The Buddhist Universe
In Buddhist cosmology, the word loka describes our world as made up of two inextricably linked aspects – sattvaloka or the world of living creatures and bhajanaloka or the physical environment, comprising the elements, the celestial bodies, our earth, its oceans and continents. In this world, sentient beings are born, live and die, to be reborn over and over, in accordance with their levels of consciousness and karmic debt.
It takes 1000 such worlds to form a chiliocosm. A thousand chiliocosms become a medium-sized chiliocosm and 1000 medium chiliocosms comprise a great chiliocosm or a tri-sahasra-maha-sahasra-loka-dhatu. This is a Buddhaworld, a physical environment governed by universal laws where sentient beings can be shown the path to enlightenment – and therefore, spiritual liberation – by a Buddha. In the Buddhist view, there are several such Buddhaworlds, each governed by unique principles.
With Mahayana Buddhism came the concept of a Buddhaland that does not owe its existence to the benevolence of an all-powerful God or even the grace of a Buddha. Rather, it is the result of eons of striving by sentient beings towards self-purification, by devoting themselves to the happiness and well-being of others. Such an environment creates conditions favorable for all the world’s citizens to follow the Buddha’s Way and hopefully, attain liberation.
All Buddhist doctrines flow from this perspective of the universe. There is the practice of bowing to the six directions – East, South, West, North, above and below. Honoring these directions is symbolic of accepting and fulfilling one’s six social relationships:
- First direction – Parent-child
- Second direction – Teacher-student
- Third Direction – Husband-wife
- Fourth Direction – Friends
- Fifth direction – Employer-employee
- Sixth direction – Spiritual teacher-disciple.
As the individual goes through life, he/she assumes many of these roles and must fulfill his/her duties well in each. Performing these responsibilities helps the individual understand human nature. To live peacefully among one’s fellow beings and help develop a society that is progressive, stable and generous is the way of Dharma.