Seven Suns vs Civilizational Conceit

One way our ego and conceit expresses itself is the infatuation with

this will or should go on forever, it will not change. at least not now, when it is, or should be, the way I want it to be…

i.e. anicca, dukkha, anatta

And so born out of an untrained perception of life, thirst (tanha) grows into conceit (mana) and conceit meshes into views (ditthi) which sooner or later clash with reality.

For us to get a clearer picture of our fragile situation and in order to arise a sense of urgency and make best use of the opportunity of our short human life, the Buddha suggested the contemplation of the 4 elements:

Now there comes a time, friends, when the external liquid property is provoked, and at that time the external earth property vanishes. So when even in the external earth property — so vast — inconstancy will be discerned, destructibility will be discerned, a tendency to decay will be discerned, changeability will be discerned, then what in this short-lasting body, sustained by clinging, is ‘I’ or ‘mine’ or ‘what I am’? It has here only a ‘no.’

Now there comes a time, friends, when the external liquid property is provoked and washes away village, town, city, district, & country. There comes a time when the water in the great ocean drops down one hundred leagues, two hundred… three hundred… four hundred… five hundred… six hundred… seven hundred leagues. There comes a time when the water in the great ocean stands seven palm-trees deep, six… five… four… three… two palm-trees deep, one palm-tree deep. There comes a time when the water in the great ocean stands seven fathoms deep, six… five… four… three… two fathoms deep, one fathom deep. There comes a time when the water in the great ocean stands half a fathom deep, hip-deep, knee-deep, ankle deep. There comes a time when the water in the great ocean is not even the depth of the first joint of a finger… [MN 28]

Famous also the following apocalyptic description, from times where the universe catches up with our slow-motion activities and ego-centric perspectives:

I heard thus. At one time The Blessed One was living in Ambapali’s mango orchard. The Blessed One addressed the monks from there:

Monks, formations are impermanent not stable, there is nothing to comfort in them, so it is suitable that you should turn away from, get disentangled from and be released from all formations.

Monks, the highest peak of the Himalayas, is eighty four thousand yojanas high from sea level. Eighty four thousand yojanas in breadth. It is eighty four thousand yojanas deep down in the sea. Monks, after the lapse of many years, many hundreds of thousands of years there comes a time when it does not rain. When it does not rain, all seed and vegetation born plants such as medicinal grass, plants trees and forests dry up and wither and are no more. Monks, thus formations are impermanent not stable, there is nothing to comfort in them, so it is suitable that you should turn away from, get disentangled from and be released from all formations.

…the great ponds maintained by the great rivers such as Anotatta, Sihapapata, Rathakara, Kannamunda, Kunala, Chadanta and Mandakini dry up and wither, they become no more. Monks, thus formations are impermanent not stable, there is nothing to comfort in them, so it is suitable that you should turn away from, get disentangled from and be released from all formations.

…the water in the great ocean recedes one hundred yojanas, two hundred yojanas three hundred yojanas, five hundred yojanas, six hundred yojanas and seven hundred yojanas. The water recedes to the height of seven, six, five, four, three, two palms and even one palm. The water recedes to the height of seven, six, five, four, three, two men, or even one man. It recedes to half the height of a man. It recedes to the knee depth of a man, to the ankle depth of a man. ….there would not be water in the ocean to wet the fingers up to the knots. Monks, thus formations are impermanent not stable, there is nothing to comfort in them, so it is suitable that you should turn away from, get disentangled from and be released from all formations.

…the great earth and the peak of the Himalayas blazes and catch fire. When the great earth and the peak of the Himalayas blaze and catch fire, flames tossed by the winds reach up to the world of Brahma. When the peak of the Himalaya mountain burns, peaks as high as a hundred yojanas, two hundred yojanas, three hundred yojanas, four hundred yojanas and five hundred yojanas crumble.

Monks, thus formations are impermanent not stable, there is nothing to comfort in them, so it is suitable that you should turn away from, get disentangled from and be released from all formations. Monks, when the earth and the Himalaya peak is burning, whatever divine sayings and beliefs be, they also get burnt and are no more, would attained right view remain?

Monks, in the past, there was a Teacher called Sunetta, one free of greed who helped to cross the ford. The Teacher Sunetta had innumerable hundreds of disciples. This Teacher taught, to be born in the world of Brahma. Those who completely knew the dispensation of Sunetta, after death, were born in a good state in the world of Brahma. Some of those who did not know the complete dispensation of Sunetta, after death, were born with lower devine realms. Others were born with high clans of warriors, Brahmins and householders.

Then it occurred to the Teacher Sunetta. `It is not suitable for me to be born in the same plane as my disciples, after death, what if I develop loving kindness further.’

Then the Teacher Sunetta developed loving kindness for seven years. Having developed loving kindness for seven years, he did not come to this world for seven forward and backward world cycles. During the forward world cycles he was born a radiant god and during the backward world cycles was born in an empty Brahma palace. There he was Brahma the supreme Lord, not conquered with sure insight wielding authority

There, he was Brahma, Brahma the great, the unconquered lord and master with sure insight, holding authority for seven times. Thirty six times he was Sakka the king of gods. Innumerable hundreds of times he was the righteous universal monarch, winning the four directions and establishing states. Monks, he was endowed with these seven jewels, such as the jewel of the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the jewel, the woman, the householder and the advisor. Monks, he had over a thousand courageous sons with valiant figures, for crushing foreign armies. They lived ruling over the earth righteously, without weapons as far as the limit of the ocean. Monks, that Teacher Sunetta with long life and long standing was not released from birth, decay, death, grief, lament, unpleasantness and displeasure, I say not released from unpleasantness.

What is the reason? For not realizing and experiencing four things. What four?

Not realizing and experiencing the virtues, concentration, wisdom and release of the noble ones. Now he has realized and experienced the virtues, concentration, wisdom and release of the noble ones. The craving to be is uprooted, the leader of being is destroyed. Now he has no more birth. The Blessed One further said:

Famous Gotama, has realized noble virtues, concentration, wisdom and release

And declaring the Teaching to end unpleasantness is mindfully extinguished.

[AN, 7.66 The Seven Suns]


A nice visualization of the impermanence of our Earth and the fragile conditions of civilization below:

Did you catch that nice comment?

“I thought we have more time”

At the same time, this trailer shows us another point, intrinsically linked with seeing reality as it is: The power of pictures, sounds, sights etc… as the source of our mind’s own cinematic movie creation. May you free yourself in this very life from the samsaric screen!

Handa dāni, bhikkhave, āmantayāmi vo, vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā”ti. Ayaṃ tathāgatassa pacchimā vācā.

“Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!”

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

[DN, 16]

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6 comments

  1. silatharo

    I’ve heard from some Bhante talking about 2012, that indeed there will be great disaster coming.

    What is your opinion on this?

    • theravadin

      Dear Silatharo,

      Actually, it seems that those who have seen the total destruction, breaking up but also rising of their six sense world in every moment of life (through vipassana) usually gain a certain calmness and equanimity when it comes to questions regarding “end of time” scenarios. They never really go beyond our perceived reality of the world, which is filtered through our senses and mind :-)

      However, taking our concocted sensual view of the world: When we look at the astronomical dimensions our “human species” – and especially concerning our fragile civilisation – it soon disappears compared to the vastness of time and space. So, even though I personally do not take any “predictions” serious at all, in fact I do believe that our ego makes us feel more secure on this planet and more important than we really are. One meteor, one ice age, a couple of big vulcanos and the likelihood that our civilisational success of the last few hundred years disappears is pretty high.

      So personally, the best preparation in face of constant change is to see reality as it is, and step beyond taking up the 5 groups as yourself – and on the larger scale of reality, we might really look into setting up a settlement on Mars to minimize the potential disasters hitting us eventually on Earth than to fear about minor stuff (that is, if civilization and long term improvement of mankind as such is our concern). After all, this planet is just one fragile rock floating in space :-)

      But, nevertheless, the universe is good at recycling, and so is the mind. No need to worry :-)
      If you go and watch the movie, make sure you think for a couple of moments how that cinematic experience reminds you of your samsaric addiction.

      Thanks for the comment and lots of metta!

  2. Monks, the highest peak of the Himalayas, is eighty four thousand yojanas high from sea level.

    There is something not quite right about the math done by the Buddha, here. Pardon me for nitpicking, but isn’t a yojana equivalent to 8 miles (or a figure in that vicinity)? And, isn’t 84,000 yojanas too great a figure to measure the height of the highest Himalayan peak?

    Just to clarify things, I do practice the teachings of the Buddha in daily life, and so my comment should not be taken as a disparaging one. And, I am a great fan of your blog, just so you know! :)

    • theravadin

      Hi Vishal,

      Really appreciate your feedback. I can see that you enjoy the blog, otherwise how could you read those long quotes from the suttas which I posted :-)
      Jokes aside, yes, the numbers can be troubling…especially because in many other regards the Buddhas discourses seem so scientific.
      Here is a very simple answer though:

      Take for instance the number of monks which joined the Buddha when he traveled from town to town or village to village in 480 BC.
      Usually the suttas always talk about “500” monks. Sometimes the Buddha himself would point out that “500” monks had joined him.

      We know people in India were good at math since ancient times (after all, they invented the zero –> emptyness is not nothing, LOL <– for us!)

      So how come that the Buddha was not able to give the exact number of monks joining him? Did he lie? Why would not he say 154? or 367 monks?
      I guess you would say that the "500" was just an approximation. And you are right, that is the reason.
      Such round numbers, in fact, in some place seem to have almost been used as a "placeholders", maybe we are looking at the origins of "variables" :-)

      In the same sense the height of highest mountain in the Himalayas was not meant to be a scientifically exact description. It may have been, if the Buddha had used a number like "769 yojanas high", but here we see him (or maybe even later authors) use the "magical" number of 84,000 – which, in many Indian texts just means "extremely high".

      Later centuries of course found 84,000 not really that impressive any more (maybe due to currency inflation like our recent exchange of "billions" with "trillions") and so many Mahayana texts use "myriads" and "million" were older pali texts would have hardly ever gone beyond the magic "84,000" for implying "numerous", "unbelievable many".

      I think if anything, it only helps if these matters reflect back into our daily life. Knowing and Seeing the "trillion" tricks of our mind ( :-) ) really helps and sometimes a contemplation about the impermanence even of the four great elements can lead to the right mind set. I cannot speak for others, but whenever I pick up an astronomy book, it usually leaves me with more humbleness, more metta towards my fellow human beings and more joy reflecting on how deep the Buddhas insight was to find and uncover the dynamics of the whole mass of suffering in form, feeling, perception, intention and consciousness, the magic show!

      Hope to have you back & lots of metta to you….

  3. …otherwise how could you read those long quotes from the suttas which I posted

    Oh, for sure, I do read the English translations of the suttas you provide. Someday, I hope to learn Pali too, for I came to realize some time ago that many of the English translations of certain Pali words are quite inaccurate, to say the least, for they convey images/ideas/concepts that are totally different from the ones intended in the original language. For instance, when I learned that the word “meditation” was and is being used for bhavana (in Pali), I was quite surprised because the meaning of the word bhavana is more in sync with “feeling/attitude” that is to be cultivated, if I am not wrong. Even so, that last translation is not wholly accurate. It just doesn’t seem that the English language can do justice to certain Pali words.

    We know people in India were good at math since ancient times (after all, they invented the zero –> emptyness is not nothing, LOL <– for us!)

    Since I am Indian, I should be proud of the above compliment! See? My awakening is not yet complete? 😀

    Coming back to the answer you provided to my question, it does make a lot of sense, now. I think I get the import of your answer. To illustrate, in our age, it is quite common to use a phrase like “tons of worries” to mean “lots of worries (that are perhaps too overwhelming)”, or “gazillion dollars” to mean “billions of dollars.” So, a figure like 84,000 yojanas, in Buddha’s time, probably corresponded, in today’s time, to “super big” or “super tall.”

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