What Causes the Three Disasters to Occur?

by Venerable Master Hua

The three disasters are either great or small. The three great disasters are fires, floods, and disasters of wind; the three small disasters are wars, famines, and pandemics.  They make up the eons of disasters.  A great eon is composed of four medium eons of Formation, Dwelling, Decay, and Emptiness. Each medium eon comprises of twenty small eons. The three small disasters occur at the end of the decrease phase of each Dwelling eon. The three great disasters occur during the decay eon within each great eon. Let us now discuss the causes behind the three great disasters.

When people harbor hatred, disasters of fire occur.  When people indulge in greed, disasters of water result.  When people are blighted by ignorance, there will be disasters of wind.  The three disasters have their origin in the three poisons. We all have these three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance in our minds. The thoughts of these grow day by day until they reach a certain extent and bring about the great disasters.

The three disasters occur in sequence because humans have seven kinds of emotions (joy, anger, grief, fear, fondness, loathing, and desire).  These seven emotions successively expand.  Each emotion brings about a disaster.  So there will be seven fires.  Following the seven fires, one flood will occur.  And since each of the seven emotions can be further divided into seven shares, this cycle of "seven fires and one flood" will happen seven times.  Then there will be another seven fires.  Finally, a disaster of wind will wipe out the entire world. 

When a disaster of fire occurs, it will burn all the way up to the First Dhyana Heavens (which include the Heaven of the Multitudes of Brahma, the Heaven of the Ministers of Brahma, and the Heaven of the Great Brahma Lord, in the Form Realm).  When a disaster of floods occurs, it will drown everything up to the Second Dhyana Heavens (which include the Heaven of Lesser Light, the Heaven of Limitless Light, and the Heaven of Light-Sound in the Form Realm).  When a disaster of wind happens, it will blow everything up to the Third Dhyana Heavens  (which include the Heaven of Lesser Purity, the Heaven of Limitless Purity, and the Heaven of Pervasive Purity in the Form Realm).  A verse says,

The Five Signs of Decay occur in the Six Desire Heavens,
The disaster of wind strikes the heavens of the Third Dhyana.
Even cultivating to reach thHeaven of Neither Thought nor Non-Thought
Is not as good as going to the West and coming back again.

Where does the disaster of wind come from?  It comes from a combination of the seven emotions.  The disaster of wind symbolizes the poison of delusion. When people are deluded, they forget everything. Therefore, when the disaster of wind occurs, everything from the Third Dhyana Heaven down to the hells will be wiped out.  However, the disasters of fire, floods, and wind will not affect the inner court of Tushita Heaven.  Why?  Because that's where a pure land of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is located. Right now, Maitreya Bodhisattva is living in the inner court of the Tushita Heaven.  He will descend to the Saha World to teach and transform living beings during the tenth eon of dwelling in the Worthy Eon. (Presently we are in the declining period of the ninth eon of dwelling.)

The various violent energies arising from greed, anger, and delusion are as frightening as the atoms in an atomic bomb. The atoms produced from our own samadhi fire are even more frightening.  These atoms do not come from outside; they are inherent in our nature. The true fire of samadhi within our nature is originally pure yang. However, due to misuse, it has turned into the fire of desire. There are fires corresponding to three internal organs in the human body (the fires of the upper organ, the middle organ, and the lower organ). The fires of these three organs can develop into the disaster of fire or turn into an atomic bomb and destroy everything.

It is because we have an internal atomic bomb that there are external atomic bombs: There is a mutual correspondence. The same principle holds in regard to the contemporary problems of the world. Whatever is in our minds will also exist outside. If there are no wars going on in our minds, there will be no wars outside. As it's said, "Everything is made from the mind alone."

- Gold Sage Monastery's Monthly Newsletter, Pure Sound from Silicon Valley, Feb 2005, Issue #106

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"Kalpa" explaned:

He well knows long and short kalpas of the worlds. A Bodhisattva is able to regard the events berond 80,000 great kalpas, whereas an Arhat can only regard the events within 80,000 great kalpas. This Bodhisattva is not only able to contemplate the vents beyond and within 80,000 great kalpas, he also knows the causes and circumstances of the longest and shortest kalpas, as well as their stages of coming into being, dwelling, destruction, and being empty.

A kalpa is made up of “one increase and one decrease.” An increase means that for every hundred years, the average lifespan of human beings increases one year and their height increases one inch. During a decrease, their lifespan and height decrease according to the same ratio. A decrease begins when the average human lifespan is 84,000 years and ends when it has decreased to ten years. At that point, the average lifespan again increases until it reaches 84,000 years.

One decrease and increase is known as one kalpa. One thousand of these kalpas is called a small kalpa. Twenty of these small kalpas is called a middle-sized kalpa. And four middle-sized kalpas make up a great kalpa. These long and short kalpas of coming into being, dwelling, destruction and being empty, represent an inconceivable number of years.

The Bodhisattva knows them all. He also knows the short periods of time which are A single month, or half a month, down to a day and night, and so forth. Countries are each different, but their natures are level and equal. Although lands are not all the same, their natures are identical. He constantly contemplates them diligently without becoming lax. The Bodhisattva who studies all types of wisdom and has enlightened to all the circumstances and causes of coming into being, dwelling, destruction, and being empty, never becomes lax. He follows the rules and does not play. He’s always vigorous.

The Flower Adornment Sutra, The Merit and Virtue from First Bringing Forth the Mind, Chapter Seventeen. A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

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What is a kalpa? When the lifespan of people reaches 84,000 years then it decreases. Every 100 years their lifespan lessens by one year. Their height decreases by on inch. By the time when the average person’s lifespan is ten years, as soon as someone is born, he or she has thoughts of sexual desire. At that time, as soon as people are born, they can kill people. Because people’s minds are so bad , humankind will nearly become extinct. When the average increasing. It increases one year every 100 years and the height of people’s bodies also increases one inch every hundred years. By the thime peoples’ lifespan increases back to 84,000 years, that is “one decreasing amd one increasing,’ which makes up one small kapla.

The Flower Adornment Sutra, The Merit and Virtue from First Bringing Forth the Mind, Chapter Seventeen. A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

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Another passage into liberation is called, within a single thought, displaying the eons of formation, destruction, and so on in the three periods of time. Within the briefest instant of time—a single thought—all past, present, and future kalpas are revealed. Kalpa, translated as “eon,” is a Sanskrit word meaning “division of time.” Measureless kalpas or eons represent a measureless duration of time. Eons in the three periods of time cover the past, present, and future. One eons equals 139,600 years. One thousand of these eons makes a small eon.

Another way to explain it is: The average human life span begins at 84,000 years and decreases by one year every hundred years. The average human height also decreases by one inch every hundred years. When the average life span has decreased to ten years, it begins to increase again, increasing by one year every hundred years. Human height also grows by one inch every hundred years. The life span will again reach 84,000 years, and that will complete one eon. One thousand of these eons (consisting of one period of increase and one period of decrease) makes one small eon. Twenty small eons make a medium eon . Four medium eons make one great eon. It takes twenty small eons for a world to form. After formation, the world dwells for twenty small eons, decays for twenty small eons, and finally returns to emptiness for twenty small eons. The four stages of formation, dwelling, decay, and emptiness comprise one great kalpa . Formation, dwelling, decay, and emptiness occurred in the past, are occurring in the present, and will occur in the future. The four medium eons of formation, dwelling, decay, and emptiness together make one great eon. Thus the phrase “eons of formation, destruction, and so on” refers to formation, dwelling, decay, and emptiness.

People go through formation, dwelling, decay, and emptiness as well, except that the stages are named birth, dwelling, change, and extinction. The stage of birth, lasting twenty years, corresponds to the eon of formation. During those first twenty years, a person cannot accomplish much. The next stage, that of dwelling, can be quite productive. It is followed by the stages of change and extinction, which means one ceases to be. The first twenty years of life belong to the stage of birth. The next twenty years correspond to dwelling, the next twenty to change, and the final twenty to extinction. That is how an eighty-year human life span can be divided into stages of formation, dwelling, decay, and emptiness. These states manifest in a single thought.

The Flower Adornment Sutra, The Wondrous Adornments of the Rulers of the Worlds, Chapter One, Part Four & Five. A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua


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He recollects and completely understands and knows morning and night, days and months, years and kalpas, as well as worlds characterized by beginnings and ends, creation and destruction. “Morning” refers to when it is light out and “night” refers to when it is dark out. “Days” are governed by the sun and “Months” are governed by the moon. The sun is yang and the moon is yin. There are twelve months in a year and there is one increase and one decrease in a kalpa. The Buddhist Sutras often mention the “six periods of the day and night”. The three periods of the day are the beginning, middle, and latter parts of that period. the three periods of the night are the beginning, middle and latter parts of that time period. One day consists of twelve hours, and one night consists of twelve hours. Day begins as the yin energy starts to rise, which is when the sun comes up. It goes from : mao: 5-7am, Ch’en: 7-9am, szu: 9-11am, wu: 11-1pm, wei: 1-3pm, to shen: 3-5pm. that’s a day. Then evening goes from: yu: 5-7pm, hse: 7-9pm, hai: 9-11pm, tze: 11pm-1am, chou: 1-3am, to yin: 3-5am. these are the twelve hours of the day and night. A day and night has twelve periods, making a total of twenty-four hours, because there are two hours in each period. these twelve periods are what is known as the six periods of the day and of the night.

This method of calculating time originated in India. In China too, they calculated by twelve periods in a day and night. But now most people think in terms of twenty-four hours. A year has twelve months. Some months have thirty days, some have thirty-one, and some have only twenty-nine days. A year has 365 days. “Kalpas” translates as divisions of time. At this time, we’re in the decline of a kalpa. what does it mean to say that the kalpa is decreasing? A kalpa increases until people’s average life span is 84,000 years. Then every one hundred years the life span of people decreases by one year, and their height decreases by one inch. From the peak of the kalpa when the life span was 84,000 years until now, people’s life span has decreased to an average of 50-60 years. when it has decreased to the point where people’s life span is 30-40 years, three disasters will ensue.

Fire will burn the first dhyana, water will flood the second dhyana, and wind will blow the third dyhana, and there will be epidemics. There won’t be any cures for the sicknesses. Even the doctors will die. They’ll visit the sick and end up dying themselves! One knows not how many people will die in this way. Why will there be epidemics? It’s because there will be too many people in the world. If some people didn’t die in that way, then the world would be in an even worse mess. The epidemics won’t be controlled by scientific, philosophical, or medical methods. People will just stand by and wring their hands because there won’t be any way to stop them. Some people will survive the epidemics, however, and life will go on until the average life span is ten years. they will get married after only a few years and have children and die by the time they’re ten years old. At that time people’s minds will be the very worst. The world will be full of weapons and poisons. People will even take blades of grass and kill one another using them like knives. It will be even more violent than present-day wars. Most people will be exterminated. Very few will remain.

But at that point people’s life span will begin to increase. Why will they increase? It’s because people will truly repent. They’ll say, “Oh, in the past we were really wrong and should very quickly repent.” After they have repented then their efficacious light returns and their wisdom increases. They no longer have such massive hatred, greed, and stupidity. Greed is nothing more than sexual desire, and hatred is one’s temper. If one didn’t have hatred in one’s mind, then one wouldn’t have a temper. One does stupid things because of stupidity. One can’t do things clearly. No matter what one does, it’s done in a confused way. This is what is known as being upside down. Being upside down means being crazy. Why does one do crazy things.? It’s because one gets confused and one’s ignorance is too heavy. When things reach that point it’s very dangerous.

The kalpa will increase and every hundred years the life span will increase one year and the height by one inch. It will keep increasing until it reaches 84,000 years. that is what is known as one increase and one decrease and it makes up one kalpa. One thousand of those kalpas makes a small kalpa. Twenty small kalpas make a middle kalpa, and four middle kalpas makes a large kalpa. You can try to figure out how long that is. The text says, “As well as worlds characterized by beginnings and ends, creation and destruction.” within this cycle worlds are created, they dwell, they are destroyed, and then they become empty. These are called the four marks. It takes twenty kalpas for a world to be created. It’s created little by little. Then after a world is created, it dwells. The time of dwelling is good--times prosper. At present our earth is in the stage of dwelling. It hasn’t yet been destroyed. The time of dwelling lasts twenty kalpas; then the world goes bad. the time of destruction also lasts twenty kalpas. After it is destroyed there is a period of twenty kalpas in which it is empty. the cycle of creation, dwelling, destruction, and emptiness continually repeats itself.

People are the same way. we go through birth, dwelling, change, and death. Birth takes the first twenty years. No matter how intelligent you are, you have to go through this period of learning from birth to age twenty. After that there’s a period of doing things, which is called dwelling. You go through this period of doing things for twenty years too. You may make money, or perhaps create a revolution, or become President. However, it’s not easy to become President before you’re forty. Next is change. Just when you’re about to become successful in your life work, just when you’ve got a little going for you, a change set in. The change is leading to your death. You’re in the prime of life, but then the change starts and you get older day by day. Day by day you become more useless. Not only are you useless, after age sixty, the myriad sicknesses attack you. From age forty to sixty is when sickness starts coming and from sixty to eighty is the period of death. No matter who you are, you can’t get out of birth, dwelling, change, and death. The worlds go through creation, dwelling, destruction, and emptiness and people go through birth, dwelling, change, and death.

Years also go through a cycle of seasons-- spring, summer, fall, and winter. Spring lasts for three months and it’s the time of birth. Summer lasts also for three months, and it’s the time of dwelling. Fall lasts for three months, and it’s the time of change, and then winter also lasts for three months and it’s the time of death, or emptiness. Every day, every month, and every year has birth, dwelling, destruction, and emptiness. the verse mentions the beginning and end of all worlds, but as I mentioned earlier, basically there isn’t a beginning or an end. If you take a zero and cut it open there it becomes one. that is the beginning of numbers. By adding zeros to the one, it becomes endless. That’s what is meant by no beginning and no end. “He recollects and completely understands and knows” them all. Within the Buddha’s wisdom, in one thought, all worldly dharmas can be known. This is the power of expedients of the mastery over time and numbers. He has the power of expedients that comes from the wisdom over time and calculations.

Living beings undergo production and extinction, their form or formlessness, their thought or lack of thought-- all names such as these, he completely understands. Every kind of living being has production and extinction. Some have though and some are without thought. those are four kinds of living beings. There are also those born from womb, those born from egg, those born from consciousness, those born from transformation, as well as others. The Buddha knows all the different names of living beings. This is the power of expedients of dwelling in that which is inconceivable. This power of expedients functions when one attains inconceivable wisdom.

The Flower Adornment Sutra, Light Enlightenment, Chapter Nine. A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

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After speaking about the Seventh Treasury of Wisdom, the Bodhisattva Forest of Merit and Virtue again calls out, “ Disciples of the Buddha, what is the Bodhisattva Mahasattvas’ Treasury of Mindfulness? All of you, do you know what the Great Bodhisattva’s Treasury of Mindfulness is? Now I’ll tell you.”

The following ten meanings are being discussed in the Treasury of Mindfulness.

These Bodhisattvas cast aside and separate from all stupidity and delusion, and become replete with mindfulness. They are able to forsake all stupidity and doubt. “Delusion” refers to doubt. They can forsake it and leave it behind. They abandon stupidity and have no doubts and their memory is perfect. They don’t forget anything. They remember the past one life —they remember their last life, from their birth all the way through to their death. They remember everything they did in that one life, from childhood through adulthood on into old age, and finally death. They know whether the merit of good works they did was more or less than the offenses they created. The Bodhisattvas can recollect all of this. Remembering the events of one past life doesn’t count as much, but they also remember everything done in two lives. They also remember what they did and what their names were in the past three lives, up to ten lives. This means that they remember four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine lives, as well as the tenth. They were born and then died. After death they were reborn. They remember the births and deaths and all that happened in between for ten lives past. Not only do they remember for ten lives, but they also remember up to a hundred lives. They remember giving rise to delusion, creating karma, and undergoing retribution. They remember whether or not they cultivated and whether they brought forth the Bodhi heart. With one glance they can understand it all very clearly. Not only do they remember a hundred lives but they are also able to remember all of the activities done in a thousand lives. All of the causes planted and fruits that were harvested within these thousand lives are clear to them. They are able to remember all of the karma they created in their activities and all of the retributions they had to undergo. They also remember all of the cycle of karmic retribution that occurred in up to a hundred thousand lives. The same is true for up to limitless hundreds of thousands of lives. Not only that, but they can remember the coming into being of kalpas. They remember all of the fruits of karma and the retributions undergone during that long an interval of time.

Does everyone know what the coming into being of a kalpa is? One complete increase and one complete decrease make up one kalpa. A thousand kalpas, each consisting of an increase and a decrease, make up one small kalpa. Twenty small kalpas are a middle-sized kalpa. Four middle-sized kalpas are one great kalpa. The four middle-sized kalpas represent the four stages of a great kalpa. There is coming into being for twenty small kalpas, dwelling for twenty small kalpas, decline for twenty small kalpas, and emptiness for twenty small kalpas.

What comprises one increase and one decrease which makes up one kalpa? Every hundred years, people’s lifespan decreases one year and their height decreases by one inch. From the age of 84,000 years, the lifespan gradually decreases down to ten years and then it gradually increases, so that every one hundred years people’s lifespan increases by one year and their height increases by one inch, from the age of ten back up to 84,000 years again. This is what is meant by one increase and one decrease, which constitutes one kalpa.

Moreover, they remember the decay of kalpas, the arising and decay of kalpas—not just the arising of one kalpa, not just the decay of one kalpa, not just the arising and decay of one kalpa—but a hundred kalpas, a thousand kalpas, a hundred thousand million nayutas, up to countless, limitless, boundless, unequalled numbers of kalpas, all undergoing coming into being, dwelling, decaying, and going empty. For this long a time they remember. The Bodhisattvas are able to remember all of this very clearly and they don’t forget it. This is the Treasury of Mindfulness whereby Bodhisattvas can remember all of the events of the past with extreme clarity.

Not only do the Bodhisattvas remember countless, limitless, boundless, and unequalled numbers of kalpas, but they remember incal-culable, inexpressible, inconceivable, immeasurable, ineffable, ineffably ineffable kalpas. “Kalpas” here refers to great kalpas. The Bodhisattvas can remember everything throughout all that long period of time. Some people wonder if there really was a previous life and if there were past lives reaching back ten lives, a hundred lives, a thousand lives, a hundred thousand lives, limitless hundreds of thousands of lives and many great kalpas? If you think that it is improbable we’ll explain it by way of analogy. We’ll reduce it so that one life is comparable to one day. Now then we’re talking about one day, two days, three days, one hundred days, one thousand days, ten thousand days, up to an ineffably ineffable number of days. You couldn’t disagree at length that one wasn’t able to remember yesterday, the day before yesterday, and several days prior to that. So we start from one life and go up to ineffably numerous great kalpas. Bodhisattvas can remember all of the things included within this very long period of time.

The Flower Adornment Sutra, The Ten Inexhaustible Treasuries, Chapter Twenty-Two, VIII The Treasury of Mindfulness, A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

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Right now the average lifespan of a human being is a bit over sixty years. This, of course, it is just an average which does not consider the exceptions: those who live to be a hundred or those who die at the age of one or two. Neither one is an average for most people. When Sakyamuni Buddha was in the world, the average lifespan was seventy to eighty years; now it is sixty to seventy years. At the beginning, a human lifespan is eighty-four thousand years. Every century the human lifespan decreases by one year, and man’s height diminishes by an inch. When the lifespan decreases to ten years, it will turn and again begin to increase until it reaches eighty-four thousand years. The period during which the lifespan diminishes is called a decreasing eon; the period in which it lengthens is called an increasing eon. One cycle of an increasing eon and a decreasing eon is called a kalpa, and one thousand of these constitute a small kalpa. Twenty small kalpas make a medium kalpa, and four medium kalpas constitute one great kalpa. Each of the four medium kalpas consists of the stages of forming, abiding, decaying, and emptiness. Each stage lasts one medium kalpa, which is equivalent to twenty small kalpas.

This world in which we live has its times of forming, abiding, decaying, and emptiness. Every world decays. Places that were dry land several thousands years ago are now submerged and no longer exist. Earthquakes eradicate entire villages, districts, or even countries. This is what is meant by when this world is destroyed, they find themselves in another world. It is not the case that when this world ends one’s karma in the hells is exhausted. Far from it! One simply moves to hells in another world, where the deeds done with the body find retribution. When that world is destroyed according to the stages in sequence, they pass on to another one. When that world, too, is destroyed, they move on to another one. In general, they move out of places that are destroyed and move onto places that are intact. When this world comes into being again, they return here. The situation involving Relentless retribution for offenses is like that. This is what is means by relentless, the retribution for offenses is continuous and never quits.

The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva.  A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua