Myriad Worlds: Buddhist Cosmology in Abhidharma, Kalacakra and Dzogchen

The following article is from the Autumn, 1995 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodr Tay


Translated and edited by the International Translation committee of Kunkhyab Choling founded by V.V. Kalu Rinpoch

301 pp., #MYWO $19.95


Myriad Worlds is the first of ten books contained within the major treatise The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge (Shes bya mtha' yas pa'i rgyamtsho), which itself is a commentary on the root verses (Shes bya kun khyab). The author of the work is Kongtrul Lodr Tay, an outstanding scholar of nineteenth-century Tibet. The English translation of this work has been conducted by an international group of translators inspired and organized by the Venerable Kalu Rinpoch, founder of the project and himself a recognized incarnation of Kongtrul Lodr Tay.

The translation of The Infinife Ocean of Knowledge a text that touches on every topic within the range of Buddhist knowledge, is one of Kalu Rinpoche's most ambitious projects, for which he requested translators, scholars, and meditation masters of the various Tibetan traditions to work together. Kalu Rinpoche explained the importance of this work as follows:

The world is currently experiencing unprecedented material development and the discovery of new scientific knowledge, creating good fortune and well-being for everyone. At such a time as this, the unsurpassable wisdom of Buddhism ca n bri ng immense happiness and benefit to humanily. This wisdom is contained in the great treatise The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge, written by Kongtrul Lodro Taye (1813-1899), the non-sectarian master of ali Buddhist teachings whose life was prophesied by the Buddha. If this great work is translated into English, the nature of ali existence a nd nirva na will appear as vividly as a reflection in a clear mirror in the minds of the most learned people in the world, as though the expanse of their understanding were illuminated with sunlight,

It was Iris wish that the completion of the English translation would lay the foundation for the translation of this text into many other languages. During the winters of 1988 and 1989, Rinpoche invited his students from many countries to gather at Bodhgaya, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment, for three-month sessions of translation. He then encouraged the participants to continue their work full-time at his main seat, Samdrup Dargye Choling Monastery, in Sonada, West Bengal.

In The Encompassment of All Knowledge, Kongtrul examines subjects, concepts, and terminology from the perspectives of different systems. He does so in order to demonstrate both the similarities and the differences of the various systems. This approach, in which different chapters are devoted to different systems, has a number of advantages. If the meaning of a subject, concept, or term is unclear in one system's exposition, for example, that meaning may be made clear in another system's exposition. An attentive reading of The Encompassment of All Knowledge will reveal the complex relationships that exist among its various subjects.

The order of the chapters within the sections is significant in that it reveals the level of importance that Kongtrul attaches to each system. He generally moves from lower levels of importance to higher levels, treating the subject first from the perspective of the Individuai Way, next from the shared perspective of the Individuai Way and the Universal Way, then from the exclusive perspective of the Universal Way, and finally from the perspective of the Dzogchen system in particular or the Nyingma school in general. In fact, seven of the ten chapters that end the ten sections of the work utilize a Dzogchen or Nyingma perspective. Kongtrul's non-sectarian and all-embracing attitude is exemplified by the work's ladder-like structure, in which the Individuai and Universal Ways lead first to the Vajrayana and ultimately to the Dzogchen system, the peak of ali spiritual pursuits.

Myriad Worlds discusses Buddhist cosmography and the genesis of beings who inhabit the universe. The descriptions of the universe that are given in the four chapters of the book are strikingly different. One universe is composed of a definite number of worid-systems, one is composed of an infinite number of world-systems, and another is nothing but the play of the total and pure awareness of each and every being. Although they represent different approaches, these various eosmological systems do not contradict one another; instead, they are contained one within the other, like Chinese boxes. Each corresponds to the level of spiritual maturity of the individuai for whom it is intended, and thus each one is built upon the foundation of another, the higher transcending rather than negating the lower.

The universe is considered from the point of view of ite origin and its configuration. Its origin is explained in terms of a complex, transmutable relationship between mind and matter, a connection that becomes apparent as one progresses through the text. By contrast, the conclusive Dzogchen treatment of the origin of the universe dispenses with the dualistic perspective, revealing the Majestic Creative Principle of the Universe to be intrinsic awareness alone. The configurations of the world-systems do not vary dramatically in the various cosmologies; they differ only in that they are described as having finite or infinite numbers of world-systems. These worlds are arranged in the same ba sic pattern of an axis mundi (Mount Mera), with surrounding mountain ranges, four continente, and so forth. Sentient beings are classified within a single world-system model. The various parte of Mount Meru, the continente, and the oceans are inhabited by beings whose lives are progressively more refined the closer their abodes are to the top of Mount Mera, with the highest worldly states of existence found in the forai and formless realms above the mountain.

Kongtrul delineates four levels of cosmology: the numerically definite cosmology of the Individuai Way, the cosmology of infinite buddha-fields of the Universal Way, the cosmology of the Tantra of the Wheel of Time (Kalacakra), and the non-cosmology of the Dzogchen, or Great Perfection, system. The author introduces the cosmology of infinite buddha-fields in the first chapter and then narrows the focus of his discussion to Endurance (Saha), our own world-system, in the second chapter. In the third chapter, he begins his discussion of the perspective of the Wheel of Time; this he continues in part in the fourth chapter, where he also investigates the mechanisms of conditioned existence. In this way, he explains first the cosmology of infinite buddha-fields, then the numerically definite cosmologies, and finally the openness that constitutes the underlying reality of the universe, beings, and buddhas: the primordial purity of the universe that is presented in the Dzogchen system. ?

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