This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The Heavens

Nowhere does Gautama deny the existence of gods and of posthumous states like heaven or hell. Those who call Buddhism atheist are merely reacting to the fact that it does not present itself as theistic: that is to say, while Gautama tells of his own intercourse with gods and visits to their heavens, he also insists on their mortality and their situation within Becoming. In this sense only is he atheistic in that he does not choose a named deity to mark out in particular as Alpha and Omega. Again, we can see here an agreement with Hinduism and in particular the Vedanta. As to the posthumous states and the beings who populate them, we will provide an outline below.

It is important to remember that Gautama emphasized the Becoming, and that unlike the Western Christian mind which conceives of any posthumous state as outside of the created order and within ‘eternity’ as a kind of permanent above beyond which there could be nothing, the Indian doctrines allow for various posthumous states situated, as all that is not the Absolute must be situated, within Becoming; and whatever is within Becoming is not ‘eternal’ in the true sense but because created has a beginning and end. All this is to say that for the Buddhist the heavens are several and they are not so much a final destination as they are degrees to be travelled through. They are the fruits of rebirth and hierarchically arranged, but none are the final goal: they are not Nirvana. When we speak, then, of the transmigration of the soul, it is more accurate to imagine rebirth as occurring in some posthumous state rather than being re-embodied to live out another terrestrial life. The latter postulate, while popular and therefore acceptable for those who cannot conceive of anything else, presents serious difficulties and to some even offends metaphysical truth. In other words, it is dangerous to insist that reincarnation implies that a man lives another life as a man, within this world; because samsara contains is total, it includes all worlds and all degrees, and it excludes the possibility of repetition.

As to the enumeration and arrangement of the Buddhist heavens:

Brahma-lokas

The Brahma-lokas include the Arupa-lokas (Plans of No-form) and the higher Rupa-lokas (Planes of Form).

The Arupa-lokas are the four highest heavens, beyond sensuous desire and formless, attained by practice of the Four Arupa Jhanas.

The Rupa-lokas are divided into two groups, one being a division of the Brahma-lokas, as described above, and the other considered outside the Brahma-lokas and grouped under the name of Kama-lokas.

The Rupa-lokas that are considered Brahma-lokas are sixteen in number, conditioned by form, free of sensuous desire, attained by practice of the Four Jhanas. The remaining Rupa-lokas are called Kama-lokas (Planes of Sensuous Desire), and as these two names imply they are conditioned by form and not yet free of sensuous desire. The Kama-lokas are subdivided as follows.

Within the kama lokas there are the five worlds of men, demons, ghosts, animals, and purgatory.

Beyond these there are the Kama-vacara deva-lokas. These heavens are attained by the good works, and are further subdivided and variously populated. Of these we should mention Tusita heaven, where it is said that Gautama Buddha resided previous to his last birth and where Metteya, the final Buddha, awaits his last birth.

Of the gods themselves, two of the most significant are Sakka and (the personal) Brahma. The impersonal, unconditioned Brahma is not mentioned by name is Buddhist theory but what the name signifies is present implicitly and the ‘extinction’ of Nirvana could be nothing else but the ultimate spiritual realization which the goal of the Hindus.

What is most important in all of this is the threefold division of the heavens into the Planes of Desire, the Brahma Planes conditioned by Form, and those highest Brahma Planes unconditioned by Form. The general teachings of Gautama are that we are reborn according to the knowledge or works cultivated during life. If there is something legitimate in the frequent mention in the traditions (Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic alike) of being swept off to one or more of the heavens even in this life, it is appropriate that we would be ‘reincarnated’ in those places we visited in those moments of rapture; and if it be said that only the great men like St. Paul were taken to these heavens, we can insist that only they understood what was happened and that the difference between St. Paul, or Muhammad, is one of degree. If every man is not taken to the highest heavens in this life, many give clear evidence of having come into direct contact with formal and formless worlds beyond our own experience, be this the aesthetic rapture of the artist or musician, or the pure intellectual rapture of the metaphysician, or the mystical rapture of the Christian contemplative. We must necessarily be conveyed to the degree of truth appropriate to our realization of it during life, and this would normally involve contact with it during that time even if it is hardly ever recognized as such. All of this is to help the reader to understand the profundity of this doctrine of the heavens, that it not be underestimated or relegated to the status of popular imagination. It is an expression of pure metaphysic in a form that is, as everything was with Gautama, susceptible to a popular interpretation.

The points emphasized above are the same that motivate the Buddhist spiritual exercises, and it is also why different practices are prescribed for the attainment of the different lokas, and these are further distinguished by their appropriateness for different spiritual temperaments: the Four Sublime Moods are not the only means of realizing union with Brahma. The variety of methods are accessible to the accountant and the ascetic alike, although of course the Buddha really only took into consideration the latter and it was left to the Mahayana to develop applications appropriate to the former, even if they were there in principle.

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