The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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ETs & the Myriad Worlds in Buddhist Cosmology
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By V. Susan Ferguson
Buddhist cosmology speaks of the existence of the Myriad Worlds. A fascinating translation of the work of a nineteenth-century Tibetan scholar reveals an enlightening perspective on the vast number of the Myriad Worlds.
“These worlds suffuse the ten directions; millions of worlds interpenetrate one another, and each world contains billions of others. Billions more are contained within each atom of each world.” [Quotes are from the Introduction by the translators, The Treasury of Knowledge, Book One: Myriad Worlds, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye.]
Awareness of the sheer scope and number of the Myriad Worlds is said to be suitable knowledge for those who have reached a certain spiritual maturity, and who are ready for the higher understanding of a larger system of cosmology.
Waiting for us to evolve
Therefore this affirms for me that the other beings in our galaxy are indeed waiting for us Earthlings to mature out of our fear of anything and anyone ‘different’ — and expand our consciousness to embrace a much larger view of the universe.
In Buddhism, the Bodhisattvas are those who are enlightened, who have Remembered that they are the eternal One, and have taken the vow to enlighten and liberate others. According to one Tibetan Buddhist school theory all beings contribute to the creation of worlds, which are the result of “the collective force of the evolutionary action of sentient beings.” The unenlightened cling to the false idea of a separate self and thus project realms that appear as prisons. While the enlightened Bodhisattvas contribute to the creation of the worlds through energies known as ‘winds’ (energy-winds) which have “special potencies that are capable of shaping new worlds.”
ET & Buddhist CosmologyAnother theory says that new planets, stars, etc. are formed when “scattered particles of matter remaining in space after a previous world-system has been destroyed” and are compared to ‘galactic seeds’ coalescing. In the Buddhist text ‘The Holy teachings of Vimalakirti’ (translated by Robert Thurman), “the Buddha states that the buddha-fields in which the bodhisattvas practice are fields of living beings. In Buddhist terminology, the ultimate realm in which everything exists is called ‘the sphere of reality’ (dharmadhatu).
Buddhism and Kashmir Shaivism would agree that at the highest ultimate reality nothing is ever created and nothing ever destroyed. “Nevertheless …infinite world-systems arise as phantom appearances based on interdependent connections…”
The bodies we inhabit here on planet Earth are made of earth. The food we eat is grown in the earth’s soil and without that food, we would not grow. Our bodies would die. Beings who dwell on other planets, in other dimensional realms may not have earth-based bodies because they may not have anything like earth soil. Their bodies may be composed of something less dense. So why do we assume or even imagine their bodies would look like ours?
In fact even in our solar system there are planets that do not have magnetic fields. It is highly unlikely that our earth-based physics applies to planets that do not have a magnetic field. There must be many other contributing factors we are not aware of involved in a multitude of civilizations in a universe of 300+ billion galaxies. Yet we continue to define everything in terms of our experience, we are earth-centric, egocentric, heliocentric, humanoid-centric! Ridiculous!
The idea of ‘wheels within wheels’ is found in speculative interest in space ship technology. Remember the machine in the film ‘Contact’ that took Jodie Foster into wormholes had wheels within wheels. The word ‘wheel’ appears very often in the Rig Veda. The Sanskrit word is CHAKRA and has multiple meanings. For example: The wheel (of a carriage, of the Sun’s chariot), (chariot often is the English word used to translate aerial ship]; of Time; a discus or sharp circular missile weapon; a potter’s wheel; an astronomical circle; a mystical circle; a circular flight; a particular constellation in the form of a hexagram; a form of military array – to give you a few, straight out of M. Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Chakra also refers to the seven wheels of energy in the human body.
The Tibetan text the Great Mindfulness Scripture describes the ‘wheel’ thus: “The precious wheel is made of gold, is five hundred leagues (in diameter) and has one thousand spokes. Within a day it can travel one thousand leagues. By power of the wheel, the king’s attendants, the elephant and so on, are able to travel anywhere through space up to (the heaven of) the Thirty-three and can hear what the king does not hear. The wheel eliminates rivals. It appeared from space.”
Five hundred leagues is around 2000 miles. This precious golden wheel flies very fast and can 'hear what the king does not' – meaning it has some kind of radar detection or telecommunications system. If you were reading this Buddhist scriptural text in the 8th century in Tibet perhaps your associations would have been quite different than one reading it in 21st century satellite connected to cyberspace.
The text mentions “the precious elephant” that “in a single day can circle the Land of Jambu three times” and defeats the king’s adversaries. Perhaps the Pali or Sanskrit word for 'elephant' once referred to a small but mighty and unstoppable fighter airship. One other “precious” item described is a jewel that has eight facets and equals the size of a man’s thigh. “It illuminates the night up to a distance of one hundred leagues, and if the day is hot, it provides cooling water of eight qualities. Within a radius of one hundred leagues, the jewel eliminates all diseases and fulfils all wishes. It was presented by Indra.” In the Sanskrit texts, Indra is said to be a station, not an individual person. There have been many Indra’s in many Kalpas, and he is the titular head king of the world of the gods.
Another insight from the Tibetan text is in the Features of Life section: “Beings in lower (realms) do not see those in the higher.” Higher beings, perhaps Bodhisattvas in Buddhist Thangka paintings are depicted as floating on clouds while observing those less fortunate and unenlightened trapped in the various rungs of delusion. They can see us, but we cannot see them – unless of course by the intent of our spiritual practice or by birth, our ‘third eye’ is developed and open to see.
As we evolve spiritually and are ready to embrace a larger Universe, we will move out of the Kali Yuga, the Age of Confusion and Conflict. We have voluntarily come here for a school of the cosmic kind that allows us to Veil the God-within and experience limitation. Our true nature is that unlimited ubiquitous Being pervading and permeating the entire universe — and this pervading of the Oneness includes the Myriad Worlds, the “millions of worlds interpenetrating one another” in a universe that we now know contains 300+billion galaxies.