Sunday, June 14, 2009

Heaven in Buddhist cosmology/ Naga and Buddha and calmness

OVERDRIVE: Gods must be crazy to rain on Samak's parade
Bangkokians were in sour mood on Monday when they woke up under a heavy downpour to find that the City of Angels was drowning in a sea of rainwater.

It was one of those rare occasions when Bangkok lived up to its old sobriquet of the "Venice of the East".

You could travel on a speedboat along Sukhumvit Road all the way to Bangna.

Hundreds of cars - "oh, the poor Mercedes" - were simply dead in the water.

Water-logged residents quickly looked to vent their anger upon a scapegoat.

Predictably, Samak Sundaravej, the Bangkok governor, became a fat target for their travails from the 150mm of rain.

Bangkokians just took it for granted that under his governorship, Bangkok would never have to suffer from any act of the gods.

That was why they gave Samak more than one million votes in his landslide victory in the 2000 gubernatorial election.

Bangkokians were angry with the governor because he was nowhere to be found when, with the water rising to knee level, they were struggling across Bangkok.

When Samak finally did show up, he hit back at his emotional voters who were so naive as to hope that the Bangkok streets would remain as dry as a pizza pan whatever the state of the weather.

He also called his critics "idiots".

Samak defended his untarnished record as the benevolent governor of the City of Angels by saying that he had no control over the 150mm of rain.

"Rain is a natural phenomenon," he said.

"If it rains, it rains.

It's no one's fault.

How can I be expected to negotiate with the gods?" Samak's lonely voice was the most rational amid the emotional display of childish complaints by Bangkokians who seem to have no understanding at all about acts of gods.

Samak was right to have said that he had no control over the heavy rain, nor had he any power to bargain with the gods.

Indeed, the rain on that soaking wet Monday could have been the work of Phra Phirun or Phra Varun, the gods of Water and Rain.

A traditional belief has it that Phra Phirun dislikes lies or breaches of promise.

If Phra Phirun finds anybody who behaves this way, he casts his magic by sending water into the stomach of the liar until it swells up like a pregnant woman's.

The problem is, who is it that has incurred the wrath of Phra Phirun - or was he merely expressing his opinion of the new Cabinet line-up? Phra Phirun is a very handsome god.

His skin is shiny white (or red or a cloudy colour according to differing versions).

He has four hands (or six).

He holds an umbrella.

This umbrella, which looks like a head of a Naga, never gets wet.

He also holds a loop of rope, but some say the rope is actually a coiled Naga.

He travels on a crocodile or sometimes on a cart pulled by seven swans.

No one will ever know, of course, what happened in heaven over the weekend before Monday's downpour.

Based on the "Three Worlds According to King Ruang", a Thai Buddhist cosmology written during the Sukhothai period 600 to 700 years ago, the god Indra reigns over the royal Sumeru mountain in the realm of heaven surrounded by large Devata cities on the peak of the Yugandhara mountain range.

The sun, the moon, the 27 lunar mansions, and the stars and constellations continuously circle around the royal Sumeru mountain.

But Phra Phirun could not have acted alone without a consensus from the Celestial Council.

Now, you have to understand that this Celestial Council, over which the god Indra reigns supreme, is a heavenly body.

You cannot really say that it is "independent" or "autonomous" from this world since it belongs to heaven in the first place.

That is why we ordinary mortals - like Samak has said - could never expect to have control over the Celestial Council.

Human beings normally look at the universe from a worldly perspective, which will never help them understand the reality of the universe.

Only Samak has the best understanding of human limits and the acts of gods.

Let me bring you back to the time of our Lord Buddha.

After the Lord Buddha had attained his Enlightenment, he sat under the Bodhi Tree for seven days. He was in a blissful state after this Enlightenment. Then he moved on to relax under the shade of a banyan tree.

There he stayed for another seven days.

Then the Lord Buddha changed his position again by staying under a Barringtonia tree for seven more days, overcome by joy with the breakthrough of his consciousness. All of a sudden, it began to rain and a cold wind blew for seven long days.

Trying to protect the Lord Buddha from the bad weather, the Naga King Mucalinda appeared before him. He coiled around the Buddha in seven coils and spread his hood over him to prevent the rain and the wind from touching his body.

This posture of the Lord Buddha protected by the Naga has become immortal in scenes portrayed in Buddhist art and literature, as evidenced by the Nak Prok-style Buddha images and Buddha emulates during the Lopburi Art period.

When the rain ceased, the Naga uncoiled. It then disguised itself as a young man and stood before the Buddha, who said: "There is happiness in quietude.

One who has heard the Dharmma takes pleasure in calmness. The happiest person in the world is he who does not do any harm to any creature, gives up desires and is without passion.”
The Naga embraced the Lord Buddha's teaching wholeheartedly.

By Thanong Khanthong
According to Buddhist Cosmology the universe is undergoing cycles and beings are spread over a number of existential "planes" in which this human world is only one (though important) "realm" of life. In Buddhism the gods are not immortal, though they may live much longer than the earthly beings. They also are subject to decay and change, and the process of becoming. The intensity and the manner in which these processes take place however may be different and involve longer periods of time. But like any other beings, they are with a beginning and an end.

However, all heavenly beings are regarded as inferior in status to the Arhats who have attained Nirvana. The gods were also from the lower worlds originally, but slowly and gradually graduated themselves into higher worlds by virtue of their past deeds and cultivation of virtuous qualities. Since there are many heavens and higher worlds of Brahma, these gods may evolve progressively from one heaven to another through their merit or descend into lower worlds due to some misfortune or right intention. One notable Buddhist paradise is the Pure Land of Pure Land Buddhism.

The gods of Buddhism are therefore not immortal. Neither their position in the heavens is permanent. They may however live for longer durations of time. One of the Buddhist Sutras states that a hundred years of our existence is equal to one day and one night in the world of the thirty-three gods. Thirty such days add up to their one month. Twelve such months become their one year, while they live for a thousand such years.

Buddhism teaches that there are five (sometimes six) realms of rebirth, which can then be further subdivided into degrees of agony or pleasure. Of these realms, the hell realms, or Naraka, is the lowest realm of rebirth. Of the hell realms, the worst is Avīci or "endless suffering". The Buddha's disciple, Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha on three occasions, as well as create a schism in the monastic order, is said to have been reborn in the Avici Hell.

However, like all realms of rebirth, rebirth in the Hell realms is not permanent, though suffering can persist for eons before being reborn again. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha teaches that eventually even Devadatta will become a Buddha himself, emphasizing the temporary nature of the Hell realms. Thus, Buddhism teaches to escape the endless migration of rebirths (both positive and negative) through the attainment of Nirvana.

The Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, according to the Ksitigarbha Sutra, made a great vow as a young girl to not reach Enlightenment until all beings were liberated from the Hell Realms or other unwholesome rebirths. In popular literature, Ksitigarbha travels to the Hell realms to teach and relieve beings of their suffering.

Purgatory is the condition or process of purification in which the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for heaven. This is an idea that has ancient roots and is well-attested in early Christian literature, while the conception of purgatory as a geographically situated place is largely the achievement of medieval Christian piety and imagination.[1]

Purgatory as a physical place

Dante gazes at purgatory (shown as a mountain) in this 16th century painting.In antiquity and medieval times, heaven and hell were regarded as places existing within the physical universe: heaven "above", in the sky; hell "below", in or beneath the earth. Similarly, purgatory has at times been thought of as a physical location. In Dante's fourteenth century work The Divine Comedy, shows this with Earth as the center of the universe (and hell at the "center of the center" of the universe), the planets and stars revolving around Earth and Heaven (or the Seven Heavens) encircling Creation in Celestial spheres.

As for purgatory, it is depicted as a mountain in the southern hemisphere. When, according to Dante's work, Satan rebelled against God and was defeated, he was cast out from Heaven and fell to Earth. The impact crater from the fall was so great that it reached to the Earth's core. Satan being held at the center of the center of the universe (Earth) was seen as reflecting his selfishness. As for the crater, it was filled over becoming a dark and fiery cavern, Hell, with Jerusalem directly over Satan.

Yet the force of the Satan's impact created such an uplift, that it produced a mountain "beneath" Satan, on the opposite side of the Earth from the impact. Souls given a second chance find themselves at Mt. Purgatory and should they reach the top they will find themselves at Jerusalem's antipode, the Garden of Eden itself. Thus cleansed of all sin and made perfect, they wait in Earthly paradise before ascending to Heaven. Thus, ironically, all Satan's attempts to destroy and damn humanity did was ensure humanity's salvation.

This is no longer the mainstream religious concept of purgatory. In 1999 Pope John Paul II declared that the term ('purgatory') did not indicate a place, but "a condition of existence".[11]

Heaven and Hell

A depiction of purgatory by Venezuelan painter Cristóbal Rojas (1890) representing the boundary between heaven (above) and hell (below)According to Catholic belief, immediately after death, a person undergoes judgment in which the soul's eternal destiny is specified.[12] Some are eternally united with God in Heaven, often envisioned as a paradise of eternal joy. Conversely, others are destined for Hell, a state of eternal separation from God often envisioned as a fiery place of punishment.[13]

[edit] Purgatory's role
In addition to accepting the states of heaven and hell, Catholicism envisages a third state before being admitted to heaven. According to Catholic doctrine, some souls are not sufficiently free from sin and its consequences to enter the state of heaven immediately, nor are they so sinful as to be destined for hell either.[14] Such souls, ultimately destined to be united with God in heaven, must first endure purgatory—a state of purification.[15] In purgatory, souls "achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven."[

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