Cosmology and meditation: from the Agganna-Sutta to the Mahayana. (Buddhism)

Rupert Gethin

History of Religions
Vol.36 No.3 (Feb 1997)

COPYRIGHT 1997 University of Chicago


            Now there comes a time, Vasettha, when after a long period of time 
            this world contracts. When the world contracts beings are for the 
            most part born in the realm of Radiance There they exist made of 
            mind, feeding on joy, self-luminous, moving through the air, 
            constantly beautiful; thus they remain for a long, long time. Now 
            comes a time, Vasettha, when after a long period of time this world 
            expands. When the world expands beings for the most part fall from 
            the realm of Radiance and come here [to this realm]; and they exist 
            made of mind, feeding on joy, self-luminous, moving through the 
            air, constantly beautiful; thus they remain for a long, long 
            This striking and evocative passage introduces the well-known 
            account of the evolution of the world and human society found in the 
            Agganna-sutta of the Pali Digha Nikaya.(2) It marks the beginning of 
            a particular line of thought within Buddhist tradition concerning 
            the world and its cycles of expansion and contraction. It is this 
            line of thought that I wish to investigate in the present article. 
            It can sometimes seem that, as "literate, demythologized and 
            Aristotelianized academics"--to borrow a characterization from G. S. 
            Kirk(3)--we become peculiarly insensitive to the kind of poetic and 
            imaginative world which, for perhaps most human beings for most of 
            human history, has constituted "reality." It is perhaps not an 
            accident then that, despite the fact that certain studies of 
            contemporary Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand have drawn 
            attention to the importance of the traditional cosmology to the 
            worldview of present-day Theravada Buddhists,(4) the subject of 
            Buddhist cosmology has received relatively little attention from 
            textual scholars.(5) Significantly, one of the few works devoted to 
            Buddhist cosmology to be published in more recent years is not a 
            study of ancient Pali or Sanskrit sources but a translation of a 
            fourteenth-century Thai classic, Phya Lithai's Traibhumikatha or 
            Thrai Phum Phra Ruang ("Three Worlds according to King Ruang").(6) 
            The overall paucity of scholarly materials dealing with Buddhist 
            cosmology would seem to reflect a reluctance on the part of modern 
            scholarship to treat this dimension of Buddhist thought as having 
            any serious bearing on those fundamental Buddhist teachings with 
            which we are so familiar: the four noble truths, the eightfold path, 
            no-self, dependent arising, and so on. The effect of this is to 
            divorce the bare doctrinal formulations of Buddhist thought from a 
            traditional mythic context. This can result in serious distortions: 
            the picture that has sometimes been painted of especially early 
            Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism is somewhat one-dimensional and 
            flat. However, the principle that the study of the imagery employed 
            in early Buddhist texts is a useful way of deepening our 
            understanding of the more overtly conceptual teachings of the 
            Nikayas has already been used to good purpose by Steven Collins in 
            his discussion of house imagery, vegetation imagery, and water 
            imagery in the context of the Nikayas' presentation of the teaching 
            of "no-self."(7) Advocating an approach not dissimilar to Collins's, 
            Stanley Tambiah has commented that the traditional Buddhist 
            cosmological scheme "says figuratively and in terms of metaphorical 
            images the same kind of thing which is stated in abstract terms in 
            the doctrine. The basic doctrinal concepts of Buddhism . . . which 
            are alleged to explain man's predicament and to direct his religious 
            action, are also embedded in the cosmology (and its associated 
            pantheon)."(8) It seems to me that in this he can only be right, and 
            one of the things I will do in this article is to explore further 
            the relationship in Buddhist thought between the realms of abstract 
            theory, on the one hand, and cosmological myth, on the other. To 
            ignore the mythic portions of ancient Buddhist texts is to fail in a 
            significant way to enter into their thought-world. My particular 
            focus will be certain cosmological ideas concerning the expansion 
            and contraction of the universe and their implications for our 
            understanding of the nature and significance of the fourth 
            "meditation" (jhana/dhyana) in the account of the stages of the 
            Buddhist path as presented in the Nikayas and Abhidharma. What also 
            emerges, I will argue, is a clearer perspective on the development 
            of certain ideas usually considered characteristic of certain 
            strands of Mahayana Buddhist thought: the tathagatagarbha and an 
            idealist ontology. 
            The Nikayas and Agamas contain very many cosmological details, but 
            it is not until the period of the Abhidharma that we get attempts to 
            organize these details into a systematic whole. Yet what Masson's 
            and Marasinghe's studies of "gods" in the Nikayas reveal is that, 
            notwithstanding the fact that the Nikayas nowhere give a systematic 
            exposition of their cosmology,(9) all the basic principles and not a 
            few of the details of the developed cosmology of the Abhidharma are 
            to be found scattered throughout the Nikayas.(10) I reckon the basic 
            principles to be three. First, there are a number of different 
            realms of existence that constitute a hierarchy; there are lower 
            realms--the realms of animals (tiracchanayoni) and of hungry ghosts 
            (pettivisaya) and various hells (niraya); there is the realm of men 
            (mantissa) and, above, the various heaven realms of the devas and 
            brahmas.(11) Second, beings are continually reborn in these various 
            realms in accordance with their actions-the ten unskillful (akusala) 
            courses of action (kammapatha) lead to rebirth in one of the lower 
            realms, and the ten skillful (kusala) courses of action lead to 
            rebirth as a human being or in the lower heavens, while meditation 
            attainments (jhana) lead to rebirth in the higher heavens as a 
            brahma.(12) The third principle is that which is inherent in the 
            formula from the Agganna-sutta that I quoted above. The various 
            levels of existence arrange themselves in "world-systems" 
            (loka-dhatu); there are innumerable world-systems which all expand 
            and contract across vast expanses of time.(13) This basic 
            cosmological scheme is not confined to one isolated Nikaya context; 
            it is something alluded to and assumed by very many of the Nikaya 
            formulas. It is perhaps most conveniently summed up in the 
            well-known formula which states that the Buddha, "having himself 
            fully understood and directly experienced this world with its devas, 
            its Mara and Brahma, this generation with its samanas and brahmanas, 
            with its princes and peoples, makes it known."(14) 
            What I want to argue below does not hinge on establishing that the 
            Buddha himself or the earliest phase of Buddhist thought subscribed 
            to this specific cosmological view; I am concerned with how the 
            tradition read the texts as a coherent whole rather than with their 
            relative chronology and evolution. But I would add that I can see no 
            particular reason for thinking that this basic conception of the 
            universe does not belong to the earlier strata of the Nikayas. There 
            are no a priori historical grounds for regarding the principles of 
            this cosmology as improbable in the mouth of the Buddha; as 
            Marasinghe has commented, "From a study of the Jain, Ajivika, and 
            the Buddhist ideas of cosmological thinking, it may be surmised 
            that, by the time of the Buddha, there was a rich floating mass of 
            cosmological ideas in the Gangetic regions from which most religious 
            teachers drew quite freely."(15) 
            On the evidence of the Rg-Veda, Upanisads, and Jain sources such 
            cosmological ideas might easily have been borrowed and adapted from 
            the cultural milieu in which we understand the Buddha to have 
            formulated his teachings. But this is perhaps to put it too 
            negatively. In many respects the kind of cosmology that I have 
            indicated above seems actually fundamental to Buddhist thought. On 
            the evidence of the Nikayas (and apparently the Chinese Agamas) we 
            know of no Buddhism or Buddha that did not teach a belief in 
            rebirth, or conceive of rebirth as fluid among different realms, 
            whether animal, hellish, human, or heavenly.(16) While certain of 
            the details of the Agganna-sutta's account of the evolution of human 
            society may be, as Gombrich has persuasively argued, satirical in 
            intent, there is nothing in the Nikayas to suggest that these basic 
            cosmological principles that I have identified should be so 
            understood; there is nothing to suggest that the Agganna-sutta's 
            introductory formula describing the expansion and contraction of the 
            world is merely a joke.(17) We should surely expect early Buddhism 
            and indeed the Buddha to have some specific ideas about the nature 
            of the round of rebirth, and essentially this is what the 
            cosmological details presented in the Agganna-sutta and elsewhere in 
            Nikayas constitute. They represent a concretized and mythic 
            counterpart to the more abstract formulation of, say, dependent 
            arising (paticcasamuppada). 
            What functions do the various levels of existence and the gods play 
            in the Nikayas? There is no one simple answer to this question, but 
            I shall answer initially by stating more fully what I identified 
            above as the second principle of Buddhist cosmology, namely, that 
            particular kinds of action of body, speech, and mind lead to certain 
            kinds of rebirth. The passages I referred to in this connection 
            effectively draw up a hierarchy of kamma that corresponds very 
            closely to the hierarchy of levels of existence. At the bottom of 
            this hierarchy we have unskillful kammas leading to rebirth in the 
            realms of hell, hungry ghosts, and animals; next we have the 
            skillful kammas of generosity (dana) and the precepts (sila) 
            practiced to various degrees and leading to rebirth as a human being 
            or as a deva in one of six realms of heaven; finally the practice of 
            meditation (bhavana) and the development of the various jhanas leads 
            to rebirth among "the gods of Brahma's retinue" (brahmakayika deva) 
            and beyond. At this point we should remind ourselves that kamma is 
            for the Nikayas--as for Buddhist thought generally--at root a mental 
            act or intention; acts of body and speech are performed in response 
            to and conditioned by the quality of the underlying intention or 
            will (cetana); they are unskillful or skillful because they are 
            motivated by unskillful or skillful intentions.(18) Acts of body and 
            speech are, as it were, the epiphenomena of particular kinds of 
            mentality; they are driven by specific psychological states. In a 
            very real sense acts of body and speech are acts of will. Thus the 
            hierarchy is essentially one of certain kinds of mentality 
            (understood as kamma) being related to certain levels of existence; 
            this is most explicit in the case of the various jhanas and Brahma 
            realms. This way of thinking demonstrates the general principle of 
            an equivalence or parallel in Buddhist thought between psychology on 
            the one hand and cosmology on the other. 
            Many of the stories about devas from different heavens in the 
            Nikayas lend themselves very readily to a kind of "psychological" 
            interpretation, that is, to interpretation in terms of certain 
            mental states; in certain contexts this interpretation is explicit 
            in the texts themselves. In the vana-samyutta of the Samyutta Nikaya 
            there is a whole series of accounts of devas visiting bhikkhus 
            dwelling in the forest in order to admonish the bhikkhus for their 
            laziness.(19) Here the devas serve to arouse skillful states of mind 
            in the bhikkhu that spur him on in his practice. Similarly in the 
            Mara- and Bhikkhuni-samyuttas Mara is represented as appearing on 
            the scene and tempting bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, and the Buddha, with 
            the world of the five senses.(20) Here then Mara appears to act as 
            the five hindrances (nivarana) which are precisely the mental states 
            that one must overcome in order to attain jhana, and it is precisely 
            jhana that--at least according to a later understanding--takes one 
            temporarily beyond the world of the five senses and out of Mara's 
            reach.(21) To read these texts in loosely psychological terms is 
            not, I think, to engage in acts of gratuitous "demythologizing"; the 
            Buddhist tradition itself at an early date was quite capable of 
            demythologizing--so much so that one hesitates to use such a term in 
            this context. It is rather, I think, that this kind of psychological 
            interpretation was for the Nikayas inherent in the material itself. 
            When questioned as to the nature of Mara, the Buddha responds in 
            abstract terms that have to do with general psychological 
            experience: "One says, `Mara! Mara!' lord. Now to what extent, lord, 
            might Mara or the manifestation of Mara exist?' `Where the eye 
            exists, Samiddhi, where visible forms, eye consciousness and dhammas 
            cognizable by the eye exist, there Mara or the manifestation of Mara 
            Again the Suttanipata defines the armies of Mara that assault the 
            Bodhisatta in what are essentially psychological terms: 
            435. Dwelling thus having attained the highest experience, my mind 
            has no regard for sensual desires. See the purity of a being. 
            436. Sensual desire is called your [Mara's] first army, discontent 
            your second; your third is called hunger and thirst, your fourth 
            437. Your fifth is called tiredness and sleepiness, your sixth fear. 
            Your seventh is doubt, deceit and obstinacy your eighth . . . 
            439. Namuci, this is your army-the attacking (force) of the Dark One 
            [Mara]. Not being a hero one does not conquer it, but having 
            conquered it one gains happiness.(23) 
            In the Samyutta Nikaya, the daughters of Mara too are presented as 
            having a similar psychological reality: "Then Craving, Discontent, 
            and Lust, the daughters of Mara, approached the Blessed One [the 
            Buddha]. Having approached they spoke thus to the Blessed One: 
            'Ascetic, we would serve at your fees.' Now the Blessed One paid no 
            attention, since he was freed in the unsurpassable, complete 
            destruction of attachments."(24) It is surely to read nothing into 
            these texts to say that the descriptions of the 
            Bodhisatta's/Buddha's encounter with Mara's armies and daughters 
            represent vivid descriptions of the psychology of the Buddha before 
            and after his awakening. The Bodhisatta/Buddha has wrestled with 
            certain mental states--Mara, his armies, his daughters--and defeated 
            them. That is to say, particular psychological states are described 
            in terms of an encounter with beings with cosmological 
            significance--or vice versa.(25) 
            I do not wish, however, to suggest that a psychological 
            interpretation of such figures as Mara is the whole story. I am not 
            claiming that all ancient readers or hearers of these "texts" would 
            have conceived of Mara's daughters and armies simply as mystic 
            symbols of particular mental states. No doubt for many, Mara, his 
            daughters, and his armies would have had a reality as autonomous 
            beings apart from their own mental states. I do want to claim, 
            however, that a psychological interpretation would have made sense 
            to the authors and readers of these texts. Yet in making such a 
            claim I do not wish to imply that a psychological reading somehow 
            reveals the "true" and "real" significance of the various 
            cosmological beings--the significance intended by the Buddha but 
            which the Buddhist tradition had to compromise in the face of 
            popular belief, and which we in the late twentieth century are at 
            last privileged to access. The Buddhism of the Nikayas embraces the 
            notion of rebirth, and the account of different realms of existence 
            occupied by a variety of beings is integral to that. The categories 
            of "mythic symbol" and "literally true" are modern and are bound up 
            with a complex ontology that has been shaped by a particular 
            intellectual and cultural tradition. Thus to approach what, for the 
            want of a better term, we call the mythic portions of the Nikayas 
            with the attitude that such categories as "mythic symbol" and 
            "literally true" are absolutely opposed is to adopt an attitude that 
            is out of time and place. It seems to me that in some measure we 
            must allow both a literal and a psychological interpretation. Both 
            are there in the texts. 
            The equivocation between cosmology and psychology is particularly 
            clear in a passage of the Kevaddha-sutta.(26) The Buddha tells of a 
            certain bhikkhu who wished to discover where the four great elements 
            (mahabhuta) ceased without remainder (aparisesa nirujjhanti). It 
            seems that we must understand this as wishing to know the full 
            extent of the conditioned world-both physical and mental. The 
            bhikkhu appears to have been a master of meditation, for we are told 
            that he attained a state of concentration in which the path leading 
            to the gods appeared to his concentrated mind ("tatharupam samadhim 
            samapajji yatha samahite citte deva-yaniyo maggo paturahosi"). He 
            then proceeds to approach the gods of ever higher levels to pose his 
            question until eventually he finds himself in the presence of 
            Mahabrahma himself, who confesses that he cannot answer the question 
            and suggests that he return to the Buddha to put this question to 
            him. The Buddha answers that the four elements cease, not "out 
            there" in some remote outpost of the universe, but in 
            "consciousness" (vinnana).(27) This account states very clearly how 
            specific psychological states--in this instance, the mind 
            concentrated in the various levels of meditation--give access to 
            particular cosmological realms. Thus the bhikkhu is explicitly 
            described as at once making a journey through various levels of the 
            cosmos and making an inner, spiritual journey--a journey of the 
            In the light of an extremely suggestive article by Peter Masefield, 
            it seems that instead of being misled into searching for meaning in 
            terms of the categories of literal truth and mythic symbol, we 
            should understand the Nikayas' reference both to a cosmic hierarchy 
            of beings (humans, devas and brahmas) and to a psychological 
            hierarchy of mental states (levels of jhana) as paralleling the 
            Upanisadic categories of "with reference to the gods" (adhidaivatam) 
            and "with reference to the self" (adhyatmam): that is, "reality" may 
            be viewed either from the perspective of an exterior world (brahman) 
            or from the perspective of an interior world (atman) that are in 
            some sense--though, in the case of Buddhist thought, not an 
            absolutist metaphysical one--the same.(28) Thus Masefield suggests 
            that to talk or conceive of Mara as a cosmic entity on the one hand 
            and as psychological forces on the other is essentially to shift 
            from the adhidaivatam to the adhyatmam perspective.(29) I am 
            persuaded that Masefield has indeed identified here a way of 
            thinking that runs very deep in the Indian philosophical tradition, 
            and while the importance of this way of thinking may be acknowledged 
            in the context of the Vedas and Hindu and Buddhist tantra, it is 
            insufficiently understood in the context of early Buddhism. 
            Turning from the Nikayas to the Abhidharma, two full systematic 
            accounts of Buddhist cosmology survive: that of the Theravadin 
            Abhidhamma and that of the Sarvastivada-Vaibhasika Abhidharma. These 
            two accounts are remarkably similar in broad outline and in fact 
            also agree on many points of detail. This again suggests that the 
            basic cosmology should be regarded as having been formulated 
            relatively early since it forms part of the common heritage of 
            ancient Buddhism. In what follows, I shall be drawing on both the 
            Pali Theravadin traditions and also, at points, Vasubandhu's 
            Abhidharmakosa for the traditions of the Sarvastivadins. 
            One of the general concerns of the Abhidharma is to provide a 
            detailed and complex hierarchy of consciousness. The classic 
            Theravada scheme of eighty-nine or 121 "consciousnesses" (citta) 
            begins with unskillful consciousnesses at the bottom, followed by 
            consciousnesses that concern the mechanics of bare awareness of the 
            objects of the five senses, and then by skillful sense-sphere 
            consciousnesses; next come the various formsphere and 
            formless-sphere consciousnesses that constitute the jhanas, or 
            meditation attainments; finally, we have the world-transcending 
            (lokuttara) consciousnesses that constitute the mind at the moment 
            of awakening itself.(30) The basic structure of this hierarchy of 
            consciousness parallels quite explicitly the basic structure of the 
            cosmos: consciousness belongs to the sense sphere (kamavacara), the 
            form sphere (rupavacara), or the formless sphere (arupavacara); 
            beings exist in the sense world (kama-dhatu, kama-loka), the form 
            world (rupa-dhatu, rupa-loka), or the formless world (arupa-dhatu, 
            arupa-loka). As well as laying down a more precise hierarchy of 
            consciousness, the Abhidhamma also finalized the structure of the 
            cosmos: both Theravadin and northern sources detail thirty-one basic 
            realms.(31) The basic structure of this cosmos, along with its 
            psychological parallel, is set out in figure 1. 
            [Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] 
            In detailing the types of consciousness that beings reborn in 
            particular realms are able to experience, the Abhidhamma provides a 
            further indication of the parallel between the psychological order 
            and the cosmological order.(32) Beings in the lowest realms (hell 
            beings, animals, hungry ghosts, Asuras) can only experience 
            sense-sphere consciousness; beings in the human realm and the 
            heavens of the sense sphere characteristically experience 
            sense-sphere consciousness but can in special circumstances (i.e., 
            when attaining jhana) experience form-sphere and formless-sphere 
            consciousness. Beings in the form and formless worlds 
            characteristically experience form and sense-sphere consciousness 
            respectively; both may experience certain forms of both skillful and 
            unskillful sense-sphere consciousness, but not those associated with 
            hatred and unpleasant feeling.(33) The logic governing this 
            arrangement is as follows: A being in one of the lower realms must 
            experience at least a modicum of skillful consciousness or else, 
            never being able to generate the skillful kamma necessary to 
            condition rebirth in a higher realm, he or she is stuck there 
            forever. Similarly, beings in the Brahma worlds must experience some 
            unskillful consciousness, otherwise their kamma would be exclusively 
            skillful, and they would be able to remain forever in these blissful 
            realms where no unpleasant bodily or mental feeling ever occurs, 
            escaping dukkha permanently rather than only temporarily (albeit for 
            an aeon or two). Finally, beings such as humans who are in the 
            middle of the hierarchy are evenly poised; they may experience the 
            most unskillful kinds of consciousness or they may experience the 
            most skillful--they may go right to the bottom or right to the top. 
            A point of particular significance that emerges from this is that, 
            from the perspective of Abhidharma, to shift from talk about levels 
            of existence to talk about levels of the mind is to continue to talk 
            about the same thing but on a different scale. What is involved in 
            moving from the psychological order (the hierarchy of consciousness) 
            to the cosmological order (the hierarchy of beings) is essentially a 
            shift in time scales. The mind (of certain beings) might range 
            through the possible levels of consciousness in a relatively short 
            period--possibly in moments. A being, in contrast, exists at a 
            particular level in the cosmos for rather longer--84,000 aeons in 
            the case of a being in the realm of "neither consciousness nor 
            unconsciousness"--and to range through all the possible levels of 
            being is going to take a very long time indeed.(34) The fact that 
            what we are talking about here is a change of scale is exactly 
            brought out by the Abhidharma treatment of "dependent arising" 
            (pratityasamutpada). This law that governs the process of things, 
            whether the workings of the mind or the process of rebirth, is 
            always the same. Thus the Abhidharma illustrates the operation of 
            the twelve links of dependent arising either by reference to the way 
            in which beings progress from life to life or by reference to the 
            progress of consciousness from moment to moment: from one 
            perspective we are born, live, and die over a period of, say, eighty 
            years; from another we are born, live, and die in every moment.(35) 
            In chapter 3 of the Abhidharmakosa, Vasubandhu in fact discusses 
            these different scales for the interpretation of pratityasamutpada 
            precisely in the context of his exposition of cosmology (vv. 20-38). 
            In general, traditional Buddhist cosmology as expounded in the 
            Nikayas and Abhidhamma must be understood as at once a map of all 
            realms of existence and an account of all possible experiences. 
            According to Buddhist cosmological systems the universe is 
            constituted by innumerable "world-systems" or "world-spheres" 
            (loka-dhatu, cakkavala) comprising just thirty-one levels of 
            existence.(36) Much as the mind is not static or stable, neither, on 
            a grander scale, are world-systems; they themselves go through vast 
            cycles of expansion and contraction. According to the exegetical 
            traditions of both the Theravadins and Sarvastivadins, the formula I 
            quoted from the Agganna-sutta, referring as it does to the rebirth 
            of beings in the realm of Radiance (abhassara/abhasvara)(37) at the 
            time of world contraction, describes this contraction as the result 
            of destruction by fire. Both Buddhaghosa and Vasubandhu provide some 
            further details about how the destruction proceeds.(38) According to 
            Buddhaghosa, world-systems contract in great clusters--he speaks of 
            a billion (koti-sata-sahassa) world-systems contracting at a 
            time.(39) Both writers describe how, when they contract, 
            world-systems contract from the bottom upward. Thus in the case of 
            destruction by fire, the fire starts in the lower realms of the 
            sense sphere and having burned up these, it invades the form realms; 
            but having burned up the realms corresponding to the first 
            jhana/dhyana, it stops. The realms corresponding to the second, 
            third, and fourth jhanas, and the four formless realms, are thus 
            spared the destruction. But destruction by fire is not the only kind 
            of destruction, merely the most frequent--water and wind also wreak 
            their havoc. When the destruction is by water, the three realms 
            corresponding to the second jhana are also included in the general 
            destruction, while the destruction by wind invades and destroys even 
            the realms corresponding to the third jhana. Overall, only the seven 
            realms corresponding to the fourth jhana and the four formless 
            realms are never subject to this universal destruction.(40) 
            So what becomes of the beings that occupy the lower realms when 
            fire, water, and wind wreak their destruction? They cannot just 
            disappear from samsara; they must go somewhere. Here we touch upon a 
            question which posed something of a problem in the Buddhist 
            tradition and to which its answers are not entirely consistent. The 
            simple answer that Buddhaghosa gives in the Visuddhimagga is that at 
            the time of the destruction of a world-system by fire, all the 
            beings that occupy the lower realms--including hell beings 
            (nerayika)--are reborn in the Abhassara Brahma realm (corresponding 
            to the second jhana) or above it. But since rebirth in a Brahma 
            realm can only occur as a result of the practice of the jhanas, 
            Buddhaghosa has a problem. The chaos and hardships that are a 
            prelude to the destruction of the world are hardly conducive to the 
            practice of jhana. Moreover, certain beings simply do not have the 
            capacity to attain jhana even if they try. 
            There is no rebirth in the Brahma world without jhana, and some 
            beings are oppressed by the scarcity of food, and some are incapable 
            of attaining jhana. How are they reborn there? By virtue of jhana 
            acquired in the Deva world. For at that time, knowing that in a 
            hundred thousand years the aeon will come to an end, the 
            sense-sphere gods, called "Marshals of the World," loosen their 
            headdresses and, with disheveled hair and pitiful faces, wiping 
            their tears with their hands, clothed in red and wearing their 
            garments in great disarray, come and frequent the haunts of men 
            saying, "Good sirs, a hundred thousand years from now the aeon will 
            come to an end: this world will be destroyed, the great ocean will 
            dry up, and Sineru, king of mountains, will be burnt up and 
            destroyed. The destruction of the world will reach the Brahma world. 
            Develop loving kindness, good sirs. Develop compassion, sympathetic 
            joy, and equanimity. Take care of your mothers and fathers; honor 
            the elders of the family." Hearing their words, both men and the 
            deities of the earth are for the most part moved; they become kind 
            to one another, and making merit by loving kindness and so on, they 
            are reborn in the Deva world. There they enjoy the food of the gods 
            and having completed the initial work on the air kasina, they attain 
            However there are others who are reborn in the Deva world by virtue 
            of their kamma "that is to be experienced at an unspecified time," 
            for there is certainly no being wandering in samsara devoid of kamma 
            that is to be experienced at an unspecified time. They also 
            similarly acquire jhana there [in the Deva world]. So all beings are 
            reborn in the Brahma world by virtue of the attainment of jhana.(41) 
            For Buddhaghosa, at the time of the contraction of a world-system, 
            all the beings occupying the lower realms should be understood as 
            being reborn in those higher Brahma worlds that escape the 
            destruction--this is true even of the beings in the lower realms of 
            hell. When all else fails, this comes about by virtue of the fact 
            that there is no being in samsara that has not at some time or other 
            performed the kamma necessary for rebirth in the happy realms of the 
            sense sphere. Thus even beings born in hell realms as the result of 
            unwholesome kamma will always have a latent good kamma that can come 
            to fruition at the time of the pending contraction of the 
            world-system; this is their "kamma to be experienced at an 
            unspecified time" (aparapariya-vedaniya-kamma).(42) Such beings are 
            first reborn in a sense-sphere heaven, where they subsequently 
            cultivate jhana leading to rebirth in the Brahma worlds. What 
            follows from this view of the matter is that all beings in samsara 
            are regarded as having dwelt at some time in the Brahma realms 
            corresponding to the second, third, and fourth jhanas; moreover, 
            periodically--though the periods may be of inconceivable 
            duration--all beings are regarded as returning to these realms. 
            It seems, however, that some in the Buddhist tradition were not 
            entirely happy with the understanding of the matter presented by 
            Buddhaghosa. Commenting on the phrase, "when the world contracts 
            beings are for the most part born in the realm of Radiance," as it 
            occurs in the Brahmajala Sutta, Buddhaghosa states that "`for the 
            most part' [yebhuyyena] is said because there are other beings who 
            are born either in higher Brahma realms or in the formless 
            realms."(43) Dhammapala, however, in his subcommentary on the text 
            by Buddhaghosa, adds: "or in world-systems other than those in the 
            process of contracting" is the alternative to be understood by the 
            word or. For it is not possible to consider that all beings in the 
            descents at that time are born in form or formless existence, since 
            it is impossible for those beings in the descents with the longest 
            life spans to be reborn in the human realm.(44) 
            Dhammapala's problem with Buddhaghosa's account seems to be that it 
            fails to take account of the case of beings who, for example, commit 
            one of the five great anantariya-kammas (killing one's mother, 
            father, an arhat, wounding a Buddha, splitting the Samgha) toward 
            the end of an aeon. Such beings must as a result surely be born in 
            the hell realms, and yet the aeon might end before they had lived 
            out the result of that kamma. Dhammapala therefore concludes that 
            such beings must be reborn in the hells of other world systems.(45) 
            Looking further afield in Buddhist sources we find other instances 
            of both Buddhaghosa's position and Dhammapala's position on what 
            happens to beings in the lower realms when a world-system contracts. 
            For example, in chapter 3 of the Kosa, Vasubandhu writes: 
            When not a single being remains in the hells, the world has 
            contracted to this extent: namely by the contraction of the hells. 
            At that time any being who still has karma that must be experienced 
            in a hell is thrown into the hells of another world-system [that is 
            not contracting].(46) 
            In chapter 8, however, Vasubandhu comments that at the time of the 
            contraction of a world-system, "all beings of the lower realms 
            produce dhyana of the form-realm because of the special occurrence 
            of skillful dharmas."(47) Yasomitra comments that in these 
            circumstances dhyana arises without any instruction because of the 
            existence of the trace (vasana) of previous dhyana attainment.(48) 
            Another cosmological treatise current in Southeast Asia is the 
            eleventh- or twelfth-century Lokapannatti. Like the Visuddhimagga of 
            Buddhaghosa, the Lokapannatti states that at the time of the 
            contraction of a world-system, beings in the lower realms are reborn 
            first in the kamadhatu and then in the Abhassara realm after 
            practicing the second jhana; there is no mention of being reborn in 
            the hells of other world systems.(49) The much later Theravadin 
            source, "Three Worlds according to King Ruang," on the other hand, 
            takes the line of Dhammapala and chapter 3 of the Kosa, stating that 
            hell beings may be reborn in the hells of world-systems that are not 
            What are relative merits of these two perspectives regarding what 
            happens to beings in lower realms at the time of world contraction? 
            The position represented by Dhammapala, Kosa chapter 3 and the 
            Triphum of Phya Lithai--namely, that they are reborn in the lower 
            realms of world-systems that are not in the process of 
            contracting--appears to be more in keeping with the laws of karma 
            and, for this reason, the more carefully considered: beings who 
            murder their mothers, fathers, arhats, wound a Buddha, or split the 
            Samgha must surely experience the results of their actions whether 
            or not a world-system contracts.(51) Yet this makes the alternative 
            tradition--that all beings are reborn in the Brahma realms--all the 
            more interesting and, I think, significant. It is, as it were, the 
            lectio difficilior. Why should Buddhaghosa, Vasubandhu, and the 
            Lokapannatti preserve and hand down a tradition that is so obviously 
            problematic? In order to answer this question I would like to turn 
            first to consider the theoretical account of the stages of the 
            Buddhist path, since it seems to me that, viewed in the light of 
            each other, the accounts of the stages of the path and the process 
            of the expansion and contraction of the universe reveal clues about 
            the unspoken assumptions that lie at the heart of Indian Buddhist 
            What should perhaps be regarded as the classic Nikaya account of the 
            stages of the Buddhist path is found repeated in various suttas of 
            the silakkhandha-vagga of the Digha Nikaya, and also, with slight 
            variations, in several suttas of the Majjhima Nikaya.(52) This 
            account can be summarized in simple terms as follows: on the basis 
            of the practice of good conduct (sila), the bhikkhu practices 
            meditation; by this means, he abandons the five hindrances and 
            attains the first jhana. Attaining, successively, the second and 
            third jhanas, the bhikkhu is described as further refining his 
            concentrated mind until he eventually attains and abides in the 
            fourth jhana. This is described as a state of "purity of equanimity 
            and mindfulness" (upekkha-sati-parisuddhi); "he suffuses his body 
            with his mind that has been thoroughly purified and cleansed."(53) 
            We then have a description of a series of eight (in the Digha) or 
            three (in the Majjhima)(54) different attainments, each one of which 
            is introduced by precisely the same formula: "When his mind has 
            become concentrated thus, when it is thoroughly purified and 
            cleansed, stainless, the defilements absent, when it has become 
            sensitive, workable, steady, having attained imperturbability, he 
            inclines and applies his mind to. . ."(55) In other words, having 
            stilled the mind to the level of the fourth jhana, the bhikkhu has 
            brought his mind to an extremely refined state that is suitable and 
            fit for various tasks: the development of knowledge of the 
            interdependence of consciousness and the body; the creation of a 
            mind-made body; the acquiring of certain extraordinary powers (the 
            iddhis and other abilities, elsewhere termed higher knowledges or 
            abhinnas). Lastly he may apply this mind to the gaining of the 
            knowledge of the destruction of the asavas, the knowledge of 
            suffering, the arising of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and 
            the way leading to the cessation of suffering; he then knows that 
            for him birth is destroyed and that there is no future rebirth after 
            the present one.(56) 
            The story of the bhikkhu in the Kevaddha-sutta to which I referred 
            earlier is in fact a rather precise parable of this understanding of 
            the progress of the Buddhist path. The bhikkhu of the Kevaddha-sutta 
            resorts to increasingly subtler states of consciousness and/or 
            levels of the cosmos in order to seek an answer to the question of 
            the ultimate nature of the universe; and yet, having come to the 
            furthest reaches of the universe, he does not find his question 
            satisfactorily answered but must return to the Buddha and be 
            instructed to reorient his quest. Similarly, the bhikkhu who attains 
            jhana does not come to the end of the path but must turn his 
            attention elsewhere in order finally to understand the nature of 
            suffering, its cause, it cessation, and the path leading to its 
            It is in the light of this close correspondence that exists in 
            Buddhist literature between journeys through the realms of the 
            cosmos and inner journeys of the mind that the significance of the 
            accounts of the expansion and contraction of the universe begins to 
            be revealed. Stanley Tambiah has already drawn attention to this in 
            some comments made in his study of the Thai forest monastic 
            tradition--comments which are, however, brief and do not articulate 
            the nature of the parallels entirely accurately.(57) Buddhist 
            cosmology--in general, but especially in the account of the 
            contraction and expansion of world-systems-provides us with a 
            poetic, imaginative, and mythic counterpart to accounts of the 
            stages of jhana attainment. Reading accounts of the Buddhist path 
            alongside tales of the universe's end and beginning is the way to 
            enter more fully into the thought-world of ancient Indian Buddhism. 
            In particular, what is revealed in the cosmological accounts is the 
            understanding of the nature of the fourth jhana: both the 
            theoretical accounts of the stages of the path and the mythic 
            descriptions of the contraction of the world-system converge on the 
            fourth jhana. 
            That the mythic account of the contraction of a world-system can be 
            read as paralleling a meditator's progress through the successive 
            dhyanas is brought out explicitly in the following passage from the 
            Abhidharmakos'a which comments on how, at the time of contraction, 
            fire, water, and wind destroy the successively higher levels of the 
            In the first dhyana thinking and reflection are imperfections; these 
            are similar to fire since they burn through the mind. In the second 
            dhyana joy is the imperfection; this is like water since, by 
            association with tranquility, it makes the senses soft.... In the 
            third dhyana out-breaths and in-breaths [are imperfections]; these 
            are actually winds. In this way the subjective [adhyatmika] 
            imperfection in a dhyana attainment is of the same nature as the 
            objective [bahya] imperfection in the corresponding dhyana 
            A mediator's entering the fourth jhana thus marks the temporary 
            attainment of a state of consciousness that is secure in its freedom 
            from disturbances and defilements. For just as the realms of 
            existence corresponding to the fourth jhana can never be reached by 
            the ravages of fire, water, or wind, so the mind in the fourth jhana 
            is undisturbed either by the gross objects of the five senses'or the 
            subtler movements of the mind still remaining in the first, second, 
            and third jhanas. What is more, viewed from the cosmological 
            perspective of the expansion and contraction of the world-system and 
            the periodic return of beings to the Brahma realms, in stilling the 
            mind to the level of the fourth jhana, the bhikkhu is returning to a 
            state experienced long ago. The cultivation of the jhanas becomes 
            almost a kind of Platonic recollection of something long forgotten, 
            of something one does not remember one knows. The recovery of the 
            fourth jhana is a return to a basic or fundamental state--a stable 
            and imperturbable state of the universe and also of the mind.(59) 
            In saying, however, that the realms of existence corresponding to 
            the fourth jhana are always there, it is, of course, necessary to 
            keep firmly in mind Buddhist principles of impermanence. The realms 
            of the fourth jhana do not have some kind of mysterious existence of 
            their own; these realms always exist in the sense that there are 
            always beings "in" these realms, although the particular beings 
            occupying these realms continually change and no individual being 
            can permanently exist in such a realm. The fourth jhana realms thus 
            do not constitute some kind of permanent substrate of the universe; 
            it is simply that there are always beings "there," or rather beings 
            that exist in the manner of the fourth jhana. For the Abhassara or 
            Vehapphala, realms are not so much places as modes or ways of 
            being.(60) So, to say that periodically the world contracts back as 
            far as the Vehapphala realm is exactly to say that periodically 
            beings return to this manner of being. It is in this sense that the 
            levels associated with the fourth jhana are basic, fundamental, 
            almost, one might say, primordial. This, it seems, is precisely why 
            they can serve as the stepping-off point for gaining the four 
            formless attainments,(61) for developing various extraordinary 
            meditational powers,(62) for realizing the liberating knowledge of 
            the path. This, it seems, is precisely why, at the time of his 
            parinibbana, the fourth jhana is the final active state of mind to 
            be experienced by a living Buddha.(63) 
            I am now in a position to return to the question I posed above 
            concerning Buddhaghosa's (and others') account of the process of the 
            contraction of world-systems: Why does he preserve an apparently 
            problematic account? The view handed down by Buddhaghosa, which he 
            has no doubt received from the Sinhala atthakatha sources he had 
            before him, seems concerned to emphasize that no being in samsara is 
            without the necessary kamma to enable a skillful rebirth in the 
            kamadhatu as a basis for subsequent rebirth in the realms 
            corresponding to the fourth jhana; and that there is no being in 
            samsara without experience of the realms of the fourth jhana--of the 
            states which give close access to the liberating insight of bodhi. 
            In other words, all beings have the capacity to become awakened and 
            indeed all have somewhere in them an experience of a state of mind 
            that is in certain important respects "close" to the awakening state 
            of mind. 
            THE MAHAYANA 
            To anyone familiar with the Mahayana, the suggestion that beings 
            always have within them a capacity to become awakened sounds 
            strangely familiar, and at this point I would like to consider 
            certain parallels that can, I think, be found between the 
            cosmological ideas I have been discussing and certain ideas that 
            find expression in Mahayana sutras. Buddhaghosa's account of what 
            happens to beings when a world-system contracts bears a certain 
            resemblance to aspects of an idea we are accustomed to associate 
            with the Mahayana, namely, the tradition of tathagatagarbha--"that 
            within each being which enables enlightenment to take place."(64) 
            Although formulated rather differently, something of the 
            tathagatagarbha way of thinking is, I suggest, present in the 
            cosmological traditions of the Abhidharma. In the context of the 
            Nikaya and Abhidharma understanding of the development of the stages 
            of the Buddhist path, the function of a "trace" left by previous 
            dhyana practice experienced long ago, or of a skillful karma "to be 
            experienced at an unspecified time" which makes for the attainment 
            of the fourth dhyana state, is in significant respects similar to 
            that of the tathagatagarbha in Mahayana thought: both may facilitate 
            and effect enlightenment for deluded beings. This is not to suggest 
            that Buddhaghosa here espouses a doctrine of tathagatagarbha or that 
            tathagatagarbha views have influenced him or that he has influenced 
            the development of tathagatagarbha theory. Rather there appears to 
            be a common Buddhist theme here that finds expression in one way in 
            Buddhaghosa's account of the contraction of a world-system and in 
            another way in the theory of tathagatagarbha.(65) While we cannot 
            say that Buddhaghosa's account of the expansion and contraction of a 
            world-system is in all respects equivalent to the theory of 
            tathagatagarbha, we can say that in certain respects it is; there is 
            a certain overlap here. 
            A second area of interest centers on the understanding of the "pure 
            abodes" (suddhavasa/suddhavasa) in the Nikayas, Abhidharma, and 
            Mahayana. The Buddhist yogin who has mastered the fourth jhana has 
            withdrawn the mind from the world of the senses, from the world of 
            ordinary ideas and thoughts, and returned it, as it were, to a 
            refined and fundamental state. From this state of mind he now has 
            the possibility of seeing the world more clearly, seeing it as it 
            truly is, and even, to a limited extent, by the practice of the 
            various meditational powers (such as creating mind-made bodies, 
            etc.), of constructing a different world. This way of thinking is 
            continued and taken further in Mahayana Buddhist thought. For it is 
            in the realm of the fourth dhyana that Bodhisattvas become Buddhas 
            and create their "Buddha fields" and "pure lands." 
            In non-Mahayana texts the five "pure abodes" are regarded as the 
            abodes of "never-returners" (anagamin), beings who are all but 
            awakened, beings who are in their last life and who will certainly 
            attain arhatship before they pass away.(66) Rather interestingly, 
            then, according to certain traditions of the developed Mahayana, the 
            Akanistha realm--the highest of the "pure abodes" and of the realms 
            of the fourth dhyana---is occupied not by never-returners about to 
            become arhats but by tenth-stage Bodhisattvas about to become 
            samyaksambuddhas. Having attained Buddhahood in the Akanistha realm, 
            they send out their "creation bodies" (nirmana-kaya) to the lower 
            realms for the benefit of sentient beings. Santaraksita in the 
            Tattvasamgraha explains as follows: 
            3549. Since their existence is outside samsara, which consists of 
            the five destinies, the death of Buddhas is not admitted by us; 
            therefore it is their creations that are perceived. 
            3550. In the lovely city of Akanistha, free from all impure 
            abodes--there Buddhas awaken; but here [in this world] creations 
            Kamalasila goes on to comment: 
            Samsara consists of the five destinies comprising hells, 
            hungry-ghosts, animals, gods and men; and since Buddhas exist 
            outside this their mortality is not accepted. How then does one 
            learn of their birth in the family of Suddhodana and others? 
            Accordingly he says that it is their creations that are perceived. 
            Supporting this from scripture he utters the words beginning, "In 
            the Akanistha...." There are gods called the Akanisthas; in a 
            certain place among them the gods are called "those belonging to the 
            pure abodes," for here only the pure noble ones dwell. Among them 
            the highest place is called the Palace of the Great Lord, and there 
            only Bodhisattvas in their last existence who are established in the 
            tenth bhumi are born, while here [in this world] by reason of their 
            sovereignty in that place their creations gain knowledge. Such is 
            the tradition.(68) 
            Significantly, a level associated with the fourth dhyana is once 
            more conceived of as in some sense fundamental and primordial--the 
            level upon which the creative activity of Buddhas is based. 
            The extent and precise interpretation of the tradition that Buddhas 
            become enlightened in Akanistha is not, however, entirely clear; the 
            ancient accounts of the career of the Bodhisattva are varied and not 
            always consistent. The exact source of Santaraksita's quotation from 
            "scripture" (agama) is not traced, although the Lankavatara Sutra 
            (Sagathaka vv. 38-40, 772-74) similarly states that beings become 
            Buddhas in the Pure Abodes "among the Akanisthas of the form-realm" 
            while their creations awaken in this world: 
            772. I am of Katyayana's family; issuing from the Pure Abode I teach 
            beings dharma that leads to the city of nirvana. 
            773. This is the ancient path; the Tathagatas and I have taught 
            nirvana in three thousand sutras. 
            774. Thus not in the realm of the senses nor in the formless does a 
            Buddha awaken, but among the Akanisthas of the form realm who are 
            free of passion he awakens.(69) 
            Taking this tradition at face value, what seems to be being said is 
            that full Buddhahood is attained by a tenth-stage Bodhisattva in the 
            Akanistha realm; after this the "created" or "emanated" body 
            (nirmanakaya) performs the acts of a Buddha beginning with the 
            descent to this world from Tusita, the Heaven of Delight. In other 
            words, Siddhartha Gautama from the time of his conception and birth 
            is a nirmana-kaya of an already fully awakened Buddha. However, such 
            an understanding is not entirely consistent with what is said in the 
            Prajnaparamita literature or in the Dasabhumika about the final 
            stages of the career of the Bodhisattva. 
            The Pancavimsatasahasrika-Prajnaparamita appears to make no mention 
            of the Pure Abodes or Akanistha in this connection, and it is the 
            ninth-stage Bodhisattva that descends into the womb, takes birth, 
            and sits beneath the tree of awakening, reaching the tenth stage 
            when he becomes a Tathagata.(70) 
            Although the Dasabhumika once again does not mention the Pure Abodes 
            or Akanistha in Connection with the bhumis, it does talk of 
            Bodhisattvas established in the tenth Stage as being "mostly the 
            Great Lord [mahesvara], king of the gods [deva-raja]."(71) Various 
            passages (which must be the source of the Tattvasamgraha tradition 
            quoted above) consistently identify these terms as epithets of the 
            chief of the gods of the Pure Abodes.(72) But for the Dasabhumika it 
            is the Bodhisattva of the tenth stage (and not the ninth Stage as in 
            the Prajnaparamita) who manifests in a single world-system all the 
            acts of Tathagatas from abiding in the Tusita realm to Parinirvana 
            (the final attainment of nirvana at death), but he appears to do 
            this as Bodhisattva, remaining such and not becoming a full Buddha 
            in the process.(73) Moreover, 
            At will he displays the array of the realms of all the Buddhas at 
            the end of a single hair; at will he displays untold arrays of the 
            realms of the Buddhas of all kinds; at will in the twinkling of an 
            eye he creates as many individuals as there are particles in untold 
            world-systems.... In the arising of a thought he embraces the ten 
            directions; in a moment of thought he controls the manifestation of 
            innumerable processes of complete awakening and final nirvana.... In 
            his own body he controls countless manifestations of the qualities 
            of the Buddha fields of innumerable Blessed Buddhas.(74) 
            If this is what tenth-stage Bodhisattvas do, then what do Buddhas 
            do? Ignoring the poetic imagination of the Dasabhumika, the short 
            answer seems to be much, much more of the same--so much so that one 
            cannot properly begin to conceive of what Buddhas truly do. 
            Nevertheless, it appears that we are to understand that at some 
            point in the process--the repeated process of manifesting the acts 
            of Buddhas and carrying out their work--these tenth-stage 
            Bodhisattvas do actually become Buddhas. 
            At this point it is useful, I think, to consider the witness of the 
            later Indo-Tibetan tradition. mKhas grub rje's "Fundamentals of the 
            Buddhist Tantras" (rGuyd safe spyi'i rnam par gzhag pa rgyas par 
            brjod) is an early fifteenth-century dGe lugs work which devotes its 
            first chapter to the question of how the Sravakas and then the 
            Mahayana (considered by way of the "Paramita" and "Mantra" schools) 
            understand the final stages of the process of the Blessed teacher's 
            becoming a fully awakened one (abhisambuddha).(75) Let me go 
            straight to mKhas grub rje's account of the understanding of this 
            process according to the Mantra school. mKhas grub rje takes it as 
            axiomatic for the Mahayana that full awakening is gained in 
            Akanistha. But how precisely does it come about there? mKhas grub 
            rje details the position of the Yoga and Anuttarayoga Tantras 
            according to a number of Indian commentators (eighth to tenth 
            century). For present concerns some indication of his account of 
            Sakyamitra's and Buddhaguhya's understanding of the Yoga Tantras 
            will suffice. According to them, Siddhartha Gautama, a tenth-stage 
            Bodhisattva from the time of his birth, having practiced austerities 
            for six years, then established himself in the imperturbable 
            concentration (aninjyo-nama-samadhi) of the fourth dhyana. 
            At that time, the Buddhas of all the ten directions assembled, 
            aroused him from that samadhi by snapping their fingers, and said to 
            him, "You cannot become a Manifest Complete Buddha by this samadhi 
            alone." "Then how shall I proceed?" he implored them. They guided 
            him to the Akanistha heaven. Moreover, while his maturation body 
            (vipaka-kaya) stayed on the bank of the same Nairahjana River, the 
            mental body (manomaya-kaya) of the Bodhisattva Sarvarthasiddha 
            proceeded to the Akanistha heaven. 
            After the Buddhas of the ten directions had given garment initiation 
            (vastraabhiseka) and diadem initiation (makuta-abhiseka), they bade 
            him enter the intense contemplation in sequence of the five 
            Abhisambodhi. After completing the five Abhisambodhi, he became a 
            Manifest Complete Buddha as Mahavairocana, the Sambhoga-kaya.(76) 
            Insofar as this account sees Gautama as a Bodhisattva who has taken 
            a human birth in his last existence and the enlightenment as 
            straightforwardly founded on the actual attainment of the fourth 
            dhyana, it is closer (than, say, the Pancavimsatika or Dasabhumika 
            accounts) to the Nikaya description; the Bhayabherava-sutta of the 
            Majjhima Nikaya describes the Bodhisatta as gaining the fourth jhana 
            and then, on the basis of that attainment, the three knowledges 
            which culminate in the knowledge of the destruction of the 
            If we now consider the above range of material on the process of the 
            Bodhisattva's final attainment of Buddhahood, it seems that it 
            embraces two basic views. According to one view the Bodhisattva in 
            his "final existence" (i.e., before finally transcending existence) 
            is reborn in the Akanistha heaven where he finally becomes a Buddha; 
            he subsequently manifests various creations which appear to be born, 
            go forth, practice, meditation, and become Buddhas. According to the 
            other the Bodhisattva in his last existence is actually born as a 
            human being; seated beneath the tree of awakening he ascends in 
            meditation with a mind-made body to the Akanistha heaven where he 
            finally becomes a Buddha, while his "real" human body remains seated 
            beneath the tree. Yet to state the positions thus baldly actually 
            infringes a deeply rooted ambiguity and equivocation that runs 
            through the cosmological material I have been considering in the 
            course of this article. For where is the true Buddha? In Akanistha? 
            Or seated beneath the tree of awakening? How does one come to 
            Akanistha? By traveling through space? Or by journeying in the mind? 
            Let me emphasize here that I am asking these questions of the 
            ancient texts and not raising the problem of how the modern Buddhist 
            tradition should set about finding an understanding of its ancient 
            cosmology that is compatible with the "findings" or modern science, 
            whatever precisely those are. And my point is that to ask such 
            questions in such terms betrays a particular metaphysics and 
            ontology which is precisely not the metaphysics and ontology of the 
            Indian Buddhist tradition. 
            In the course of this article I have been trying to explore the way 
            in which psychology and cosmology parallel each other in Buddhist 
            thought--something that Peter Masefield has already tried to 
            elucidate in the Nikayas by reference to the Upanisadic terms 
            adhyatmam and adhidaivatam. I have suggested that in the Abhidharma 
            the shift from psychology (levels of citta) to cosmology (levels of 
            the lokadhatu) can be viewed as a shift of time scale. The effect of 
            my discussion is not to reveal something new but to bring into 
            sharper focus something that lies at the heart of Indian Buddhist 
            thought, namely, a basic ambiguity about matters of cosmology and 
            psychology, about the objective outer world and the subjective inner 
            world. This is true to the extent that the key to understanding both 
            is to recognize that there is a fundamental and profound equivalence 
            between cosmology and psychology. 
            In conclusion I should like to risk a few general comments about the 
            metaphysics and ontology of Indian Buddhism. I do not want to imply 
            here that all Indian Buddhism shares an explicit and definite 
            metaphysics and ontology, but I am suggesting that there is a 
            general, underlying orientation, which tends to locate reality in 
            the mind and its processes rather than in something "out there" 
            which is other than the mind. We may want to persist in asking 
            questions in the latter terms, yet it is significant that the 
            tradition itself never quite does. On the contrary, it seems to take 
            for granted and as natural an ambiguity between cosmology and 
            psychology, for what is the difference between really being in 
            Akanistha and experiencing one is really in Akanistha? 
            To put it another way, there is a loosely "idealist" tendency to all 
            Indian Buddhist thought. It is no accident that one of the most 
            important and influential philosophical schools of Indian Buddhism, 
            the Yogacara, expounded an idealist ontology. For the Yogacara the 
            only reality anything ultimately has is psychological. Yogacara 
            thought is essentially a product of and a continuation of an 
            Abhidharmic way of thinking; it gives explicit expression in 
            systematic and philosophical form to a tendency that runs through 
            the whole of Buddhist thought. The Theravadin Abhidhamma tends to 
            sidestep the issue of the ultimate ontological status of the 
            external world and the world of matter; the question is never 
            explicitly raised. Yet for the Theravadin Abhidhamma--and as I 
            understand it this would also be true of the Vaibhasika 
            Abhidharma--the physical world each being lives in and experiences 
            is one that is the result of his or her past kamma performed by 
            deed, word, and thought; regardless of the ultimate ontological 
            status of the external world and the world of matter, the particular 
            physical sensations that beings experience are constructed mentally 
            insofar as each one is the result of past kamma. In technical 
            Abhidhamma terms our basic experience of the physical world is 
            encompassed by just ten classes of sense-sphere consciousness that 
            are the results (vipaka) of twelve unskillful and eight skillful 
            classes of sense-sphere consciousnesses: what we thought in the past 
            has created the world we live in and experience in the present; what 
            we think in the present will create the world we shall live in in 
            the future.(78) Or, as Dhammapada (vv. 1-2) famously put it, 
            "dhammas have mind as their forerunner, mind as preeminent, mind as 
            their maker" ("manopubbamgama dhamma manosettha manomaya"). That is, 
            Indian Buddhist thought is in unanimous agreement that ultimately 
            the particular world each of us experiences is something that we 
            individually and collectively have created by our thoughts. The 
            parallel that exists in Buddhist thought between cosmology and 
            psychology is simply a reflection of this basic fact of the 
            Abhidharma understanding of the nature of existence. 
            Indologists are familiar with the Upanisadic interiorization of the 
            Vedic sacrificial ritual; students of Hindu and Buddhist Tantra take 
            for granted the correspondences that are made between the body of 
            the yogin and the universe as microcosm and macrocosm 
            respectively.(79) Yet the similarities between this and certain ways 
            and patterns of thinking found in early and Abhidharmic Buddhist 
            thought are rarely recognized in the existing scholarly literature. 
            These similarities consist in the general tendency to assimilate 
            some kind of internal world to an external world, and in the 
            principle that places mind and psychology--the way the world is 
            experienced--first. The assimilation of cosmology and psychology 
            found in early Buddhist thought and developed in the Abhidharma must 
            be seen in this context to be fully understood and appreciated. I 
            can do no better than to finish with the words of the Buddha: 
            That the end of the world . . . is to be known, seen or reached by 
            travelling--that I do not say. . . . And yet I do not say that one 
            makes an end of suffering without reaching the end of the world. 
            Rather, in this fathom-long body, with its consciousness and mind, I 
            declare the world, the arising of the world, the ceasing of the 
            world and the way leading to the ceasing of the world.(80) 
            APPENDIX A 
A               Anguttara-Nikaya
Abhidh-av       Abhidhammavatara
Abhidh-di       Adhidharmadipa
Abhidh-k-(bh)   Abhidharmakosa-(bhasya)
Abhid-s-(t)     Abhidhammatthasangaha-(tika)
As              Atthasalini
D               Digha-Nikaya
DAT             Dighanikayatthakathatika
Dhp-a           Dhammapadatthakatha
Kv              Kathavatthu
M               Majjhima-Nikaya
Mp              Manorathapurani
Pp              Papancasudani
S               Samyutta-Nikaya
Sn              Suttanipata
Sv              Sumangalavilasini
Vibh            Vibhanga
Vibh-a          Vibhangatthakatha (= Sammohavinodani)
Vism            Visuddhimagga
vism-t          Visuddhimagga-tika (= Paramatthamanjusatika)
            Abhidhammatthasangaha of Bhadantacariya Anuruddha and the 
            Abhidhammat-thavibhavani-tika of Bhadantacariya Sumangalasami. 
            Edited by H. Saddhatissa. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1989. 
            Abhidhammavatara: Buddhadatta's Manuals. Edited by A. P. 
            Buddhadatta. 2 vols. London: Pali Text Society, 1915-28. Vol. 1. 
            Abhidharmadipa with Vibhasaprabhavrtti. Edited by P. S. Jaini. 
            Patna: Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute, 1959. 
            Abhidharmakos'a and Bhasya of Acarya Vasubandhu with Sphutartha 
            Commentary of Acarya Yasomitra. Edited by D. Shastri. 3 vols. 
            Varanasi: Bauddha Bharati, 1970-72. 
            Atthasalini: Buddhaghosa's Commentary on the Dhammasangani. Edited 
            by E. Muller. London: Pali Text Society, 1979. 
            Anguttara-nikaya Edited by R. Morris and E. Hardy. 5 vols. London: 
            Pali Text Society, 1885-1900. 
            Dasabhumikasutra. Edited by J. Rahder. Leuven, 1926. 
            Dasabhumisvaro nama mahayanasutram. Edited by Ryuko Kondo. Tokyo: 
            Daijyo Bukkyo Kenyo-Kai, 1936. 
            Dhammapadatthakatha: The Commentary on the Dhammapada. Edited by H. 
            C. Norman. 4 vols. London: Pali Text Society, 1906. 
            Digha-nikaya. Edited by T. W. Rhys Davids et al. 3 vols. London: 
            Pali Text Society, 1890-1911. 
            Kathavatthu. Edited by A. C. Taylor. 2 vols. London: Pali Text 
            Society, 1894-97. 
            Lalitavistara. Edited by P. L. Vaidya. Darbhanga: Mithila Institute 
            of Postgraduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, 1958. 
            Majjhima-nikaya. Edited by V. Trenckner and R. Chalmers. 3 vols. 
            London: Pali Text Society, 1888-1902. 
            Sammohavinodani Abhidhamma-Pitake Vibhangatthakatha. Edited by A. P. 
            Buddhadatta. London: Pali Text Society, 1923. 
            Samyutta-nikaya. Edited by L. Feer. 5 vols. London: Pali Text 
            Society, 1884-98. Sutta-Nipata. Edited by D. Anderson and H. Smith. 
            London: Pali Text Society, 1913. 
            Tattvasangraha of Acarya Santaraksita with the Commentary `Panjika' 
            of Sri Kamalasila. Edited by D. Shastri. 2 vols. Varanasi: Bauddha 
            Bharati, 1968. 
            Vibhanga. Edited by C. A. F. Rhys Davids London: Pali Text Society, 
            Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosacariya. Edited by H. C. Warren and D. 
            Kosambi. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1950. 
            Visuddhimagga-tika. Buddhaghosacariya's Visuddhimaggo with 
            Paramatthamanjusatika of Bhadantacariya Dhammapala. Edited by 
            Rewatadhamma. 3 vols. Varanasi: Varanaseya Sanskrit Visvavidyalaya, 
            APPENDIX B 
            The writings of a number of scholars seem to imply that the Nikaya 
            cosmology should not be attributed to the Buddha himself. Konrad 
            Meisig, continuing the work of Ulrich Schneider, argues that the 
            account of the evolution of the world and human society introduced 
            by the formula I quoted at the start of this article should not be 
            regarded as forming part of the "original" Agganna-sutta.(81) 
            Schneider's and Meisig's arguments are complex and involved but 
            appear to me to be neither individually nor collectively conclusive. 
            The fact remains that the cosmogonic myth forms a significant part 
            of all four versions of the text that Meisig examines; in other 
            words, we have no hard evidence of an Agganna-sutta--or whatever its 
            "original" title--without the cosmogonic myth. On the other hand, we 
            do have some hard evidence for the cosmogonic myth apart from the 
            Agganna-sutta.(82) Even when it is not accepted as forming part of 
            an "original" Agganna-sutta, it must be acknowledged that the 
            tradition it represents is well attested. 
            The whole notion of an original version of a sutta raises 
            interesting questions. The kind of model with which Meisig would 
            seem to be working regards the original Agganna-sutta as a discourse 
            delivered by the Buddha himself on one particular occasion (at 
            Savatthi since all versions are agreed in locating it there?), which 
            was remembered by his followers and for a while handed down 
            faithfully by them, until someone or some group still in the 
            pre-Asokan period appended to it a cosmogonic myth.(83) But this 
            kind of model is perhaps inappropriate to the composition and 
            transmission of oral literature and may also be historically naive. 
            A more appropriate general model for an original sutta might be of a 
            "text" representing the substance of a discourse or teaching that 
            the Buddha himself may have given on a number of different occasions 
            and which in part at least draws on a stock of images and formulas 
            which the Buddha himself employed in a variety of contexts as he 
            considered appropriate. Whether or not the Buddha himself composed 
            his teachings in this way, it is clear that someone started doing so 
            at some point, since many of the discourses of the Pali Nikayas and 
            Chinese Agamas are manifestly put together in this way. This, 
            however, is a matter that needs more systematic research. It may 
            well be that Schneider's and Meisig's analysis goes some way to 
            revealing the blocks of tradition which have been put together to 
            form the Agganna-sutta; but to expose these blocks of tradition does 
            not of itself tell us anything about who put them together and when. 
            In the end, Schneider's and Meisig's understanding of the original 
            Agganna-sutta amounts to a judgment about how well the blocks of 
            tradition have been put together; their view is that they have been 
            put together badly and that the two basic parts of the discourse are 
            ill-fitting. Yet even if we agree with this judgment, the bare fact 
            that a sutta is badly put together does not of itself preclude the 
            possibility that it is the original work of the Buddha; a claim that 
            the Buddha cannot possibly have made such a mess of it is an appeal 
            to the transcendent notion of Buddhahood rather than a conclusive 
            historical argument. 
            To say that the Agganna-sutta is composed of two parts must surely 
            be largely uncontroversial. Clearly paragraphs 1-9 and 27-32 do form 
            something of a unity and could intelligibly stand on their own; 
            again, the cosmogonic myth of paragraphs 10-26 is an intelligible 
            unit such that the Buddhist tradition itself abstracted portions of 
            it to be used outside this context. But it seems to me purely 
            arbitrary to pick on the first as original and relegate the second 
            to the status of later interpolation. One might just as well argue 
            the Buddha originally gave a discourse consisting of a cosmogonic 
            myth that was later wrapped up in an ethical disquisition on the 
            four classes (vanna) by certain of his followers who did not 
            appreciate myth. This reveals what one suspects might be the true 
            basis for the conclusion that it is the section of the Agganna-sutta 
            concerned with the four classes that constitute the original sutta: 
            the "ethical" portion of the discourse is to be preferred to the 
            "mythic" precisely because it is ethical, and, as we all know, the 
            earliest Buddhist teachings were simple, ethical teachings, 
            unadulterated by myth and superstition; we know that early Buddhist 
            teaching was like this because of the evidence of the rest of the 
            canon. Here the argument becomes one of classic circularity: we 
            arrive at a particular view about the nature of early Buddhism by 
            ignoring portions of the canon and then use that view to argue for 
            the lateness of the portions of the canon we have ignored. 
            Richard Gombrich has countered the Schneider/Meisig view of the 
            Agganna-sutta by arguing that the two parts of the discourse have 
            been skillfully put together and that the cosmogonic myth works as 
            an integral part of the discourse taken as a whole.(84) According to 
            Gombrich the first half of the discourse introduces the problem of 
            the relative status of brahmanas and suddas; this question is then 
            dealt with in a tongue-in-cheek satirical manner by the Aganna myth. 
            Gombrich regards the overall form of the Agganna-sutta as we have it 
            as attributable to the Buddha himself and thus original. But for 
            Gombrich the text is "primarily satirical and parodistic in intent," 
            although in time the jokes were lost on its readers and the myth 
            came to be misunderstood by Buddhist tradition "as being a more or 
            less straight-faced account of how the universe, and in particular 
            society, originated."(85) Following Gombrich, Steven Collins has 
            discussed the Agganna Sutta in some detail as a "humorous parable," 
            finding in certain of its phrases echoes of Vinaya formulas.(86) 
            Gombrich's arguments for the essential unity of the Agganna text as 
            we have it are extremely persuasive, yet I would disagree with the 
            implication that we should regard the mythic portions of the 
            Agganna-sutta as solely satirical. 
            Certainly it seems to me that Gombrich must be right in arguing that 
            there is a good deal of intended humor in the Agganna-sutta, and 
            certainly I would not want to argue that the cosmogonic myth was 
            never intended to be understood as literal history in the modern 
            sense. How could it have been? Yet it still seems to me unlikely 
            that, for the original compiler(s) of and listeners to the 
            discourse, the mythic portion of the sutta could have been intended 
            to be understood or actually understood in its entirety as a joke at 
            the expense of the poor old brahanas. As Gombrich so rightly says, 
            if we want to discover the original meaning of the Buddha's 
            discourses we need to understand the intellectual and cultural 
            presuppositions shared by the Buddha and his audience. While in 
            absolute terms this is an impossible task, since we can never 
            entirely escape our own intellectual and cultural presuppositions 
            and be reborn in the world of the Buddha--at least in the short 
            term--we can still surely make some progress in trying to rediscover 
            that world. 
            The question I would therefore ask is, Do we have any particular 
            historical reasons for supposing that it is unlikely that the Buddha 
            should have recounted a more or less straight-faced cosmogonic myth? 
            My answer is that we do not. Indeed, I want to argue the opposite: 
            what we can know of the cultural milieu in which the Buddha operated 
            and in which the first Buddhist texts were composed suggests that 
            someone such as the Buddha might very well have presented the kind 
            of myth contained in the Agganna-sutta as something more than merely 
            a piece of satire. Far from being out of key with what we can 
            understand of early Buddhist thought from the rest of the Nikayas, 
            the cosmogonic views offered by the Agganna-sutta in fact harmonize 
            extremely well with it. I would go further and say that something 
            along the lines of what is contained in the Agganna myth is actually 
            required by the logic of what is generally accepted as Nikaya 
            It might be countered that the Buddha's refusal to answer 
            categorically certain questions--including questions about whether 
            or not the world was eternal and infinite--indicates that the Buddha 
            was not interested in metaphysical questions and instructed his 
            monks not to waste their energy on them. The account of the world on 
            a cosmic scale found in the Agganna-sutta is then to be seen as not 
            in keeping with the spirit of the Buddha's instructions and 
            therefore as the creation of curious bhikkhus who, unable to 
            restrain their imaginations, ignored the express instructions of 
            their teacher. Such an outlook both misunderstands the nature of 
            the, usually, ten "undetermined questions" and misrepresents the 
            Agganna-sutta. This sutta does not expressly answer the question of 
            whether or not the world is eternal and infinite, and as Steven 
            Collins has argued, the real reason for the refusal to give a 
            categorical answer to the questions is that they are, from the 
            standpoint of Buddhist thought, linguistically ill-formed.(87) Thus 
            it is not because the Buddha does not know the answer to these 
            questions that he refuses to answer them but because the terms 
            employed in the questions have in the Buddhist view of things no 
            ultimate referent: it simply does not make sense to ask whether the 
            world is eternal or not because there is no one "thing" to which the 
            word world refers. The notion "world" is just like the notion 
            "self": it is not of itself an ultimately real thing but merely a 
            concept, a mental construct. The ten undetermined questions thus, it 
            seems to me, have no direct bearing on the cosmological ideas 
            expounded in the Agganna-sutta.