12 February 2011

Buddhism: Rebirth

Let me preface this post by saying that prior to a few weeks ago I had never before investigated Buddhism, so I am not exactly a scholar on the subject.  My posts on Buddhism are going to cover only a handful of all the scriptures that encompass the Buddhist religion.  I'm just trying to learn a little bit about the Buddhist religion and I will basically be writing these blogs as I learn more and more.  I hope they can provide some insight for anyone who doesn't have much prior knowledge of the religion.

This is probably one of the most famous aspects of the Buddhist religion, so I figured this was as good a place as any to start.  There are six realms of rebirth: hell beings, ghosts, animals, humans, demigods, and gods.  However, the main text I consulted for this post condensed these into five realms by combining the demigods and the ghosts. The cycle of continual rebirth in one of these six realms is known as Samsara and is considered undesirable due to the suffering experienced.  The only way to escape the cycle is to achieve enlightenment. 

Buddhist hells, like the hells in most religions, are extremely torturous and horrible places of existence.  However, a major difference between Buddhism and many other religions is that hell is not eternal.  Beings are allowed to once again be reborn once their bad karma has been removed through punishment for their sins.  Although these hells are not eternal, they certainly last for an extremely long time as the length of stays vary between 12.5 million years to 26 trillion years.  There are also an extremely large number of hells that provide suitable punishments for the sins of the beings located within them.  Most texts recognize eight hot hells and eight cold hells.  In addition, each of these hells has four secondary hells and there are also various isolated hells.  Due to the fact that there are so many different schools of Buddhism and no unifying text between them, the exact details of the hells vary depending upon the school of thought.

Texts consulted for this section:
Illumination of the Five Realms of Existence by unknown author
Circumstances by Which a Wise Person Slandered a Manifest Holy Man, Went to King Yama's Hell, and Suffered by Kyokai
Anthology of Essential Teaching for Deliverance to the Pure Land by Genshin

Note: Distances are given in yojana because the actual distance of a yojana is a disputed measurement.  One yojana is supposedly between 4 to 9 miles in length.

The Eight Hot Narakas

Sanjiva - The Reviving Naraka
Sins: Greed; delusion; fear; anger; killing living creatures
Punishment: A constant cycle of death and revival.  The sinners act like hunters and when they find another sinner they tear each other apart with iron claws.  There are also wardens who beat the sinners with iron staffs or use sharp knives to slice the sinners.
Setting: It is located 1,000 yojana beneath Jambudvipa (earth) and spans a length of 10,000 yojana.
Length: 12.5 million years

Kalasutta - The Black Thread Naraka
Sins: Hostility toward friends and family; slander; lying; stealing
Punishment: Sinners are sliced with burning saws along marks made by a black thread.  The wardens also force the sinners to walk along a tightrope over hot cauldrons.  When the sinners finally fall, their bodies are boiled.  The suffering in this hell is supposed to be 10 times that of Sanjiva.
Setting: Same size as Sanjiva and located right beneath Sanjiva. 
Length: 100 million years

Samghata - The Crushing Naraka
Sins: Killing living beings
Punishment: Sinners are crushed by huge rocks and forced to live on a surface of hot iron.  Genshin also goes onto to tell of a forest with knife-like leaves and beautiful women at the top of all of the trees.  The sinners attempt to climb the trees to get to the women despite the tremendous pain they encounter from the leaves.  When they get to the top the women appear at the bottom of the tree.  So the sinners climb back down, again enduring extreme amounts of pain.  The women then reappear at the top and this cycle repeats itself indefinitely. 
Setting: Located beneath Kalasutta
Length: 800 million years

Roruva - The Screaming Naraka
Sins: Tormenting living creatures; cheating
Punishment: Beings are constantly looking for refuge from the burning ground.  When they finally find shelter they are locked inside and burned.
Setting: Located beneath Samghata
Length: 6.4 billion years

Maharoruva - The Piercing Naraka
Sins: Taking the property of the gods; stealing something that was entrusted to you
Punishment: Known as the "Great Roruva", the fire-torment and screaming surpass that of Roruva.  There are also animals called kravyada that eat the beings' flesh.
Setting: Located beneath Roruva
Length: 51.2 billion years

Tapana - The Heating Naraka
Sins: Burning living creatures
Punishment: Severe torment by burning without interruption.  The beings in this hell are impaled with a fiery spear until flames come out of their body cavities.
Setting: Located beneath Maharoruva
Length: 409.6 billion years

Patapana - The Great Heating Naraka
Sins: Asserting the truth is not the truth; tormenting beings
Punishment: This fire is greater than Tapana.  Also, rather than using a spear to impale these sinners, a trident is used.
Setting: Located beneath Tapana
Length: 3.2768 trillion years

Avici - The Uninterrupted Naraka
Sins: Hostility toward those of greater virtue; killing disciples, teachers, or parents
Punishment: Heat so great it causes bones to melt; no intermission from the fire
Story: In Circumstances by Which a Wise Person Slandered a Manifest Holy Man, Went to King Yama's Hell, and Suffered, a monk named Chiko becomes jealous of a novice named Gyogi after Gyogi is appointed to a higher position than himself.  Chiko falls ill and dies one month after this event.  Two attendents of Yama, the king of hell, bring him to Avici.  Avici is described a place so hot that if a bird were to fly there, it would die instantly because its blood would boil.  Chiko is thrown into the burning flames for three days.  Chiko is not permanently dead in this story, so he is allowed to return to his former being and go back to earth.
Setting: Located beneath Patapana
Length: 26.2144 trillion years

These hells are traditionally known as the eight hot hells.  Tibetan texts also include eight cold hells, which are above the hot hells, but still below the earth.  I didn't read any text covering these hells, but here is a listing of their names.

The Eight Cold Narakas

1. Arbuda - The Naraka of Blisters
2. Nirarbuda - The Naraka of Burnt Blisters
3. Atata - The Naraka of Shivering
4. Hahava - The Naraka of Lamentation
5. Huhuva - The Naraka of Chattering Teeth
6. Utpala - The Blue Lotus Naraka
7. Padma - The Lotus Naraka
8. Mahapadma - The Great Lotus Naraka

Many of the sources that I found online list Ghosts below Animals, but the text that I am following uses the opposite order.  I'm not really sure why, but I figured it was worth pointing out.  The Animal realm is a unique realm in that it consists of beings with minimal intelligence and neutral karma.  Due to their limited knowledge, they can not do good or bad acts.  Although humans and animals inhabit the same world, the Animal realm is considered to be distinct due to animals' lack of intelligence.  Ignorance seems to be the main qualification for rebirth into the animal realm.  This realm is viewed as unfavorable because of the suffering endured and the lack of an ability to achieve enlightenment.  Illumination of the Five Realms of Existence goes into a variety of other sins and how the sins correspond to rebirth as a particular animal.  Some interesting examples are listed below.

Texts consulted for this section:
Illumination of the Five Realms of Existence by unknown author

Sin               Animal
Ill-will          Snake
Pride            Lion
Conceit        Dog
Greed          Monkey
Cruelty        Spider

This realm is for the jealous and the greedy and is almost certainly worse than the Animal realm.  The Hell, Animal, and Ghost Realms are known as the undesirable realms.  The Ghost Realm in my text was separated into ghosts, ghouls, and demigods.

Texts consulted for this section:
Illumination of the Five Realms of Existence by unknown author

Hungry ghosts, or Petas, are the most well-known beings in this realm.  In particular, they are known for their large stomachs, which signify their enormous appetites, and their skinny necks, which symbolize their inability to satisfy those appetites.  The Petas' greed in a former life results in an immense desire for a particular object.  However, since Petas are ghosts, they are unable to obtain the object.  Some of the more interesting punishments in this realm are listed below.

Sin: Oppressing and cheating the young
Punishment: Forced to feed on birth-impurities (I'm not sure about specifics on this)
Sin: Desiring to steal property, but then regretting it
Punishment: Forced to feed on dung, phlegm and vomit
Sin: Angry speech
Punishment: A mouth like a furnace
Sin: Cruel mind
Punishment: Forced to feed on worms, insects, and beetles

Ghouls, or kumbhandas, are guilty of the same sins as petas, but they have some redeeming qualities about them.  For instance, a man is reborn as a peta if he does not give and if he also prevents others from giving.  However, the man is reborn as a kumbhanda if he gives, but still prevents other people from giving.

Sin: Killing animals
Redeeming Quality: Giving the animal away to be eaten by others
Sin: Corruption
Redeeming Quality: Delight in giving
Sin: Anger; Alcoholism
Redeeming Quality: Generosity

Asuras, also known as demigods, usually have their own realm, but sometimes they are grouped with the ghosts (as is the case here) or with the gods.  Jealousy, violence and deceit are listed as some of the sins that lead to rebirth in this realm.  Asuras are more powerful than humans, but the Asura realm is still generally considered to be inferior to the human realm.  So, what's good about the Asura realm?  Asuras experience more pleasure than humans.  Unfortunately, they are plagued by their envy for the devas, or gods.  They are also described as being obsessed with violence.  The Asura realm is said to be in the same "plane" as the Deva realm, in the same way that the Animal realm is in the same "plane" as the Human realm.  Asuras live at the bottom of Mount Sumeru (discussed below).  The asuras used to live at the top of the mountain in Trayastrimsa, which is the domain of the devas, but Sakra (ruler of Trayastrimsa) threw them off of the mountain when they were drunk.  As a result, they landed at the base of the mountain and have been in an almost constant state of war with the devas. 

Quick Aside - Mount Sumeru
Mount Sumeru is located at the center of the Buddhist "world".  The mountain is said to be 80,000 yojanas tall, which is the equivalent of 320,000 to 720,000 miles.  The mountain is shaped like a square hourglass, with the top and bottom of the mountain being 80,000 square yojanas.  At the middle of the mountain (40,000 yojanas), the area is reduced to 20,000 square yojanas.  Trayastrimsa, one of the heavens, is located at the top of the mountain.  Trayastrimsa is the highest "plane" that is in physical contact with the earth.  The mountain is surrounded by a square ocean, which is surrounded by a square wall of mountains, which is then surrounded by another ocean.  There are actually seven oceans and seven mountain ranges surrounding this mountain, with the oceans closest to the mountain being the largest and the mountain ranges closest to the mountain being the tallest.  The continents of our world are said to only be small islands in this world, with our entire world being located on the continent of Jambudvipa, which is directly south of Mount Sumeru.

The chosen ones in a sense.  Although the Deva realm is considered better than the Human realm, only humans can attain enlightenment, which is of course the ultimate goal.  Humans are the only beings with the motivation and ability to follow the dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) and therefore achieve enlightenment.  Being born as a human, in a time and place where the dharma is known, is considered a very rare and special occurrence.  It is extremely difficult to be reborn in the Human realm after leaving the Hell, Animal or Ghost realms.  However, if a human lives a good life it is implied that he will continue to be reborn as a human.  The following is a list of Do's and Don'ts and their respective effects on future rebirth.

Texts consulted for this section:
Illumination of the Five Realms of Existence by unknown author

Action: Give food
Effect: Comfort, long life, beauty, strength, wisdom
Action: Give clothes
Effect: Beauty, well-liked, receives clothing
Action: Give shoes
Effect: Comfort, the best of carriages
Action: Give medicine and safety
Effect: Free from illness
Action: Enter religious life
Effect: Virtuous and wealthy
Action: Abstain from drinking
Effect: Glory and comfort

Many other examples are listed in which the reward is fitting for the action.

"Every fruit corresponds to the deeds"
"Whichever return is desired - leaf, flower, fruit, water and also a pleasing conveyance - should be given to whoever wants it."

Action: Stealing, but giving
Effect: Reborn wealthy then penniless
Action: Giving for the sake of heaven or out of fear
Effect: Reap spoiled fruit
Action: Taking another man's wife
Effect: Reborn as a woman
Action: Contempt, lying
Effect: Reborn as a hunchback or dwarf

"Leprosy, wasting, fever, madness and other ills of human beings exist here on earth among men because of killing, flogging and fettering."

Gods, or devas, are more powerful than humans.  They also live longer and experience a much more pleasurable existence.  Devas have the choice of disguising themselves in human form on earth or being invisible to the untrained human eye.  They do not require food or drink and they are capable of moving over great distances very quickly.  Humans are said to have once possessed these qualities, but they slowly disappeared as a result of eating solid food.

Texts consulted for this section:
Illumination of the Five Realms of Existence by unknown author

Some major differences between Buddhist gods and gods in other religions
- Devas are not immortal, but they do live for anywhere between many thousands of years to trillions of years
- They are not the most knowledgeable beings in the universe.  That distinction belongs to a fully enlightened Buddha.  Devas also do not have knowledge of higher gods than themselves. 
- They rarely intervene on earth
- They do not create or shape the world

Different Realms
Arupyadhatu - This is known as the formless realm.  This realm has no location (because it's formless) and the beings that live here are formless and do not interact with beings in other parts of the universe.  This realm is made up of four spheres called: "sphere of neither perception nor non-perception", "sphere of nothingness", "sphere of infinite consciousness", and "sphere of infinite space".
Rupadhatu - There are five groups of heavens in this realm: Suddhavasa, Brhatphala, Subhakrtsna, Abhasvara, and Brahma.  Each of these groups consists of three to five heavens.  Akinstha, which is part of the Suddhavasa group, is the highest heaven and is located 167,772,160 yojanas above earth.  The beings in this heaven live for 16,000 kalpas, or about 69 trillion years (1 kalpa = 4.32 billion years).  The most enlightened beings live farther away from earth and the beings in Suddhavasa will actually pass on to enlightenment after they die.
Kamadhatu - These heavens are closest to earth and the devas in these heavens have the most interaction with humans.  There are four floating heavens, each 80,000 square yojanas, that are positioned above Mount Sumeru.  There is also Trayastrimsa, which is on top of Mount Sumeru, and Caturmaharajikakayika, which is on the slopes of Mount Sumeru.  Trayastrimsa is the most well-known of the heavens and is similar to Mount Olympus.  The term means "belonging to the 33 [devas]".  There are many more than 33 devas, but the term comes from Hinduism.  Devas in Trayastrimsa live for 36 million years.

Some prerequisites for becoming a deva
- Honor parents and elders
- Wisdom, knowledge of the dharma
- Monastic discipline
- Superior virtue, open mind
- Self-control

"Whoever is free from passions attains meritorious action"

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