THE BUDDHAS IN
THE THREE PERIODS OF TIME
36.1 Conditional existence of Buddhas
In his Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, Shakyamuni discovered
the universal truths, one of which was the Law of Dependent Origination.
When this is, that is
This arising, that arises
When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases.
This principle of interdependence and relativity governs the arising,
continuity and cessation of existence. Thus, Buddhism rejects the
existence of any independent, permanent entity, variously regarded
as an ego, an eternal soul, or Creator of Universe or the Supreme
God, which many people believe in. They exist, but are just as roll
in bare phenomena, all depending on conditions. There is no exception
for all material and spiritual existence.
Buddhism does not reject the existence of gods or souls, but denies the independent and permanent entity in nature. In this respect, Buddhism does not reject any god worshipped by other religions, but denies that there is one and only one almighty god with independent and permanent entity. The heavens are not ultimate and eternal as their existence is also conditional. Even the existence of Buddhas is conditional too.
36.2 The Buddhas in our world
When the Buddha was about to pass away, he said, "I am not the first Buddha to come upon earth, nor shall I be the last. Previously there were many Buddhas who appeared in this world. In due time, another Buddha will arise in this world, a Holy One, a Supremely Enlightened One, endowed with wisdom, in auspicious conduct, knowing the universe, an incomparable leader of men, a master of devas and men. He will reveal to you the same Eternal Truths which I have taught you. He will proclaim a religious life, wholly perfect and pure, such as I now proclaim. He will be known as Maitreya, which means kindness or friendliness."
36.3 Seven Ancient Buddhas
There were previous Buddhas to come upon Earth before Shakyamuni. There were
seven including Shakyamuni.
In the Buddhist tradition, Shakyamuni Buddha was the fourth of the present
Kalpa, which is called Bhadra-Kalpa. The last Kalpa was Adornment
Kalpa and the next Kalpa is to be Constellation Kalpa. Each Kalpa
has 1,000 Buddhas.
36.4 The Concept of Kalpa
The concept of Kalpa is the period of time expressed in Indian philosophy. Generally speaking, a Kalpa is the period of time between the creation and recreation of a world or universe.
One Mahakalpa (Great Kalpa) is subdivided into four Asankhyeya-Kalpas (or simply called Kalpas):
- Kalpa of formation (Vivarta)
- Kalpa of existence (Vivatasiddha)
- Kalpa of destruction (Samvarta)
- Kalpa of emptiness (Samvartasiddha)
Each of the four Kalpas is subdivided into twenty Antarakalpa (Small Kalpa), so that a Mahakalpa consists of 80 Antarakalpa.
Each Small Kalpa is divided into a period of increasing and decreasing. In the increasing period, the length of human life increases by one year every century to 84,000 years and the length of the human body to 8,400 ft. Then it comes to the decreasing period, during which the length of human life decreases gradually to the ten years and the human body to 1 foot in height. There are other distinctions of the Kalpas. A Small Kalpa is represented as 16,800,000 years, a Kalpa as 336,000,000 years and a Mahakalpha as 1,334,000,000 years.
36.5 The future Buddha
As told by Shakyamuni, the next Buddha who will come upon Earth is Maitreya,
who is to be the fifth Buddha in Bhadra Kalpa in our world.
At present, Maitreya is preaching in the Tusita Heaven, preparing
for his descent to Earth in human form. He will be born on Earth full
4,000 years after the Nirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha (around 2,500 years
ago) for the deliverance of all sentient beings.
Maitreya is a fat genial laughing figure who greets visitors to the temple. Maitreya means kindness or friendliness.
Buddhists believe that those people who at present are doing meritorious deeds by leading a religious life will have a chance to be reborn as human beings in the time of Maitreya Buddha, and will attain Nirvana. In this way, they will find salvation through the guidance of his teaching. His teaching will become a hope of the remote future for everybody. However, according to the Buddha, devout Buddhists can gain this Nirvana bliss and wisdom at any time if they really work for it irrespective of whether a Buddha appears or not.
Following and practising the teaching of Shakymuni Buddha, one is to be the successor to the Buddha possessing a clear mind, proper understanding, perfection and leading a holy life.