The Buddha addressed the monks, saying: “Once upon a time, immeasurable, limitless, inconceivable, incalculable kalpas ago, there was a Buddha called Mahābhijnājnānābhibhū Tathāgata, an Arhat, Completely Enlightened, Perfect in Knowledge and Conduct, Well-Departed, Knower of the World, Unsurpassed, Tamer of Humans, Teacher of Devas and Humans, Buddha, Bhagavat. His land was called Susaṃbhavā in the kalpa called Mahārūpa.
“O monks, it has been an extremely long time since this buddha entered nirvana. Suppose there were a man who ground the earth of the entire great manifold cosmos into powdered ink, and he were to then pass through a thousand worlds to the east, where he let fall a single particle of ink, the size of a speck of dust.
“After passing through another thousand worlds, he let fall another particle; and he continued in this way until he had completely used all the ink.
“What do you think about this? Do you think that a mathematician or a mathematician’s pupil would be able to count those worlds to the last particle or not?”
“O Bhagavat! No, they could not.”
“O monks! Suppose that all the worlds this man passed through, whether letting fall a particle or not, were all ground into dust, and one speck of this dust were equal to one kalpa. The time since the parinirvāṇa of this Buddha surpasses this number by immeasurable, limitless, incalculable hundreds of thousands of myriads of koṭis of kalpas; and through the power of the Tathāgata’s wisdom and insight, I can see his distant past, as if it were today.”
The beginning of Chapter 7 describes the awesome extent of the Buddhist-Cosmological-Mindset. The description of the time-factor involved since the Buddha called Mahābhijnājnānābhibhū Tathāgata entered parinirvana is staggering to say the least. Yet, this is the vantage-point of Buddhist Cosmology. The truly insignificant- (in the larger scheme of things) petty affairs of our present saha-world really pales in comparison to the utter vastness of the Cosmos Itself, along with the inconceivable time-factors considered in Sutra-passages such as this one. Not only that, but consider the immeasurable power of the Tathagatas wisdom that can look-upon the aforementioned mathematical conundrum of those past countless worlds—all like minuscule specks of ink—as if they were all a part of the present-moment. This is what I’ve always admired about Buddhism—it deals with Big-Cosmic-Time as opposed to the minuscule affairs that comprise our own saha-world. In this sense, it’s the Big that’s Real, in contrast to the “close-up, in-your-face” disparity that day-in and day-out obsesses (and possesses) our truly insignificant speck of ink. Indeed, close-up-ness deprives us of our sense of the Transcendent dimension.
“Then the great Brahmas of the hundred myriads of koṭis of worlds went toward the west with their palaces to enquire about this phenomenon, carrying heavenly flowers in their robes. They saw the Tathāgata Mahābhijnājnānābhibhū on the terrace of enlightenment, sitting on the lion seat under the bodhi tree. He was respectfully surrounded by humans and such non -humans as devas, nāga kings, gandharvas, kiṃnaras, and mahoragas. They also saw the sixteen princes requesting the Buddha to turn the wheel of the Dharma. Then the great Brahmas bowed until their foreheads touched the Buddha’s feet and then circled around him one hundred thousand times.
They scattered heavenly flowers on the Buddha, and the flowers they scattered were piled as high as Mount Sumeru. They also paid homage to the Buddha’s bodhi tree, which was ten yojanas in height…”
Scenes like this one are frequent throughout this Sutra. It doesn’t deal with just one particular Tathātaga but countless—all sitting on their lion-seats beneath the bodhi-tree and respectfully surrounded by legions of devotee’s of varying sentient-shapes and kinds. Today’s accompanying image depicts such a Transcendent-One sitting beneath that Cosmic-Bodhi-Tree—literally exuberating Bodhi-ness, while beneath him rests his particular Buddha-world that is under his dominion; this is just once such image that is super-imposed a Gazillion-times throughout inconceivable other Buddha-worlds of like stature, a true indication that we are not the only sentient-contingencies in this apparent endless-universe.
“And then the Tathāgata Mahābhijnājnānābhibhū acceded to the request made by all the great Brahmas from the ten directions and the sixteen princes. He then immediately turned three times the Dharma wheel of twelve spokes that no śrāmaṇas, brahmans, devamāras, Brahmas, or any other being in the world could turn. He taught:
This is suffering. This is the origination of suffering. This is the cessation of suffering, and this is the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. (i.e., the Four Noble Truths)
“He also extensively taught the Dharma of the twelve-linked chain of dependent origination, saying:
Conditioned states are dependent on ignorance. Consciousness is dependent on conditioned states. Name and form are dependent on consciousness. The six sense fields are dependent on name and form. Contact is dependent on the six sense fields. Feelings are dependent on contact. Craving is dependent on feelings. Grasping is dependent on craving. Becoming is dependent on grasping. Birth is dependent on becoming. And old age, illness, death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, and distress are dependent on birth.
When ignorance ceases, then conditioned states cease. When conditioned states cease, then consciousness ceases. When consciousness ceases, then name and form cease. When name and form cease, then the six sense fields cease. When the six sense fields cease, then contact ceases. When contact ceases, then feelings cease. When feelings cease, then craving ceases. When craving ceases, then grasping ceases. When grasping ceases, then becoming ceases. When becoming ceases, then birth ceases. When birth ceases, then old age, illness, death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, and distress cease…”
This is a wonderful passage, fully-articulating the Four Noble Truths and the twelve-chain-link of dependent origination.
“O monks! I shall now tell you that these sixteen śrāmaṇeras, disciples of that buddha Mahābhijnājnānābhibhū, have now attained highest, complete enlightenment and presently teach the Dharma in the lands of the ten directions. There are immeasurable hundreds of thousands of myriads of bodhisattvas and śrāvakas who have become their attendants.
“Two of these śrāmaṇeras have became buddhas in the east. One is called Akṣobhya in the land called Abhirati…”
I include this passage here since Akṣobhya is one of the Five Great Dhyani-Buddhas, upon whom I have devoted my life.
-The Parable of the Celestial-City-
“Suppose there was a bad road five hundred leagues long, which was steep, wild, difficult, deserted, and far from where anyone lived, a truly frightening place. And a large group of people wanted to go along that road to a place where there were rare treasures. There was a leader and teacher, a guide, who was knowing and wise, knew the difficult road well, where it was open and where closed, and was experienced in leading groups that wanted to pass over it.
“The group he was leading became tired along the way and said to the guide: ‘We are utterly exhausted and afraid as well. We can’t go any further. Since the road before us goes on and on, now we want to turn back.’
“The guide, a person of many skillful means, thought: ‘What a shame that these people want to give up on the great and rare treasures and turn back.’ Having thought about it in this way, he used his powers of skillful means to conjure up a castle-city, which appeared about three hundred leagues down the difficult road. Then he said to the group: ‘Don’t be afraid! You must not turn back! Look! See that great city ahead. There you can stop and rest and do whatever you want. Enter this city and you will soon be completely at ease. Later, when you are able to go toward the place of treasures, you should leave this castle-city.’
“Then the hearts of the exhausted group were filled with great joy, and they exclaimed about such an unprecedented thing: ‘Now we can surely escape from this dreadful road and find some peace and comfort.’ So the group went into the fantastic castle-city. Thinking they had been rescued from their difficulties, they were soon calm and comfortable.
“Then the guide, seeing that the group was rested and no longer weary, made the fantastic city disappear. He said to the group: ‘We have to go now. The place of the treasures is close. I created this large fantastic city a little while ago just for you to rest in.’
“Monks, so is it with the Tathagata. At present he is functioning as your great guide. He knows that the bad road of birth and death and afflictions is steep, difficult, long, and never ending, but that it must be taken and traveled over. If living beings only hear of the One Buddha–Vehicle, they will not want to see the Buddha or to approach him, but think that the Buddha way is long and never ending, and success something that can be attained only after long suffering from arduous work.
“The Buddha, knowing that this frame of mind is timid and weak, uses the power of skillful means, preaching the two kinds of nirvana in order to provide a resting place along the way. If living beings remain at these two stages, then the Tathagata will say to them: ‘You have not yet understood what you have to do. The place where you remain is only close to Buddha-wisdom. Take note and think some more. The nirvana that you have attained is not the real one! The Tathagata, through skillful means, has only taken the One Buddha–Vehicle, made distinctions within it, and spoken of the three.’
“The Buddha is just like that guide who, in order to provide a place for the travelers to rest, conjured up a great castle-city and, after they had rested, told them: ‘The place of treasures is close. This city is not real, but only something I conjured up.’”
The Road of the Buddhadharma is long and oftentimes arduous; yet out of infinite Compassion the Blessed-One will provide respites along the way. Sometimes these respites are Buddha-lands, like Amitabha’s Western-Budda-land…places of respite, or as mentioned in the blog series The Lankavatarian Book of the Dead, like “cosmic-health-spas for rest and spiritual rejuvenation.”
Another sense we can gleam from this parable is that “nirvana”, or “heaven”, is not some-form of final-spiritual destination. Once arrived there, the scene will soon dissipate at some junction because they are places of the “lesser-gods”, dominions from one of the six realms of impermanence. The Real-Bodhi-Treasure is yet to be found, on the further Quest for the Unborn; these airy-fairy celestial palaces are mere Fata Morganas.