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The Protectors of the Dharma

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 126: The Protectors of the Dharma - Page 1 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Lecture 126: The Protectors of the Dharma

Madam Chairman and Friends We don't always realise, I think, that the way in which the ancient Indians, including the ancient Buddhists, saw the universe, the universe in which we live, or if you like the way in which they imagined that universe, was very different from the way in which we usually see it. So how did the ancient Indians, the ancient Buddhists, see the universe? What did they see? Well, first of all they saw simply space. Nothing but space, infinite space. This was the first thing that they saw. Just space. And then, as they looked longer, as they looked perhaps more deeply, they saw diffused throughout space, throughout the infinity of space, air. And the air that they saw was blue air. So they saw diffused throughout the infinity of space, in all directions, simply this blue air. And as they looked again they saw within this air, within this blue air, two currents, saw in fact what they sometimes described as two blue winds, two blue winds moving in opposite directions, if you like blowing in opposite directions. And these two blue winds formed as it were two crossed vajras or dorjes. And each of these vajras or dorjes was several, in fact millions, of miles in length.

So this is what they saw.

And then resting on those two vast crossed vajras or dorjes they saw a vast mass of waters. And these waters formed a kind of flat disc. And on these waters, towards the edge of the disc, they saw floating the four dvipas, the four continents or the four islands, each with its two subcontinents. And all four continents, and all eight subcontinents, had bases of solid gold. The eastern continent is the one called Videha. It's shaped like the crescent moon, and it's white in colour. The southern continent is called Jambudvipa, and it's shaped like the shoulder blade of a sheep, and is blue in colour. And this Jambudvipa is of course our own world, the world in which we live, the world of modern scientific geography. And according to the ancient Indians, the ancient Buddhists, Jambudvipa, our continent, our island, is the smallest of the four continents, only seven thousand miles in diameter. And its inhabitants, so the ancient Indians and the ancient Buddhists said, were rich and prosperous, and performed both skilful and unskilful deeds. The western continent is called Godanya. It's round in shape, like the sun, and it's red in colour.

The northern continent is called Uttarakuru, and it's square in shape and green in colour. So these are the four continents, the four islands, as seen by the ancient Indians, the ancient Buddhists.

And right at the centre of the whole system there stands, or if you like there towers, Mount Meru, or Mount Sumeru. And it towers eighty thousand feet above the waters. And it extends eighty thousand feet below them. And it has four faces, rather like a pyramid, and each face is made of some precious substance.

According to some accounts the eastern face is of silver, the southern face of lapis lazuli, the western face of ruby, and the northern face of gold. And surrounding Meru is an ocean 80,000 miles wide and 80,000 miles deep. And surrounding this there's a ring of golden mountains, 40,000 miles high and 40,000 miles wide. And surrounding this there's an ocean, an ocean of the same dimensions, and so on. Altogether there are seven circular oceans and seven rings of golden mountains. And as one moves outwards the dimensions of the oceans and the dimensions of the mountains diminish, though of course the diameter of the circles they form progressively increases. And the last ring of golden mountains is only 625 miles high and 625 miles wide. Outside this are the waters on which float the four continents and the eight subcontinents. And the entire system is enclosed by a great iron wall, and the purpose of this great iron wall is to keep in, to shut in if you like, the light of the sun and the moon and the stars. And this wall is said to be 312½ miles or perhaps yojanas in height, and more than 3½million miles or yojanas in circumference. And outside, outside that great iron wall there's only darkness, until another universe is reached. And there are thousands and millions of such universes throughout space, according to the ancient Indians and the ancient Buddhists. Each universe has its own Meru, its own continents, its own mountains, its own oceans.

It has its own sentient beings; it has its own Buddhas, its own Enlightened beings.

But to return to our own universe, Meru is divided horizontally into eight tiers or eight levels. There are four tiers or four levels below the waters, and four above. And the four tiers below the waters contain the hells. These are occupied by various classes of tormented beings, suffering, experiencing, the results of their unskilful actions. And the four tiers above the water are inhabited by various classes of demi-gods.

For instance the yaksas, or sublime spirits; the nagas, the serpents or dragons; and so on. And on or near the summit of Meru are the four great kings, also known as the four lokapalas, or four protectors of the world, one for each of the four quarters. It's these four kings, or four world protectors, who are the protectors who in chapter six of the Sutra of Golden Light come forward and promise to protect the sutra.

So in tonight's lecture we'll be trying to understand what these protectors of the Dharma represent, and also what is meant by protecting the Dharma.

Lecture 126: The Protectors of the Dharma - Page 2 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ First, however, let us just complete our survey of the ancient Indian and ancient Buddhist universe. Above Mount Meru are the heavens, the various heavens of the gods. According to some accounts these heavens begin 80,000 miles above the summit of Mount Meru, so you must just imagine them there, as it were, 80,000 miles above the summit of Mount Meru. First of all the heaven which is called the heaven of the thirty-three, that is to say the thirty-three gods, the thirty-three Vedic deities, and their leader is Indra, the king of the gods of the thirty-three. And he, we are told, occupies a wonderful palace in the midst of this heaven. Next come the Suyima gods, as they are called, and next after them the heaven of the Contented gods. And then there's the heaven of the gods that take delight in their own creations. And then again there's a heaven of gods who take delight in the creations of others. Altogether there are six heavens, and all these heavens belong to the plane of desire, the plane of sensuous desire. You may remember that according to Buddhist teaching the whole of conditioned existence is divided as it were horizontally into three great planes or levels: first of all the plane of sensuous desire; then the plane of pure form, if you like archetypal form; and then thirdly the formless plane. And all the realms, all the heavens, that have so far been mentioned, including the human realm, fall within the plane of sensuous desire.

And all six heavens of desire are inhabited by both male and female gods, or if you like by gods and goddesses. And therefore according to Indian, according to Buddhist tradition, in each of these heavens there's the possibility of sexual gratification, but the higher one ascends the more refined in form that gratification becomes, just as the heavens themselves, the higher one goes, become progressively more refined. In Indra's heaven, we're told, as in the realm of the four great kings, and among human beings, sexual gratification is achieved through copulation; among the Suyima gods simply by holding hands; among the contented gods by means of a smile; among the gods who delight in their own creations by prolonged gazing; and among the gods who delight in the creations of others, by a mere glance - there that is quite sufficient.

Now above the heavens of sensuous desire, with their male and female gods, or their gods and goddesses, are the heavens of the world of pure form. These are inhabited by, according to some accounts sixteen, according to other accounts eighteen classes of Brahma gods of the world of pure form. First of all gods in the company of Brahma, then gods in the retinue of Brahma, then great Brahma gods. And these heavens, these three heavens, of the form plane, collectively correspond to the first dhyana, the first state or stage of superconscious, especially as experienced in meditation. Then we have the gods of lesser light; then the gods of limitless light; and then the gods of light and sound, or sonant light, light which is also sound, or sound which is also light. And these three heavens collectively correspond to the second dhyana.

And then gods of lesser purity; then gods of limitless purity; and then gods of radiant purity. And these heavens collectively correspond to the third dhyana, the third superconscious state. Now there are still seven more classes of Brahma gods left, so you can imagine how many heavens and how many classes there are - according to other classifications, though, not seven but nine. I'm not going to enumerate all the names of these different kinds of Brahma gods, but their heavens collectively correspond to the fourth dhyana. The last five heavens, however, are collectively known as pure abodes, and it's into these pure abodes that are born all those who on earth have broken all five lower fetters, and attained the path of no return, that is to say the path of no further rebirth in the world of human beings, or indeed in any of the realms inferior to the pure ...

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