliocosm, or countless universes which comprise the greater multiverse.

In the Kosala Sutta, Buddha explains that there are other world systems with other suns, other planets, and other beings on them. The Buddha explains that these world systems will deteriorate or “devolve” and die out, while new ones are in the process of evolving. Therefore there are many different worlds, in many different solar systems, and to think that we are the pinnacle of evolution in the entire universe would be very egotistical.

In fact, throughout the suttas there are many “planes”, “realms”, or “worlds” (loka) of existence into which beings can be subjected to in Samsara. These different realms can be interpreted either as literal planes of existence, or as allegorical depictions of the mental states which people may experience throughout their life. These realms can range from the dark realms of hellish torment (niraya) to even the five Pure Abodes (suddhavasa), which are accessible only to non-returners (anagami) and arahants.

However, existence in any of these realms is impermanent – there is no concept of an eternal heaven or hell. Beings are born into a particular realm according to both their past karma/consciousnessness and their karma/consciousnessness at the moment of death (cuti-citta or “dying-consciousness”). Once their karma is finally exhausted, they will pass away, and their consciousnessness will be reborn once again in the corresponding realm.

The realms of existence are usually grouped together into three distinct “worlds” themselves (Triloka):
1. The Immaterial World (arupa-loka). This realm consists of the four realms which are accessible to those who pass away while meditating in the formless jhanas.

2. The Fine-Material World (rupa-loka). This realm consists of the sixteen realms of the devas, who experience extremely refined degrees of mental pleasure. These realms are accessible to those who have attained at least some level of jhana and who have thereby managed to (temporarily) suppress hatred and ill-will. The devas are said to possess extremely refined bodies of pure light. The highest of these realms are the five Pure Abodes. The Fine-Material World and the Immaterial World together constitute the “heavens” (sagga).

3. The Sensuous World (kama-loka). This realm consists of eleven realms in which both pleasurable and non-pleasurable experience is dominated by the five senses. Seven of these realms are considered favorable destinations, and they include our very own human realm as well as several deva realms. The lowest realms are the four destinations of asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings.

The bhavacakra or samsara-cakka, is variously rendered in to English as the “wheel of life, becoming, rebirth, etc.” The Buddha actually never really compared this process to a wheel, but this simile is found in the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification) and in the other commentarial literature. In the Visuddhimagga, Acariya Buddhaghosa commented that:

“It is the beginningless round of rebirths that is called the ‘wheel of the round of rebirths’ (samsara-cakka). Ignorance (avijja) is its hub because it is its root. Ageing-and-death (jara-marana) is its rim because it terminates it. The remaining ten states [of the dependent origination] are its spokes because ignorance is their root and aging-and-death their termination. Herein, ignorance is unknowing about suffering and the rest. And ignorance in sensual becoming is a condition for formations in sensual becoming. Ignorance in fine-material becoming is a condition for formations in fine-material becoming. Ignorance in immaterial becoming is a condition for formations in immaterial becoming. Formations in sensual becoming are a condition for rebirth-linking consciousness in sensual becoming. And similarly with the rest.”

The picture of the bhavacakra on this post is an illustration which is often seen within Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries. It is a graphical portrayal of karma, the kilesas, dependent origination and the six realms of becoming, with the wheel of becoming being held by Yama, the lord of death, as a fierce figure representing impermanence. The lowest of the six realms are the hell realms (niraya), which are regions of severe affliction and torment where evil actions receive their due atonement. There is also, of course, the animal kingdom which is where the stress/suffering (dukkha) of brute force and herd/pack mentality prevails. Next is the realm of hungry ghosts (petavisaya), which are beings afflicted with strong desires that they can never satisfy. For example, they may always be “starving to death” because their necks are so small that they could never swallow anything. Next is the human world, with its familiar balance of happiness (sukha) and stress/suffering (dukkha), virtue and ill-will. Then comes the world of the asuras, or “demi-gods”, who are titanic beings completely obsessed by jealousy and egotism. Finally, there are the heavenly realms which are inhabited by the various devas, or celestial beings.

It is easy to see how these different realms are metaphors for the various psychological states of the mind. If these realms are taken literally, one may wonder how – if all conditioned things are impermanent and not-self, there is rebirth. Simply put, there is no fixed, permanent, abiding entity which experiences rebirth. The principle of rebirth states that karmic influence (kammavega) perpetuates the cyclic existence of suffering and stress called Samsara. Although rebirth may appear to be a continuing process which lasts for an inconceivably long time, there is an end to the process of becoming. The process of rebirth is not permanent. When the afflictions (kilesa) of ignorance (avijja, lit. “unawareness”), delusion (moha), lobha (greed, covetousness, etc), aversion (dosa), conceit (mana), etc. is uprooted and Nirvana is attained, there is no more future becoming.


About bodhipunk

Just another anarcho-commie dhamma punk.

Posted on 04/21/2012, in abhidhamma, anatta, dharma, dukkha, heaven, hell, karma, not-self, samsara, suttas and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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