## Renderings

• *kappa*:
one hundred years

• *kappa*:
a universal cycle

• *kappa*:
the period
of a universal cycle

• *saṃvaṭṭavivaṭṭakappa*:
the period of a universal cycle

## Introduction

### The period of a universal cycle

The period of a universal cycle (*kappa*)
is long (*dīgho kho bhikkhu kappo *S.2.181).
If a square city had sides 10 kilometres long, and walls 10 kilometres high,
and was filled with mustard seeds, and a man removed one seed every hundred
years, he would have removed all the seeds, but the universal
cycle would still be unfinished
(S.2.182).

The maths is easily totted. If a mustard seed is a cubic millimetre, then the seeds would be emptied in 10,000 million million years.

### Living for a kappa

But perplexingly, the Buddha said that by
developing the four paths to psychic power (*cattāro iddhipādā*), if one wished one could live for a *kappa* or slightly more than a *kappa*
(*kappaṃ vā tiṭṭheyya kappāvasesaṃ vā *S.5.259). He said he could do the same himself
(D.2.103). But is this the same *kappa*?
Could an arahant live for billions of years?

### The problem of co-existing Buddhas

Some, amazingly, say yes, he can. But there
are problems with this. Firstly, there can never simultaneously be two Perfectly Enlightened
Buddhas in the world (*yaṃ ekissā
lokadhātuyā dve arahanto sammāsambuddho apubbaṃ acarimaṃ uppajjeyyuṃ netaṃ
ṭhānaṃ vijjatī ti*, M.3.65). And if these Perfectly Enlightened Buddhas lived for the
period of a universal cycle, their lives would overlap, which would break this
law. The births of recent Buddhas are as follows:

• Buddha Vipassī: 91 kappas ago

• Buddha Sikhī and Buddha Vessabhū: 31 kappas ago

• Buddha Kakusandha, Buddha Konāgamana,
Buddha Kassapa and Buddha Gotama arose in this present ‘fortunate kappa’ (*bhaddakappe*), and Buddha Metteyya is
expected here, too (D.2.2; BDPPN).

Thus, with up to five Perfectly Enlightened
Buddhas in one *kappa*, with each
Buddha capable of living one *kappa*,
but unable to co-exist with other Perfectly
Enlightened Buddhas, it would only be possible if *kappa* had more than one meaning, with
one *kappa* being much shorter, at most
a fifth of the other.

### Venerable MahāKassapa: less than 220 years old

In more recent times, consider Venerable MahāKassapa.
He was 120 years old at the First Council (BDPPN), and some even claim he is
still alive today, dwelling in the Kukkutagiri Mountains, wrapt in samādhi,
awaiting the arrival of Metteyya Buddha (BDPPN). According to this he is
therefore now approximately 2,600 years old. But at the Second Council, 100
years after the First Council, the oldest bhikkhu on earth (*paṭhavyā
saṅghatthero*, Vin.2.303) was Venerable Sabbakāma. Therefore Kassapa must have passed away
before his 220^{th} birthday. But 220 is too generous, because by the
laws of normal distribution, Sabbakāma must have been marking the end of the
bell curve. And as, at the Second Council, he had been in robes for 120 years, and
if we can assume he ordained at aged 20 after leaving his wife (Th.v.453), then
it would seem that the absolute end of the bell curve would not be many hours
or minutes beyond 140, and that 140 is therefore as old as a bhikkhu can
possibly get.

### Kappa: length is not fixed

The *Mahāpadāna
Sutta* (D.2.3) says human lifespan (*āyuppamāṇaṃ*) has varied considerably in the times of previous Perfectly Enlightened
Buddhas, as follows:

• Buddha Vipassī: 80,000
years.

☸ *asīti vassasahassāni āyuppamāṇaṃ ahosi*
(D.2.53)

• Buddha Sikhī: 70,000 years

• Buddha Vessabhū: 60,000 years

• Buddha Kakusandhu: 40,000 years

• Buddha Konāgamana: 30,000 years

• Buddha Kassapa: 20,000 years

• Buddha Gotama: 100 years.

The *Mahāpadāna
Sutta* (D.2.11) gives further details of Buddha
Vipassī:

• He was born of the *khattiya* race in a *khattiya* family

☸ *Vipassī bhikkhave bhagavā arahaṃ
sammāsambuddho khattiyo jātiyā ahosi khattiyakule udapādi*

• He lived for 80,000
years

☸ *Vipassissa bhikkhave bhagavato arahato
sammāsambuddhassa asītivassasahassāni āyuppamāṇaṃ ahosi*

Thus Buddha Vipassī
lived for the lifespan of his era. And because his own lifespan and the human
lifespan correspond, and because Buddhas can live for a *kappa*, it suggests that *kappa*
means the human lifespan, and that all the figures for human lifespans given in
the list above can be read as *kappas*.
So the length of this kind of *kappa*
diminishes over time. Therefore *kappa*
in our present era means ‘a century’.

### Universal cycle: four incalculable phases

Now we will examine
the other meanings of *kappa*: ‘universal
cycle’ and ‘period of a universal cycle.’ We have already explained the timespan of the
universal cycle. These cycles have four incalculable phases (*cattāri kappassa asaṅkheyyānī*):

1) a period when the universal
cycle is in its contracting phase

☸ *yadā kappo saṃvaṭṭati*

2) a period when the universal
cycle is in its stationary contracted phase

☸ *yadā kappo saṃvaṭṭo tiṭṭhati*

3) a period when the universal
cycle is in its expanding phase

☸ *yadā kappo vivaṭṭati*

4) a period when the universal
cycle is in its stationary expanded phase

☸ *yadā kappo vivaṭṭo tiṭṭhati*
(A.2.142).

These cycles of expansion and contraction affect the heavenly realms, too, up to and including the world of Brahmā (D.1.15). With the contraction phase, the world of Brahmā disappears, and residents there must move temporarily into the Ābhassarā world.

### Universal cycles: incalculable number of sand grains

How many of these universal cycles have there ever been? There have been so many, that the Buddha likened them to the numbers of sand grains between ‘the point where the river Ganges originates and the point where it enters the great ocean’ (S.2.183-4). And if we remember that each sand grain represents billions of centuries, that is a very long time indeed.

### Recalling previous lives

When ascetics and
Brahmanists recall previous lives, the *Brahmajāla
Sutta* says they fall into three groups:

• those who remember
up to several hundred thousand lifetimes

☸ *anekāni pi jātisatasahassāni*

• those who recall (past
lives in the last) 10 universal cycles

☸ *dasa pi saṃvaṭṭavivaṭṭāni*

• those who recall (past
lives in the last) 40 universal cycles

☸ *cattārīsampi saṃvaṭṭavivaṭṭāni *

These feats of memory
are extraordinary, but nothing compared to Venerable Sobhita, called the ‘chief of disciples who could recall past lives’ (A.1.25). In the course of one night he was able to recall
(past lives in the last) 500 universal cycles (*pañcakappasatānāhaṃ ekarattiṃ anussarinti*, Th.v.165-6). Anuruddha
could remember further, but may have needed more nights:

• It is because I have
developed and cultivated these four bases of mindfulness that I recall (past lives in the
last) 1,000 universal cycles.

☸ *Imesañca panāhaṃ āvuso catunnaṃ
satipaṭṭhānānaṃ bhāvitattā bahulīkatattā kappasahassaṃ anussarāmīti*(S.5.303).

But that merely 1,000 sand grains in the 2500 kilometres of the River Ganges. The Buddha’s ability was unlimited. His usual ability during conversations was 91 universal cycles (M.1.483; S.4.325):

• When I recollect the past ninety-one universal
cycles, Vaccha, I do not recall any Ājīvaka ascetic who went to heaven.

☸ *Ito kho so vaccha ekanavuto kappo
yamahaṃ anussarāmi nābhijānāmi kañci ājīvakaṃ saggūpagaṃ* (M.1.483).

• When I recollect the past ninety-one
universal cycles, headman, I do not recall any family being destroyed merely by
giving cooked almsfood.

☸ *Ito so gāmaṇi ekanavuto kappo yamahaṃ
anussarāmi nābhijānāmi kiñcikulaṃ pakkabhikkhāanuppadānamattena upahatapubbaṃ*
(S.4.324).

But at full stretch he could recall hundreds of
thousands of universal cycles. In fact, as far as he liked (*so yāvatakaṃ ākaṅkhati tāvatakaṃ anussarati*,
D.3.134). Thus he could legitimately proclaim:

• So long is the period of a universal
cycle, bhikkhu. And of universal cycles of such length, we have wandered the
round of birth and death for the periods of so many universal cycles, so many
hundreds of universal cycles, so many thousands of universal cycles, so many
hundreds of thousands of universal cycles.

☸ *Evaṃ dīgho kho bhikkhu kappo. Evaṃ
dīghānaṃ kho bhikkhu kappānaṃ neko kappo saṃsito nekaṃ kappasataṃ saṃsitaṃ
nekaṃ kappasahassaṃ saṃsitaṃ nekaṃ kappasatasahassaṃ saṃsitaṃ *(S.2.181-2).

### Recollecting kappas of contraction and expansion: centuries

When bhikkhus recall their previous lives, they describe it as follows:

• ’I recall my
manifold past lives, that is, one birth, two lifetimes, three lifetimes… a
hundred lifetimes, a thousand lifetimes, a hundred thousand lifetimes, (past
lives in the last) many *kappas* of contraction, many *kappas* of expansion, many *kappas*
of contraction and expansion.

☸ *aneke pi saṃvaṭṭakappe aneke pi vivaṭṭakappe
aneke pi saṃvaṭṭavivaṭṭakappe *(S.2.214).

Because *kappa* is part of the contraction and
expansion phases of the universal cycle, in this context it must mean
‘century’:

• ’… many centuries of the universal cycle’s contraction phase, many centuries of the universal cycle’s expansion phase… .’

## Illustrations

### Illustration: kappaṃ, century

If one develops and cultivates the four
paths to psychic power, if one wishes, one could live for a century or for
slightly more than a century.

*☸ so ākaṅkhamāno kappaṃ vā tiṭṭheyya kappāvasesaṃ vā* (S.5.259).

### Illustration: kappaṃ, century

Beings have wandered the round of birth and
death for many centuries, many
hundreds of centuries, many thousands of centuries, many hundreds of thousands
of centuries

☸ *neko kappo saṃsito nekaṃ kappasataṃ saṃsitaṃ nekaṃ kappasahassaṃ saṃsitaṃ
nekaṃ kappasatasahassaṃ saṃsitaṃ*
(S.2.181).

### Illustration: kappe, centuries

Bhikkhus, to whatever
extent I wish, I recall my manifold past lives, that is, one birth, two lifetimes…
a hundred thousand lifetimes, (past lives in the last) many centuries of the universal
cycle’s contraction phase, many centuries of the universal cycle’s expansion
phase, many centuries of the universal cycle’s contraction and expansion
phases.

☸ *aneke pi saṃvaṭṭakappe aneke pi vivaṭṭakappe
aneke pi saṃvaṭṭavivaṭṭakappe* (S.2.214).

### Illustration: kappaṃ, the period of a universal cycle

―‘Bhante, how long is
the period of a universal cycle?’

*☸ kīvadīgho nu kho bhante kappo ti?*

―’The period of a
universal cycle is long, bhikkhu. It is not easy to count it and say it is so
many years, or so many hundreds of years, or so many thousands of years, or so
many hundreds of thousands of years.”

*☸ Dīgho kho bhikkhu kappo. So na sukaro
saṅkhātuṃ ettakāni vassāni iti vā ettakāni vassasatāni iti vā ettakāni
vassasahassāni iti vā ettakāni vassasatasahassāni iti vā ti* (S.2.181).

### Illustration: kappā, universal cycle

―’Master Gotama, how
many universal cycles have elapsed and gone by?’

*☸ Kīvabahukā nu kho bho gotama kappā
abbhatītā atikkantā ti. *

―’Brahman, many universal
cycles have elapsed and gone by. It is not easy to count them and say that
there have been so many universal cycles, or so many hundreds of universal
cycles, or so many thousands of universal cycles, or so many hundreds of
thousands of universal cycles.’

*☸ Bahukā kho brāhmaṇa kappā abbhatītā
atikkantā. Te na sukarā saṅkhātuṃ ettakā kappā iti vā ettakāni kappasatāni iti
vā ettakāni kappasahassāni iti vā ettakāni kappasatasahassāni iti vā ti* (S.2.183-4).

### Illustration: kappe, universal cycle; saṃvaṭṭavivaṭṭakappa, the period of a universal cycle;

Having cultivated a mind of (unlimited)
universal love for seven years, then for the periods of seven universal cycles
I did not return to this (low) plane of existence.

☸ *Satta vassāni mettacittaṃ bhāvetvā
satta saṃvaṭṭavivaṭṭakappe nayimaṃ lokaṃ punarāgamāsiṃ. *

During the universal cycle’s contraction
phase, I went to the Ābhassarā world.

☸ *Saṃvaṭṭamāne sudaṃ bhikkhave kappe
ābhassarūpago homi. *

During the universal cycle’s expansion
phase, I was reborn in an empty Brahmā palace.

☸ *Vivaṭṭamāne kappe suññaṃ brahmavimānaṃ
upapajjāmi* (It.14-16).

### Illustration: kappa, period of a universal cycle

Devadatta is bound for (rebirth in) the
plane of sub-human existence, bound for hell, and he will remain there for the period
of a universal cycle, unredeemable.

☸ *āpāyiko devadatto nerayiko kappaṭṭho
atekiccho *(A.3.402).