Kalpa (P. kappa; T. bskal pa བསྐལ་པ་; C. jie) is an "age" or "eon" within Buddhist cosmology. There are different types of kalpas corresponding to different lengths of time.
Types of kalpas
The following types of kalpa are identified in the Sanskrit tradition:
- mahākalpa (great kalpa) - spans the creation and destruction of the universe in four phases
- antarakalpa (intermediate kalpa) - 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 kalpa) - the longest of the kalpas; according to Buswell, the length of this kalpa "has been calculated as a mahākalpa to the sixtieth power."
- small kalpa
Kalpas can by distinguished by whether a Buddha has appeared during the kalpa:
- bhadrakalpa ("bright kalpa" or "fortunate eon") - an age in which a Buddha appears
- dark kalpa - an age in which a buddha has not appeared
According to Visuddhimagga, there are several explanations for types of kalpas and their duration. In the first explanation, there are four types:
- Ayu-Kalpa - a variable time span representing the life expectancy of a typical human being in a particular era or yuga. This can be as high as one asankya or as small as 10 years. This number is directly proportional to the level of virtue of people in that era. Currently this value hovers around 100 years and is continually decreasing.
- Antah-Kalpa - the time it takes for one ayu-kalpa to grow from 10 years up to one asankya and back to 10 years. The ending of one antah-kalpa (or mass-extinction) can happen in one of three ways, all involving the majority of the human population going extinct:
- Sashthrantha-Kalpa - Mass extinction by wars.
- Durbhikshantha-Kalpa - Mass extinction by hunger.
- Rogantha-Kalpa - Mass extinction by plague.
- Asankya-Kalpa - time span of 20 antah-kalpas. One is equivalent to a quarter of maha-kalpa.
- Maha-Kalpa - largest time unit in Buddhism. Ending of a maha-kalpa can happen in three ways: fire, water and wind. It is divided into four quarters each equivalent to one asankya-kalpa.
- First quarter - time taken for this world to form.
- Second quarter - stable duration of this world where all living beings can thrive.
- Third quarter - time taken for this world to be destroyed.
- Fourth quarter - empty time period.
In another simple explanation, there are four different lengths of kalpas. A regular kalpa is approximately 16 million years long (16,798,000 years), and a small kalpa is 1000 regular kalpas, or about 16 billion years. Further, a medium kalpa is roughly 320 billion years, the equivalent of 20 small kalpas. A great kalpa is 4 medium kalpas, or around 1.28 trillion years.
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 died 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.
Names of specific kalpas
The three great kalpas
The three great kalpas are:
- the glorious eon (vyūhakalpa) - the previous kalpa
- the auspicious eon (bhadrakalpa) - the present kalpa
- the constellation eon (nakṣatrakalpa) - the next kalpa
- Māheśvara and
The Vayu Purana in chapter 21 gives yet another list of 28 kalpas. It also lists five more kalpas in the next chapter.
- Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. kalpa
- Epstein, Ronald B.(2002). Buddhist Text Translation Society's Buddhism A to Z p. 204. Buddhist Text Translation Society. ISBN 0-88139-353-3, ISBN 978-0-88139-353-8.
- Epstein, Ronald (2003). Buddhism A to Z. Burlingame, California, United States.: The Buddhist Text Translation Society. ISBN 0-88139-353-3.
- Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. bhadrakalpa
- "Chapter 36: The Buddhas in the three periods of time". Buddhism in a Nutshell Archives. Hong Kong: Buddhistdoor International. Retrieved 2014-12-21.
- Vasu, S.C. & others (1972). The Matsya Puranam, Part II, Delhi: Oriental Publishers, p.366
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