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A kalpa is a Sanskrit word meaning an aeon, or a long period of time in Hindu (cf. Hindu Time Cycles ) and Buddhist cosmology.

There is a mention of the word "kalpa" in the earliest Hindu religious texts. It also occurs in Buddhist texts. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the 4.32 billion year Kalpa as the longest measure of time.[1]

Contents

Buddhism

According to Visuddhimagga, there are several explanations for types of kalpas and their duration. In the first explanation, there are four types:

  1. 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.
  2. Antah-Kalpa - time taken for one Ayu-Kalpa to grow from 10 years up to one Asankya and back to 10 years. Ending of one Antah-Kalpa (or mass-extinction) can happen in three ways where majority of the human population gets extinct:
    1. Sashthrantha-Kalpa - Mass extinction by wars.
    2. Durbhikshantha-Kalpa - Mass-extinction by hunger.
    3. Rogantha-Kalpa - Mass-extinction by plague.
  3. Asankya-Kalpa - time span of 20 Antah-Kalpas. One is equivalent to a quarter of Maha-Kalpa.
  4. Maha-Kalpa - largest time unit in Buddhism. Ending of a Maha-Kalpa (apocalypse) can happen in three ways: fire, water and wind. It is divided into four quarters each equivalent to one Asankya-Kalpa.
    1. First quarter - time taken for this world to form.
    2. Second quarter - stable duration of this world where all living beings can thrive.
    3. Third quarter - time taken for this world to be destroyed.
    4. 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[2]), and a small kalpa is 1000 regular kalpas, or 16 billion years. Further, a medium kalpa is 320 billion years, the equivalent of 20 small kalpas. A great kalpa is 4 medium kalpas, or 1.28 trillion years.

The Buddha had not spoken about the exact length of the Maha-kalpa in number of years. However, he had given several astounding analogies to understand it.

1. 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.

2. Imagine a gigantic rocky mountain at the beginning of kalpa, approximately 16 x 16 x 16 miles (dwarfing Mt. 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:

1. 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 passed kalpas.[3]

Hinduism

In Hinduism (cf. Hindu Time Cycles), it is equal to 4.32 billion years, a "day of Brahma" or one thousand mahayugas,[4] measuring the duration of the world (scientists estimate the age of the Earth at 4.54 billion years). Each kalpa is divided into 14 manvantara (each lasting 306,720,000 years). Two kalpas constitute a day and night of Brahma. A "month of Brahma" is supposed to contain thirty such days (including nights), or 259.2 billion years. According to the Mahabharata, 12 months of Brahma (=360 days) constitute his year, and 100 such years the life cycle of the universe. Fifty years of Brahma are supposed to have elapsed, and we are now in the shvetavaraha-kalpa of the fifty-first; at the end of a Kalpa the world is annihilated.

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Names of the Kalpas

The names of 30 Kalpas are found in the Matsya Purana (290.3-12). These are:[5]

  1. Śveta
  2. Nīlalohita
  3. Vāmadeva
  4. Rathantara
  5. Raurava
  6. Deva
  7. Vṛhat
  8. Kandarpa
  9. Sadya
  10. Iśāna
  11. Tamah
  12. Sārasvata
  13. Udāna
  14. Gāruda
  15. Kaurma
  16. Nārasiṁha
  17. Samāna
  18. Āgneya
  19. Soma
  20. Mānava
  21. Tatpumān
  22. Vaikuṇṭha
  23. Lakṣmī
  24. Sāvitrī
  25. Aghora
  26. Varāha
  27. Vairaja
  28. Gaurī
  29. Māheśvara and
  30. Pitṛ

The Vayu Purana in chapter 21 gives a different list of 28 kalpas. It also lists 5 more kalpas in the next chapter.

References

  1. ^ McWhirter, Norris (November 1980). Guinness Book of World Records 1981. New York: Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.. ISBN 0-80690-196-9.  
  2. ^ Epstein, Ronald B.(2002). Buddhist Text Translation Society's Buddhism A to Z p. 204. Buddhist Text Translation Society. ISBN 0881393533, 9780881393538.
  3. ^ Epstein, Ronald (2003). Buddhism A to Z. Burlingame, California, United States.: The Buddhist Text Translation Society. ISBN 0-88139-353-3.  
  4. ^ Johnson, W.J. (2009). A Dictionary of Hinduism. Oxford University Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-19-861025-0.  
  5. ^ Vasu, S.C. & others (1972). The Matsya Puranam, Part II, Delhi: Oriental Publishers, p.366

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