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BUDDHA'S DISCOURSE ON THE END OF THE WORLD

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by Jayaram V

Introduction

Many religions predict the end of the world. According to Hinduism, at the end of each cycle of creation. which spans billions of years, Brahman in his aspect as Rudra will destroy the worlds and withdraws them into himself. According to Christianity the world will come to an end through a series of cataclysmic events followed by resurrection of departed souls and judgment day. According to Vedic tradition, Aditi is mother of eight Adityas or solar deities (suns). At the end of creation these eight suns will shine together in the skies. In the following sermon, the Buddha speaks of how seven suns will appear in the sky and how the planet earth will eventually be destroyed, after many hundreds and thousands of years, through a series of cataclysmic events which are described below.

  1. The earth will suffer from a severe drought due to lack of rains. All vegetation and life forms will disappear and vanish from the planet.

  2. A second sun will appear in the horizon, resulting in the evaporation of many streams and ponds.

  3. A third sun will appear resulting in the evaporation of many great rivers like the Ganges.

  4. After a long lapse of time, a fourth sun will appear in the sky resulting in the evaporation of great lakes.

  5. After another long lapse of time, a fifth sun will appear and the oceans will dry up slowly till they will become a finger deep.

  6. After another long lapse of time, a sixth sun will appear. The earth crust and core will heat up to intense temperatures resulting in many volcanic explosions, scorched earth and smoke filled skies.

  7. After another vast interval, a seventh sun will appear. The earth will become a fiery ball of flame and expand. Its flames will spread far and wide. Finally it will explode and disappear altogether.

The manner in which the Buddha predicted the end of the earth sounds very much like a modern scientific theory on the destruction of  planets and the entire solar system. The Buddha also clearly mentions that all life forms will vanish before the appearance of the second sun. Thereafter the earth will be a dead planet ready for its eventual destruction. The seven suns mentioned in the discourse probably are various planets of the solar system that would become hot and shine like stars due to some changes in the activity of the sun or its gravitational force. The manner in which the drying up of the planet earth is described reminds one of the greenhouse effect and the events that might have happened on planets like Mars which  had once oceans and rivers and probably life forms. The Buddha delivered this sermon to remind his disciples of the impermanent nature of the world and of our existence, which is subject to decay and renewal and from which even a god like Brahma is not free unless he overcomes it by practicing Dhamma and following the eight-fold path.  

The Sermon Of The Seven Suns

Translation by Albert J. Edmunds

Thus have I heard. At one season the Blessed One was staying at Vesâli, in Ambapâli's grove. And the Blessed One addressed the monks, saying: "Monks!" "Lord!" answered those monks, in reply to him. The Blessed One spake thus:

"Impermanent, O monks, are the constituents of existence, unstable, non-eternal: so much so, that this alone is enough to weary and disgust one with all constituent things, and emancipate therefrom. Sineru, monks, the monarch of mountains, is eighty-four thousand leagues1 in length and breadth; eighty-four thousand leagues deep in the great ocean, and eighty-four thousand above it.

Now there comes, O monks, a season when, after many years, many hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of years, it does not rain; and while it rains not, all seedlings and vegetation, all plants, grasses, and trees dry up, wither away and cease to be. Thus, monks, constituent things are impermanent, unstable, non-eternal: so much so, that this alone is enough to weary and disgust one therewith and emancipate there from.

And, monks, there comes a season, at vast intervals in the lapse of time, when a second sun appears.

After the appearance of the second sun, monks, the brooks and ponds dry up, vanish away and cease to be. So impermanent are constituent things! And then, monks, there comes a season, at vast intervals in the lapse of time, when a third sun appears; and thereupon the great rivers: to wit, the Ganges, the Jamna, the Rapti, the Gogra, the Mahî,--dry up, vanish away and cease to be.

At length, after another vast period, a fourth sun appears, and thereupon the great lakes, whence those rivers had their rise: namely, Anotatto,2 Lion-leap, Chariot-maker, Keel-bare, Cuckoo, Six-bayed, and Slow-flow, dry up, vanish away, and cease to be. 

Again, monks, when, after another long lapse, a fifth sun appears, the waters in the great ocean go down for an hundred leagues; then for two hundred, three hundred, and even unto seven hundred leagues, until the water stands only seven fan-palms' deep, and so on unto one fan-palm; then seven fathoms' deep, and so on unto one fathom, half a fathom; waist-deep, knee-deep, ankle-deep. Even, O monks, as in the fall season, when it rains in large drops, the waters in some places are standing around the feet of the kine; even so, monks, the waters in the great ocean in some places are standing to the depth of kine-feet. After the appearance of the fifth sun, monks, the water in the great ocean is not the measure of a finger-joint. Then at last, after another lapse of time, a sixth sun appears; whereupon this great earth and Sineru, the monarch of mountains, reek and fume and send forth clouds of smoke. Even as a potter's baking, when first besmeared, doth reek and fume and smoke, such is the smoke of earth and mountains when the sixth sun appears.

After a last vast interval, a seventh sun appears, and then, monks, this great earth, and Sineru, the monarch of mountains, flare and blaze, and become one mass of flame. And now, from earth and mountains burning and consuming, a spark is carried by the wind and goes as far as the worlds of God; and the peaks of Mount Sineru, burning, consuming, perishing, go down in one vast mass of fire and crumble for an hundred, yea, five hundred leagues. And of this great earth, monks, and Sineru, the monarch of mountains, when consumed and burnt, neither ashes nor soot remains. Just as when ghee or oil is consumed and burnt, monks, neither ashes nor soot remains, so it is with the great earth and Mount Sineru.

Thus, monks, impermanent are the constituents of existence, unstable, non-eternal: so much so, that this alone is enough to weary and disgust one with all constituent things and emancipate there from. Therefore, monks, do those who deliberate and believe1 say this: 'This earth and Sineru, the monarch of mountains, will be burnt and perish and exist no more,' excepting those who have seen the path.

"In olden times, O monks, there was a religious teacher (or Master) named Sunetto, founder of an order, and free from indulgence in lusts; and he had several hundred disciples. The Master Sunetto preached to his disciples the doctrine of fellowship with the world of God; and those who understood all his religion in every way, when he preached this doctrine, were born again, upon the dissolution of the body after death, to weal in the world of God. Those who did not understand all his religion in every way, were born again, upon the dissolution of the body after death,--some into fellowship with those angels who transmute subjective delights into objective and share them with others;1 some into fellowship with the angels who delight in subjective creations; some into that of the angels of Content (Tusitâ); others with the Yâmâ; others again with the angels of the Thirty-three; others into fellowship with those of the Four Great Kings; and yet others into fellowship with Warrior magnates, Brahmin magnates, householder magnates.

"Now Sunetto the Master, O monks, thought to himself: 'It is not fit that I should allow my disciples to have such destinies as these repeatedly: what now if I practise the Highest Love?' Whereupon, monks, the Master Sunetto practised Benevolence (or, love-meditation) for seven years, and for seven æons of consummation and restoration he did not return to this world.2 Yea, monks, at the consummation of the world3 he became an Angel of Splendor, and at the world's restoration he rose again in the empty palace of the Brahmâs. Yea, then, O monks, he was a Brahmâ, the Great Brahmâ (or, God), conquering, unconquered, all-seeing, controlling. And thirty-six times, O monks, was he Sakko, the lord of the angels; many hundreds of times was he a king, a righteous world-ruler and emperor, victorious to the four seas, arrived at the security of his country, and possessed of the seven treasures. Moreover, he had more than a thousand sons, heroes, of mighty frame, crushers of alien armies; he dwelt in this ocean-girt earth, p. 432 overcoming it, staffless and swordless, by righteousness. But even the Master Sunetto, though thus long-lived and long-enduring, was not emancipated from birth, old age, death, grief, lamentations, pains, sorrows, and despairs; I say he was not emancipated from pain. And why? Because of not being awake to four things (dhammâ), and not seeing into them. What four? The Noble Ethics, the Noble Trance (Samâdhi), the Noble Wisdom, and the Noble Release (or Emancipation). When these, O monks, known in their sequence and penetrated into,1 the craving for existence is annihilated, its renewal is destroyed: one is then reborn no more."

Thus spake the Blessed One, and when the Auspicious One had said this, the Master further said:

"Morality, Trance, Pure Reason, and Supreme Release;

"These things are understood by the celebrated Gotamo,

"Thus enlightened (buddho) by supernal knowledge, he told the doctrine to the monks.

"The Master, who made an end of pain, the Seeing One, hath passed into Nirvâna."

Footnotes

1. Sixth Series of Gospel Parallels from Pâli Texts.

2. On p. 323 of Warren's book our present Sutta is quoted by name.

3. Haverford College Studies for 1893: Our Lord's Quotation from the First Book of Maccabees.

4. The second clause indicates the application of this verse: the passing of heaven and earth does not belong to the subject of the discourse, but is used as a standard whereby to gauge the perpetuity of the oracles of Christ.

1. I.e., yojanas, a yojana being about eight miles.

2. I am not sure of the meaning of this word and its Sanskrit Equivalent Anavatapta, but it appears to mean "without warmth at the bottom."

1. Translation uncertain. The word saddhâtâ is not in Childers, and I can find no equivalent in Sanskrit; but the various reading, saddhâratâ, indicates the sense.

2. There is no break in the Pâli, but the present division is made for the sake of another Gospel parallel.

1. I have heen guided here by Warren,p. 289, and Lafcadio Hearn, Gleanings in Buddha-fields, p. 245.

2. See Itivuttaka 22, translated in April, 1900, where Gotamo relates the same of himself.

3. Itivuttaka has æon.

1. "Known in their sequence and penetrated into," represent the same words before translated: "being awake to," and "seeing into." So, again, "Pure Reason" (Pannâ), in the verse below, appears above as "Wisdom."

Source: The Sermon Of The Seven Suns (Anguttara Nikâya Vii. 62) (Gospel Parallels From Pâli texts, Sixth Series), The Open Court a monthly magazine devoted to the Science of Religion, the Religion of Science, and the Extension of the Religious Parliament idea. Volume XIV Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1901, {scanned and edited by Christopher M. Weimer, april-may, 2002} Buddha's Discourse On The End Of The World1 or, The Sermon On The Seven Suns. Now first translated from the Pâli by Albert J. Edmunds.

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