Kalpa (P. kappa; T. bskal pa བསྐལ་པ་; C. jie) is an "age" or "eon" within Buddhist cosmology. Buddhist texts speak of different types of kalpas to indicate different durations of time.
Types of kalpas
The following types of kalpa are identified in the Sanskrit tradition:
- mahākalpa (great eon) - spans the cycle of creation and destruction of a world system
- antarakalpa (intermediate eon) - can refer to either:
- each of the four phases on a mahākalpa
- the 20 intermediate kalpas for each of the four phases of a mahākalpa; hence 80 intermediate kalpas for the entire great kalpa
- asaṃkhyeya-kalpa (incalculable eon) - despite its name, it refers to a specific duration of time defined in the Abhidharma; this term is used when describing the path of a bodhisattva
Kalpas can by distinguished by whether a Buddha has appeared during the kalpa:
- a bhadrakalpa ("bright eon" or "fortunate eon") is a great eon in which buddhas appear
- a dark eon (T. bskal pa ngan pa) is a great eon in which no buddhas appear
- The Buddhist texts speak of three kinds of aeon—an interim aeon, an incalculable aeon, and a great aeon. An interim aeon (antarakappa) is the period of time required for the life-span of human beings to rise from ten years to the maximum of many thousands of years, and then fall back to ten years. Twenty such interim aeons equal one incalculable aeon (asankheyyakappa), and four incalculable aeons constitute one great aeon (mahākappa). The length of a great aeon is said by the Buddha to be longer than the time it would take for a man to wear away a mountain of solid granite one yojana (about 7 miles) high and wide by stroking it once every hundred years with a silk cloth (S.15:5/ii,181-82).
According to Pali tradition, the Buddha gave several analogies to understand the duration of a maha-kalpa.
- Imagine a huge empty cube at the beginning of a kalpa, approximately 16 miles in each side. Once every 100 years, you insert a tiny mustard seed into the cube. According to the Buddha, the huge cube will be filled even before the kalpa ends.
- Imagine a gigantic rocky mountain at the beginning of kalpa, approximately 16 x 16 x 16 miles (dwarfing Mount Everest). You take a small piece of silk and wipe the mountain once every 100 years. According to the Buddha, the mountain will be completely depleted even before the kalpa ends.
In one situation, some monks wanted to know how many kalpas had passed so far. The Buddha gave the analogy:
- If you count the total number of sand particles at the depths of the Ganges river, from where it begins to where it ends at the sea, even that number will be less than the number of kalpas that have passed.