Research Paper

A Psychological Cosmology and The Philosophy of Consciousness

By Ryan Higgins

 

            It is the intention of this research paper to investigate early Buddhist Cosmology in relationship to its teachings of ontology and experiential psychology.  This analysis is intended to explain that the initial contradictions between the Buddhist psychological teachings found in the Abhidhamma texts and the descriptive cosmology depicted in the Nikayas were actually in accord with one-another.  Ultimately this paper will show that the gods, heavens, and various planes described in the Buddhist cosmological system were not initially understood as external places and beings; rather, they were symbols and depictions of varying experiences in human consciousness. Further more, I would like to emphasize that this paper will not and cannot make any claims to what the Buddha and his early followers actually taught regarding these issues since there are no records bearing certainty as to the Buddha’s original teachings or to the general consensus of his early followers.  It is because of this that this paper can only assert the teachings of a certain group of Buddhists as found in the early Pali texts.  Richard Gombrich sums up the ambiguity in attempting to discern the original teachings: “…many scholars since have been prepared to argue either that we no longer have the Buddha’s authentic teachings or that we have only a very few, the rest of the purported teachings being garbled or distorted by the later tradition.” (Gombrich p. 5)

            The initial discourse of this paper will analyze the worldview of Buddhism in regard to its philosophical and psychological implications.  This discussion will deal with the aggregate theory of the individual person and the concepts of a conditioned genesis, showing the interdependence of human consciousness and external perceptions.  The second discussion will identify some aspects of Buddhist cosmology and examine some of its correlations with various states of awareness achieved through adherence to specific practices of ethics and meditation.  This discussion will explain how these cosmological descriptions were not originally intended as a literal assertion of planes and beings existing independently of human consciousness.  On the contrary it will be shown that these cosmological descriptions are similes intended to explain states of consciousness by use of symbols that were intelligible to other traditions.

            Now it will be prudent to begin the initial discourse with a brief look at the Buddhist worldview in order to identify these key facts:

  1. The early Buddhist teachings implied an experiential philosophy that is primarily concerned with life as it is experienced by humanity. 
  2. The early Buddhist worldview dealt mainly with experiences of consciousness; it did not concern itself with a world that is separate from the experiences of consciousness.
  3. The early Buddhist worldview did not concern itself with the affirmation or negation of metaphysical views, such as the possibility of a reality existing independently of human experience. 
  4. Early Buddhism treated the experience of an external world as being interdependent with human consciousness.
  5. I recommend referring to Buddhism as either a philosophy of consciousness, due to its preoccupation with the experience of human consciousness.  Another alternative is to describe the early Buddhist worldview as a psychological cosmology, thus indicating the non-substantial nature of Buddhist cosmology, and differentiating it from traditional western psychology, which postulates an external reality that is separate from human consciousness. 

The early Buddhist texts used the Pali term vinnana to denote consciousness, this

term was also used in the Upanishads to denote that basal level of the self that was associated with deep sleep.  The Upanishads identified this concept with what they considered to be a person’s innermost being according to their five-soul theory.  In this sense consciousness (vinnana) was seen as an essential element for rebirth, which was described as the descent of vinnana into the womb.  The texts however, took great pain to emphasize that vinnana is not the soul.  In this sense Buddhist nirvana was not to be understood as a state of consciousness (vinnana), since after parinirvana vinnana was said to cease. 

            The early texts claimed that vinnana is persistent, but it is not permanent; it continually changes in relation to its environment.  In this sense consciousness (vinnana) was described as having a certain dependence on the environment due to the influence received thereof.  In his book, The Origins of Indian Psychology, Ross Reat explains the contingency of consciousness on the environment by depicting it as being dependent upon its objects of perception: “Vinnana is comprised of the objects of consciousness.  Without an object (arammana), vinnana does not arise or become established (patittha).” (Reat p. 303)  In this regard, consciousness (vinnana) arises when given an object, and is conditioned by that particular object. 

            An object that is experienced by consciousness (vinnana) is designated by the name (nama) and form (rupa) of that object.  Name and form denote the apparitional and conceptual effects of an object acting as the condition of consciousness.  Akira Hirakawa gives a debated account of rupa in his book, A History of Indian Buddhism, he writes: “Rupa refers to both the body and material objects.” (Hirakawa p. 47)  This popular account appears problematic in light of an argument put forward by Ross Reat. He claims that, “Rupa is consistently defined [in the early Suttas] as the four great elements.  When the physical and conscious aspects of the individual are specifically intended, however, kaya indicates body, and either citta or vinnana indicate consciousness in general.” (Reat p. 304)  Due to this discrepancy rupa will be treated as form in general, without necessarily implying body, which is already denoted by the word Kaya.  To illustrate the function of name (nama) and form (rupa) in the experience of an object, let one first consider the experience of a triangle.  The experience of seeing a triangle would be conditioned by the form of its appearance of three connected sides.  That would be the form (aspect) of the experience; however there is also a mental and verbal experience of interpretation that also accompanies one’s perception of a triangle.  Hence the name (nama) determines the interpretation which is part of the experience of a triangle, other wise the experience would be that of whatever the shape is called in a given situation, such as calling a triangle a circle, in which case it would no longer be a triangle.

            Buddhist scriptures also described the various sense organs as being interdependent with consciousness, and have even gone so far as to call the six senses the six types of consciousness (vinnana).  Once again the emphasis was on experience as opposed to a reality independent of experience; the six sense spheres were said to be the condition for sensual contact in addition to being different aspects of consciousness (vinnana).  In this context the experiences of the senses or sensory impingements (phassa) cannot occur independently from the sense organs or consciousness.  This necessary interdependence is indicated in the Madhupindika Sutta: “Visual consciousness, your reverences, arises because of eye and material shapes; the meeting of the three is a sensory impingement (phassa).” (Reat p. 307)  In this sense consciousness cannot exist without something to be conscious of, nor can it exist without the sensory faculty that is necessary to convey an object of consciousness. 

The textual sources indicate that consciousness is dependent on the sense spheres in the same way that fire is dependent on its fuel, and that consciousness (vinnana) is also characterized by each sense just as fire is characterized by its particular type of fuel. This is described in the Majjhima-Nikaya:

“…fire is named from that in dependence on which it burns. The fire which burns in dependence on logs of wood is called a log-fire. The fire which burns in dependence on chips is called a chip-fire. The fire which burns in dependence on grass is called a grass-fire. The fire which burns in dependence on cow-dung is called a cow-dung fire. The fire which burns in dependence on husks is called a husk-fire. The fire which burns in dependence on rubbish is called a rubbish-fire. In exactly the same way, O priests, consciousness is named from that in dependence on which it comes into being.” (Warren Majjhima-Nikâya (Sutta 38)

Interestingly enough, sensory contact (phassa) does not automatically result from the physical polarity of the sense organ and object; the object must be present to consciousness.  The Majjhima Nikaya details this with the following:

If your reverences, the eye that is internal is intact and external forms (rupa) come within its range, but without appropriate contact (samannahara), then there is no appearance of the appropriate type of consciousness.  But when, your reverences, the eye that is internal is intact and external forms come within its range and there is the appropriate contact, then there is thus an appearance of the appropriate type of consciousness. (Reat p. 308)

Here the reference to the ‘eye that is internal’ indicates one’s conscious awareness, that is, one must be conscious of the object being perceived in order for it to be considered a sensory contact on the consciousness.

            According to Ross Reat two equations can be deduced from these previous descriptions. Sensory contact (phassa/samannahar) is produced by, and is dependent on, the combination of the sense faculty, the object of that faculty, and the consciousness (vinnana).  Yet this equation is a circular one as opposed to a linear one; that is, one aspect of reality cannot occur independently of another, in essence it would be better to think of the equation as a simultaneous sequence.  Having said this, the equation can be reversed, thus illustrating the equal dependence that consciousness has on sensory contact in addition to the dependence that sensory contact has on consciousness.  In the second equation, consciousness (vinnana) is produced by the combination of the sense faculty, the object, and the sense contact (phassa/samannahara).  This is a very logical demonstration of the unity and interdependence of external sense contact and consciousness as described in the early Buddhist texts.  Reat sums it up: “Thus, vinnana is as necessary for sensual contact as sensual contact is for vinnana.” (Reat p. 308)

In a sense these are both cosmological and philosophical descriptions treating the experience of an ‘external world’ as a constitutive series of aggregates by which the human being is composed.  In one sense this is a psychologically based ontology that treats the perceptions of an external world as a phenomenal part of the human being.  There is no external universe being described as such, only tendencies to perceive an external universe, which are completely dependent on the human consciousness.   In his book, Skillful Means: The Heart of Buddhist Compassion, John Schroeder illustrates how the early texts interpreted a human being as a series of five interdependent aggregates.  According to Schroeder the aggregate system interprets a person as “…a dynamic interchange between the skandhas [aggregates] in which each part is necessary and in which no part can be extracted without losing the whole person.”(Schroeder p. 38) This description implies that a person cannot be reduced to any single part, nor is a person something different from all the parts put together; in this case, a person is an integrated whole.  It is interesting to observe that the five aggregates composing the person involve many features that have already been discussed in respects to the external environment and its sense objects.  It is within this context that the Buddhist ontology is actually that of the person and his or her consciousness; this ontology does not make any claims in affirmation or negation of an external world.  Therefore, Schroeder’s interpretation depicts the human as consisting of form (rupa), feelings (vedana), volitions (samskara), consciousness (vinnana), and perceptions (sanna).  As one can recall, the form (rupa) of sense objects, and the perceptions (sanna) are contingent upon consciousness (vinnana) and vice versa.  In this sense the phenomenal world is not only interdependent with consciousness it also becomes a phenomenon that is contingent upon human existence. 

There is another interpretation of human existence in relation to its experiential reality referred to as ‘dependent origination.’  This description is a more complicated variation, as opposed to the five aggregate theory of the individual, which interprets existence from the individual’s perspective.  The ‘dependent origination’ teaching differs slightly in that it is more of a general analysis of existence in reference to birth and death which is shown to be contingent upon the human characteristics of desire, consciousness, and sense perceptions.  Here is a description from the Maha-Nidana Sutta: "On contact depends sensation; On sensation depends desire; On desire depends attachment; On attachment depends existence; On existence depends birth; On birth depend old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair. Thus does this entire aggregation of misery arise.” (Warren Digha Nikaya p.204)  This passage shows existence to be dependent on various human tendencies; it re-affirms the interdependence of the human and the perceived external world.  It differs from the five aggregate theories by examining the constituents from the view of existence in general as opposed to the existence of a single individual.  Other teachings claim that ignorance is a chief cause of the whole chain of existence, and that the removal of ignorance would lead to the cessation of the human being.  Reat describes the profundity of this psychological and cosmological claim:

Nevertheless, according to the paticcasamuppada formula, the cessation of ignorance entails the cessation of each of the other links in the formula.  This cessation, as demonstrated above, has profound cosmological implications, in that the cessation of nama-rupa (name and form) implies, in the Pali suttas as in the Upanishads, the cessation of the manifold universe of appearances.  The early Buddhist suttas do not concern themselves with the metaphysical speculations of such a concept.” (Reat p. 26)

This reflection reiterates the argument of this paper, that the early Buddhist teachings only dealt with reality as experienced, and treated the experiences of an external world as interdependent with consciousness.  Therefore if one were able to bring about a cessation of consciousness by removing the other aggregates of reality, the experience of reality and the external world would cease as well.  Reat’s claim that there was no early metaphysical speculations regarding this cessation reaffirms the other point stated in the beginning of this paper: that the early Buddhist teachings implied an experiential philosophy that was not concerned with the existence of realities outside of human experience. 

Another demonstration of the contingency between human perception and its external objects occurs in the classification of ‘material’ elements according to the ‘Ayatana’ division described by Th. Stcherbatsky.  In this division the whole phenomenal world is divided up into twelve divisions of perception with the first ten corresponding to an idea of matter.  The first ten include: sense of vision, sense of audition, sense of smelling, sense of taste, sense of touch, faculty of intellect or consciousness, color and shape, sound, odor, and taste.  The first four indicate actual sense data, as opposed to objective objects, and the last six correspond to the actual sense faculties.  In his book, The Central Conception of Buddhism, Th. Stcherbatsky writes that these divisions correspond with ten material elements and suggests that the Buddhists conceived matter to be a mere form of sense data: “A glance at the ten items corresponding to matter in the ayatana-division will convince us that no other matter except sense-data is recognized.”  (Stcherbatsky p. 10)  He further illustrates the uniqueness of this conception by contrasting it with the Samkhya notion of an eternal substance.  He writes, “The fundamental difference is that in the Sankhya system these elements are modifications or appurtenances of an eternal substance.  In Buddhism they are mere sense data without any substance.” (Stcherbatsky p. 10)

So far this paper has given a general explanation regarding the teachings of the early Buddhist texts in respects of consciousness and its interdependence with external sense objects.  Several examples have been given, showing that Buddhism was: an experiential philosophy primarily concerned with the experiences of consciousness, that Budhism treated the external world as being an aggregate of consciousness without independent existence, and the early Buddhist texts did not concern themselves with metaphysical questions concerning separate realities.  From this it becomes obvious that Buddhism did not make references to any external reality existing independently from the individual.  It is on this ground that one can begin to logically infer that all other cosmological references made within the early texts must be references to various states of consciousness in so far as any external elements described in Buddhism are contingent upon it.  However, in addition to this logical framework, it will now be possible to examine some of the more elaborate cosmological descriptions given in the early texts in order to show that they simply contain more fanciful descriptions of experiences contingent upon consciousness.  

In his book, The Vedantic Buddhism of the Buddha, J.G. Jennings gives an account of a god filled cosmology where the Buddha and his dhamma are given superior status:

“…the Buddha after attaining enlightenment is represented as hesitating before the stupendous task of attempting to convert the world, and all the orders of the heavenly spirits, headed by Brahma Sahampati (all ruler), entreat him to undertake his divine mission.  Thus here Brahma and all the host of spirits are placed in subordination to the Buddha personally, and not only to the law of the Dhamma. (Jennings p. lxii)

This description hints at the non-substantial nature of the gods and other cosmological beings in their relationship to the teachings of the dhamma found in the early texts.  Therefore the second part of this paper will discuss some aspects of this animated version of the Buddhist cosmos and show the contingency that such cosmic beings had in relation to the various states of consciousness known to Buddhism. 

            In his book Gods in Early Buddhism, M.M.J. Marasinghe differentiates between two types of cosmology: historic and analytic.  According to Marasinghe a historic cosmology considers problems such as the origin of the world, man, and all living beings in general.  This type of cosmology deals with the continuity of the world through time and its possible end.  This approach also deals with the human’s place in the universe, and his or her quest for the attainment of liberation and knowledge.  An analytic cosmology on the other hand, is less concerned with a historical narrative of the origins of humans and the world; rather, it is more concerned with the individual and his or her relationship to the world.  Such an approach can best be described as a relational study of the human and his or her place in the universe.  Marasinghe writes that both of these approaches are not mutually exclusive; “While Jainism offers an excellent example of the first, the second describes the worldview of early Buddhism.” (Marasinghe p. 43)  This description of Buddhist cosmology already corresponds with some of the philosophical descriptions given earlier in this paper; both approaches do not concern themselves with metaphysics; they concern themselves more with human interactions.  In this regard Marasinghe notes that the welfare of humankind was the key theme of early Buddhism; in this case, Buddhist cosmological speculations are seen as a result of the need to ‘house’ the newly ‘Buddhistified’ gods and to assign them a place in the universe while maintaining the Buddhist conception of the human. (Marasinghe p. 43) This assertion reaffirms the notion that the use of gods and spirits in early Buddhism was intended as a means of understanding the truth of the dhamma as opposed to being the truth itself.

            A foundational aspect of this cosmology includes the concept of loka, which is commonly referred to as the perceptive world; this includes all that comes within the senses.  In this sense loka takes on the form of an analytic tool referring to experiences of consciousness as opposed to an independent cosmography.  There are many variations of the term loka in the Suttas and the Nikayas; however loka is commonly described as the cosmos here and now.  Within the loka there are smaller units sometimes described as solar systems, or at lest compared to solar systems. Marasinghe quotes an Abhidhamma text writing that, “Such a lokadhatu extends ‘as far as the moon and the sun move in their course and light up the quarters with their radiance…”’ (Marasinghe p. 44)  In this case the lokadhatu is considered quite vast, it is said to consist of “…Mount Sineru; the four continents,…the four great oceans; the four great Kings; and the sevenfold heavenly spheres…Each thousand of the above consists of the system of the thousandfold lesser world systems.” (Marasinghe p. 44)  Interestingly enough the vastness of the lokadhatu consisted of an endless series of smaller units within larger units ad infinitum.  These units of lokadhatu were also said to comprise a series of thirty-one planes, which were divided into five existential realms. (Gorkam p. 182)  Loka itself was considered to be unlimited; one cannot reach the end of it by traveling and its immensity cannot be grasped by thinking.  In this sense it was referred to as lokacinta, which was classed as one of the four un-thinkables in the Anguttara Nikaya Sutta. According to the texts, the world containing transient beings is also transient.  It is not the product of a supreme creator god existing within or without the system, nor is it the interaction of an eternal and immutable substance such as prakrti or purusas of the Samkhya system.  Considering that loka was seen as all that comes within the senses, it is possible to interpret this cosmological system and its inhabitants as the totality of a transient consciousness, which is contingent upon its sense data and sense objects as described earlier in the paper. 

            According to the Agganna Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, the present state of the world is the result of a constant process of evolution.  Buddhism did not concern it self with the first beginning, and considered the first beginning of any series of existence to be incalculably remote.  The beginning spoken of in the Agganna Sutta is not of the first beginning, rather it is the beginning of one of many evolutionary cycles in the world.  These texts claim that each evolutionary cycle lasts a world cycle, which is called a kalpa, which is divided into four phases.  These phases include: the dissolving phase, the static phase, an evolving phase, and a static period that occurs after evolution which is followed immediately by the next dissolving phase.  The Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta elaborates on the implications of these evolutionary phases by describing the first phases as a gradual deterioration of moral standards in the world resulting in the decline and total loss of social harmony.  Gradual improvement develops in the other phases resulting in more harmonious social conditions until it repeats the dissolving phase.  Marasinghe indicates that the evolutionary cycle described in Agganna Sutta is more of an account of the evolution of human society, rather than the physical world.  In this sense emphasis is placed on the gradual human transformation, resulting in the transformation of the entire society and the character of its physical surroundings.  These physical surroundings are only described in relation to the experiences of human beings; this shows an emphasis placed on the experience of the human when discussing cosmological concepts, and it suggests an interdependent relationship between the human and the external environment as it is perceived.   

            The Mahasihanada Sutta describes a series of five destinies that can be experienced through a combination of meditation, ethical practice, and rebirth.  These five destinies include: purgatory, (niraya), animal birth (tiracchanayoni), realm of petas (pittivisaya), realm of human beings (Manussa), and the realm of the gods and heavens (deva).  The purgatory realm is described as a place of sharp and severe pain; beings in this realm suffer in order to expiate the effects of evil actions.  Suffering in the animal world is considered harsh yet less severe than that of the former.  Rebirth into the animal world is seen as a result of less serious immoral actions.  The pittivisaya realm is less severe than the animal realm and is also associated with immoral living, however there is not much written about this in the texts.  These initial destinies (gaties) have the effect of exhausting the evil existences within an individual according to the Nikaya texts.  The fourth destiny is the realm of human beings, which is described as a place where one can experience things that are abundantly pleasant; however the Anguttara Sutta describes this existence as a place of mixed experiences. The fifth destiny is a heavenly realm of gods, which inhabit a series of spheres numbering anywhere from seven to over twenty-five.  Brahmaloka is the senventh and the highest sphere in the basic system, while the other six are considered the lowest except for the first inhabited by the ‘four great kings.’  These heavenly realms are generally typified by the luxury of exquisite sensual pleasure, while some of the higher ones are characterized by various states of meditative trance.  It is interesting to note that instead of an all-pervasive creator god Brahma of the Vedic religion, there are a whole multitude of Brahmas and a number of different realms where these Brahmas receive their accommodation. The general hierarchy of the heavenly realms is due to an increase of lifespan corresponding to the status of a particular sphere.  Marasinghe gives a detailed account of these vast lifespans:

The gods of the Brahmakayika realms have a lifespan of one kalpa, while the Vehapphala gods have a life span of five hundred kappas.  The life-span of the Akasanancayatana devas is 20,000 kappas, that of the Vinnanancayatanas 40,000 that of the Akincannayatanas is 60,000 and that of the Nevasannanasannayatana devas 80,000 kappas. (Marasinghe p. 51) 

One must also remember that the Buddha having attained nirvana is not usually listed in the hierarchical order, yet is considered superior to the highest of heavens.  It is with this regard that the quote borrowed from J.G. Jennings in reference to this discussion is actually a cosmological description by its depicting the Buddha as having superiority over Brahma, the chief of the gods.

            So far a general description has been given of Buddhist cosmology.  This description itself has already demonstrated an emphasis on human experience over that of an independent reality by defining its cosmological universe (loka) as all that is perceived.  Also, the concept of evolution has indicated an interdependence of human experience and its perceive environment, which has been expressed as being contingent upon ethical behavior, meditation, and rebirth.  So far this description has confirmed two aspects of the initial thesis.  This paper will now examine some key points that show how the more elaborate cosmological systems involved the borrowing of other religious concepts from local traditions and transformed them into a symbolic depiction of various states of consciousness based on the more abstract psychological concepts discussed in the beginning of this paper.  This next section will therefore involve a look at how these conceptions were borrowed and transformed into representations of various conscious states connected to meditation and rebirth.

            In their book, The Sociology of Early Buddhism, Greg Bailey and Ian Mabbet claim that the more fanciful developments in Buddhist cosmology were the result of previous cosmological systems that were heavily entrenched among the surrounding cultures interacting with early Buddhism.  Also the nature of the early Buddhist teachings was quite flexible, allowing it to be shaped and intertwined with the persistent aspects of local beliefs.  Bailey and Mabbet write: “Acceptance of the Buddha’s intellectual message, however qualified, did not automatically mean rejection of the totality of the thought world into which one was borne, and which was embodied in one’s habitus.” (Bailey and Mabbet p. 138)  In this sense, it appears that early Buddhist teachings were able to accept the ingrained nature of traditional beliefs, and adapting to these upheld beliefs by reinterpreting them to suit the purposes of the dhamma.  Bailey and Mabbet suggest that such use would allow Buddhist ideas to be more accessible to a larger group of people: “We might choose to regard the references in the texts to gods, bhutas, haksas, nagas, tree deities, and sacred festivals of all kinds as a concession to popular belief, to the world of ordinary folk who were struck dumb by the complexities of Buddhist metaphysics.” (Bailey and Mabbet p. 138) 

            In this light it is easy to see how such cosmological concepts were the result of a multicultural influence on an elastic doctrine capable of incorporating the symbols of other religions in order to explain its own complex doctrine. Many elements of Buddhist cosmology can be easily recognized in Jain and Hindu traditions.  The concept of varying planes of existence also occurs in Jain traditions, while various gods such as Brahma are found in modern Hinduism. Marasinghe adds to this view by writing that the most important items of religious beliefs that underwent transformation in Buddhism were the gods.  He explains that this transformation of gods made Buddhism trans religious and ‘trans-tribalic’ as well.  The early Buddhist teachings were able to do this by using traces of other religious identities to lead its adherents gradually toward a more Buddhist identity.  In this sense only the outer shell of a particular god or entity remains, while the meaning is transformed into a reference to the dhamma.  He quotes a colleague named Dr. Ling concerning the use of Mara as a symbol in Buddhism:

‘…the figure of Mara represents an approach to the Dhamma (from animism), but is no part of the Dhamma itself.  Whether the symbol of Mara is of much or little religious value to a man will depend on his initial viewpoint; whether Mara is regarded as a grossly demonological or a more subtly metaphysical symbol will depend upon the degree of understanding, which he has reached.  Mara is to be regarded in whatever way it is most useful to regard him; he is a doctrinal device, not an item of doctrine.’ (Marasinghe p. 10)             

This is a relatively clear illustration of the second part of this papers thesis, that the heavens and hells are actually descriptions of the Buddhist teachings depicted through symbols that were familiar to local traditions.  Outside of the dhamma “The symbol of Mara itself has no importance, and neither have the gods.” (Marashinghe p. 110)

Since the dhamma teaches that the external world as perceived is intertwined with consciousness and, since the dhamma is primarily concerned with consciousness, it only makes sense to view these cosmological descriptions as symbols refering to various experiences of consciousness.  Such a consideration is easily demonstrated by showing how various gods and heavens correspond with ethical actions and states of mind achieved in meditation. 

            Bailey and Mabbet discuss the various planes of existence also referred to as dhatus, which are considered various states of being by the Buddhist texts.  These two authors inform the reader that the various dhatus comprising the heavens and hells are actually states of being which are reached through meditation, by which a monk is able to rise to superior levels.  They write: “Up this cosmic structure, Buddhism superimposed a scale of horizontal layers, dhatus, which are states of being reached in meditation and rising above Mount Meru as superior levels.” (Bailey and Mabbet p. 155)  They also show how this system is a combination of a psychological interpretation of the world combined with the local mythological traditions: “But, however it originated, Buddhist cosmology integrated the cosmic and the psychological scales within a single vision.” (Bailey and Mabbet p. 155) In support of this claim the authors also give an example to illustrate the connection between the various realms and mental states: “According to this vision, for example, the fourth dhyana is a psychological state reached in meditation, from which enlightenment can be reached, but it is also a place, a realm within which rebirth is possible…the Buddhist conception of states of existence does not distinguish them from states of mind. (Bailey and Mabbet p. 156)  Within this context a person’s existence is shown to be dependent on his or her state of mind or consciousness, thus one would be able to ascend to a higher heavenly realm simply by achieving a certain level of meditation.  This description is a strong indication that the early Buddhist cosmological system did not conflict with the psychological analysis of reality. (Collins p. 218) Rather, the two different explanations were able to explain the interdependence of consciousness with existence, while keeping the philosophical eye firmly fixed on reality as it is experienced. 

            So far this paper has identified the psychological interpretation of reality as human experience to be the central theme of the early Buddhist texts.  This experience of reality is interdependent on, and is one of, the various components of human consciousness. It has also been shown that the early texts did not express any metaphysical concern with the affirmation or negation of a reality that is separate from human experience; instead the texts indicate a recognition of reality as a feature of human consciousness that is capable of being changed in accordance with the changes undergone by the individual through meditation and ethical practices, and finally ceasing with the cessation of the individual.  Therefore the existence of Buddhist cosmology involves a series of symbols depicting the various experiences of human consciousness.  With this in mind, it seems that cosmological existence and the individual are intertwined transient phenomenon, both dispensable and subject to cessation.        

   

 

 

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