This article was originally published in Feng Shui Times on 2 February 2001. Edited for clarity (I was very young when I wrote this).
Most people know that the founder of Buddhism was Sakyamuni, known also as the Gautama Buddha. But do you know that there are three other Buddhas who had descended in this kalpa with one more to come?
What is kalpa?
Kalpa is a term for a long period of time. Okay, maybe long is an understatement. Reverend Tri Ratna Priya Karuna from the International Buddhist Meditation Center in LA, California describes it as ‘a world period of virtually incalculable length. (This) kalpa is divided into four shorter periods, each of which is so long that it cannot be measured even in terms of thousands of years.’ Think of bags and bags of lavatory rolls with 1 centimeter for 100 years. Now unroll all the lavatory rolls. That is how long a kalpa will be.
In Buddhism, there are many kalpas but let’s just get on with the one we are in now. After all, we are not going to live this life long enough to experience other kalpas.
The kalpa in which we are living now is an extremely favorable kalpa of 5 Buddhas. These 5 Buddhas are special because they came down to the earth to preach the Dharma (Teaching of the Buddha).
Buddhism as we know today is the based on the Teaching of the 4th Buddha, the Sakyamuni Buddha. Sakyamuni lived in present day India around 2,500 years ago. He was born into a royal family as Prince Siddharta Gautama but renounced his princely life at the age of 29 to seek for the Truth of Suffering. He attained Buddhahood by His own efforts at the age of 35 and preached His Teaching to others. Sakyamuni attained Parinibbana when he was 80 years old. Parinibbana is a state where rebirth will not occur again. The being will not be subjected to the wheel of life (also called as Samsara) anymore.
Wheel of life
Let’s rewind to the first Buddha who came down to this world in this kalpa.
After 29 Buddha-less kalpas, Kusanda Buddha was born into a Brahmin family. The brahmins were second in seniority to aristocrats, followed by traders and lowly ones. He live royally, married a Brahmin woman by the name of Roccini and they had a son named Uttara.
At this period of time, an average human life span was 40,000 years. Unbelievable? Remember the kalpas, dear… We are talking about billions of years here. Kusanda spent 4,000 years living in princely comforts.
Kusanda then saw the Four Sights (it is a requirement for the aspiring Buddhas to encounter the Four Sights before they renounce the world. The Four Sights are an old man, a sick man, a corpse and a monk). He renounced the world, meditated for 8 months and attained Buddhahood.
The road to Buddhahood is not as simple as it sounds. It involves a lot of process and rebirths. Nevertheless, it is basically deep concentration, meditation and a strong determination.
After achieving Buddhahood (or Enlightenment), Kusanda Buddha lived for another 28,000 years and taught the Dharma to others.
The 2nd Buddha
Years and years later when the human life span was 30,000 years, Konagamana Buddha was born into a Brahmin family. He then married Rucigatta and they had a son by the name of Satthavata.
As with the first Buddha, Konagamana saw the Four Sights, which led him to renounce the world. He meditated for 6 months before becoming a Buddha.
For the next 21,000 years, Konagamana Buddha preached the Dharma. He passed away at the age 24,000. Yes, still unbelievable… It was unbelievable when UFOs were sighted. Or when experts announced that this world would accommodate 7 billion people in 10 years.
Let’s move on.
After yet another millions of years, Kasyapsa Buddha was born into a Brahmin family. His wife was Sunanda and their son was named Vinjitasena. The average human life span was 20,000 years.
Kasyapsa then saw the Four Sights, relinquished his world of comforts and meditated under the Bodhi Tree before becoming a Buddha.
Kasyapsa Buddha lived for 16,000 years helping different realms of beings get on the right path to Nirvana.
In Buddhism, rebirth is a way of life. A being can be born into either one of the 6 realms – gods, semi-gods, human, animals, hungry ghosts and hell. The state of your next rebirth depends on your karma, which is the Law of Cause and Effect. The rule is simple – do good and avoid evil, and you will be born into a better realm. The desirable realms are gods, semi-gods and human.
In the process of attaining Enlightenment, Gautama Buddha went through many rebirths. His rebirths were not always of the human realm – there were lives where he was reborn into other realms as well.
During the time of the Kusanda Buddha, Sakyamuni (the 4th Buddha) was King Khema, a devout Buddhist. After renouncing the world in the Kusanda Buddha’s presence, the Buddha predicted that King Khema would become a Buddha named Gautama in this kalpa. (Gautama would be Sakyamuni’s family name).
Sakyamuni was King Pabbata during the time of the Konagamana Buddha. He was a powerful ruler with a strong army. After meeting him, Konagamana Buddha predicted that King Pabbata would become the Gautama Buddha in this kalpa.
When Kasyapsa was Buddha, Sakyamuni was Jotipala the Youth, a famous and extremely accomplished young man. A friend brought him to the Buddha. After listening to the Buddha, Jotipala took his vows and became the Buddha’s disciple. Kasyapsa Buddha then prophesied that Jotipala would become the Gautama Buddha.
Enter The Future
The 5th and final Buddha in this kalpa would be Maitreya Buddha, popularly known as the Laughing Buddha.
Maitreya Buddha would descend on this world after millions of years when the average human life span reaches 100 years. He would be born into a Brahmin family (note that among the 5 Buddhas, only Gautama Buddha was born into a royal family).
Like all the Buddhas before Him, Maitreya would live idyllically until He encounters the Four Sights. He would then severe ties with the material world and live an ascetic life. After 7 days of deep meditation, Maitreya would become a Buddha and proceed to preach the Dharma.
After Maitreya Buddha passes away, His Teaching would continue in this world for 80,000 years. Then it would be time for another kalpa.
The name Maitreya means ‘universal love’, which is apt as He ‘specializes’ in loving kindness.
Currently, Maitreya Buddha is residing in the Pure Land of Tushita (or Tushita Heaven) where he teaches the Dharma to bodhisattvas (beings aspiring to become Buddhas).
“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.” -The Buddha