Monday, May 26, 2008

When Elephants Sigh

The terrible Sichuan earthquake has been in the news for the last 10 days which has stimulated me to have a look at what the Buddha says about these terrifying and destructive occurrences. Earthquakes (bhumicala) occur all over India but particularly in the north and the ancient Indians made various attempts to explain their cause. The 10th century Adbhuta Sagara says earthquakes are caused by the movement of sea monsters while the Brihat Samhita, written in about the 6th century, says they are caused by flying mountains dropping to earth. Another theory was that they happen when the great elephants that holds up the earth sigh. The oldest explanation, in the Rig Veda, says that Indra, the god of thunder, agitates the four elements – earth, water, fire and air – and that this makes the earth quake.
The Buddha said that earthquakes occur when eight things happen. “This great earth is supported by water which is supported by air which is in turn supported by space. When a great wind blows, this stirs up the water and because of the stirring-up of the water the earth quakes” (D.II,107). Although the Buddha was mistaken in this matter, he was clearly attempting to give a naturalistic explanation for the phenomena. However, he also said that gods or even humans who had developed certain psychic powers could cause earthquakes. And finally, he said that earthquakes can occur when a bodhisattva is conceived, is born, attains enlightenment thus becoming a Buddha, teaches the Dhamma for the first time, decides to die and then passes into final Nirvana; although he did not explain why they coincide with these events. Probably, like many people at the time, he assumed that ‘earth shattering’ events should have an earth-shattering manifestation. Interestingly, the Bible says that an earthquake occurred just as Jesus died (Matthew 27, 51).


artim said...

i'm not a seismologist, but i do know they haven't figured it all out yet, otherwise we'd be able to predict quakes by now.. however modern geoscience agrees that there is a molten core in the earth which would correspond to 'water' or at least 'liquid', and air could be vapour, earth does ultimately 'float' on space, the winds could be gravitational waves which could impact on the molten core of the earth causing earthquakes, anyway as far as i'm concerned the jury's still out on this but thanx again for a lovely blog on another very interesting matter.. : )

Terrance said...

Does this mean that an Awaken One is not Omniscience?

Or could it be that Sutta is not original?