Time gap between being disciple of Buddha Kassapa, life in Tusita Heaven, and birth of Gotama

In my studying of the suttas and the Abhidhammattha Sangaha I have noticed something that I haven’t heard discussed before in books, essays or in the many talks online.

According to MN 81 the Ghaṭīkāra Sutta, Buddha Gotama recounts a past life during the Buddha Kassapa’s lifetime when he was a brahmin student named Jotipāla and his friend a potter named Ghaṭīkāra takes him to meet Buddha Kassapa. Interesting, Jotipāla has to basically be dragged to him. Jotipāla ends up becoming a disciple of Budddha Kassapa.

While the sutta’s main focus is on Ghaṭkāra’s devotion to Buddha Kassapa, the reason the sutta is named after him, it is important to note Gotama’s presence with Buddha Kassapa.

Now once Gotama’s life as Jatipāla ends to my knowledge we don’t know exactly how many lives later(doesn’t matter), but after his life as the human Vessantara, Gotama is reborn in the Tusita heaven (MN 123 Acchariya-abbhūta Sutta). He lives a full life span in the Tusita heaven presumably which is roughly equivalent to 576 million human years. He is then reborn as Gotama, his last birth.

So… we can extrapolate fairly easily, depending on our confidence in these suttas, that there was a minimum of 576 million years between Buddha Kassapa’s life(supposedly 140,000 years long) and Buddha Gotama’s dispensation. And if we take into account the overwhelming scientific evidence that the Cambrian Explosion took place only 541 million years ago, that would mean planet Earth would have only had basic multicellular organisms during the lifetime of Buddha Kassapa. Thus it couldn’t have possibly been on Earth.

The question…

Did Buddha Kassapa live on a different planet? Could it have been in a different solar system?In a different galaxy, even? I don’t know and I personally haven’t seen this mentioned by anyone anywhere.

If that’s so, does that also suggest that MN 81 was possibly told to his Indian audience using Indic culturally relatable circumstances like the caste differences between Ghaṭīkāra and Jotipāla and the location where it happened. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that the civilization in which it happened in didn’t have a very similar culture to Northeastern Indian at the time of Gotama, because I would think that for a civilization to foster a Buddha it would need certain conditions such as a tradition of wondering ascetics and a population that supports them.

I might be far off, but I’ve been pondering on this for about 18 months and would like to hear other people’s thoughts on it.

Of course this has no bearing on practicing the Dhamma and I see it merely as a curiosity. Legends abound.



One thing I’ve always wondered about past lives is the validity of the assumption that past lives are serial, linear and singular. E.g… is there really a true “my fourth life ago”?. When I see a rope woven, I see many strands and threads coming together to form a single rope. Indeed, it’s symmetric. Ropes fray and part into many strands, thence into many threads. When I see the delight of the butterfly, I also see the suffering of the caterpillar-eaten plant. Suffering is just suffering, bound to delight irrevocably. If self now is a delusion, then what about self past–would it not also be a delusion?

Take the genes in our bodies. These are karmic and come from two immediate prior selves–our parents. I am near-sighted genetically and that has changed my interaction with the world. And so on. So the notion of a single prior unique nth life has always struck me as not-quite-accurate.

And if we entertain the hypothesis that past lives can be simultaneous, overlapping and all widely interwoven, then the notion of time sequence and duration in the consideration of Buddha’s past lives becomes oddly flexible and unknowable.


If there are simultaneous, etc… lives (I think the Vajrayāna believe in something like this) than would the Buddha’s parinibbana also encompass these parallel lives presumably tied to the same bhavaṅga though lived through entirely different khandas? It would have to since the bhavaṅga would be utterly destroyed.

This to me seems highly unlikely. If that were the case it would remove the personal responsibility of attaining Nibbana, because maybe a deva tied to my bhavaṅga is already an arahant and when they die “I’d” parinibanna as well, since we have the exact same bhavaṅga. That would render the brahmacariyā(holy life) pointless.

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The Mahāpadānasutta says that the Buddha Kassapa was a brahmin of Benares, way back in the days when the humans of Jambudīpa had a lifespan of 20,000 years. And so…

Who knows? Perhaps Benares is a misspelling of Benetnash.


To : @Lokantara

The book of Dhammapada, chapter 14 verse 182 have said :

Kiccho manussapatilàbho
kiccham maccàna jivitam
Kiccham saddhammasavauam
kiccho buddhànam uppàdo.

Which means : Rare is birth as a human being. Hard is the life of mortals. Hard is the hearing of the Sublime Truth. Rare is the appearance of the Buddhas.

Based on this verse we might conclude that, because it is so difficult for a Buddha to appear, then it is most likely that not many Buddha that have appeared on the present planet Earth, other Buddhas which supposedly preceding the Gotama Buddha, or maybe it is none of them, plus your calculations that the Cambrian Explosion took place only 541 million years ago, that Earth would have only had a basic multicellular organism during the lifetime of Buddha Kassapa ( in that story ).

So we might conclude that, the Buddha Kassapa was lived on a different planet, in a different solar system, or even a different galaxy.

However, there is one Mahayana Sutra that has alluded to the possibility of the existence of other Buddhas on other planets or other solar systems, namely the Lotus Sutra or the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra.

What further strengthens this belief is that scientists have said that, so far more than 3,800 possible habitable planets have been detected by Kepler including many that are like Earth, adding to the possibility that life exists, or having existed on other planets like our own…

Thank you :slight_smile:

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As a geophysicist, I have occasionally also been pondering this question. I think the most likely explanation is that the numbers are highly exaggerated. The recording of time as we do today is a fairly new phenomenon. I can imagine that in the time of the Buddha, people just thought of things as “a very long time”.

There is a Sutta (an5.180), where the Buddha smiles when he recalls that there was a great city in the place where he was standing (in Kosala) and that Kassapa resided there.

There is nothing in the suttas to suggest that the previous Buddhas that are mentioned in the EBTs lived on other planets. In fact, they seemed to have lived in northern-India.

From archeological evidence we know that entire cities can easily disappear under the earth, especially in climates like northern India. There are indications that civilizations might have existed long before we know, although it is difficult to sift through all the garbage on the internet to find out what is true and what is a hoax. Still, I do believe that it is possible that humans lived and had civilizations far earlier than we officially know.

A lot of these finds come from below sea-level on continental shelves. During the ice-ages, the sea-level would have been much lower than it is today. The last ice-age ended some 12000 years ago.

Practically I do not believe that humans could have lived before the Cretacious-Tertiary meteorite-impact. I’ve seen the impact of this cataclysmic event in the sedimentary deposits in Italy and also the destruction of life except for it’s most minute organisms. Only after this event could mammals develop. So that puts a maximum border on human life of 65 million years. But it would have taken life a long time after to develop, unless intelligent life came from outer space.

I find the most reasonable estimate to be that the Buddha Kassapa lived during the last ice-age, between 2.6 million and 12000 years ago.

The dispensation of a Buddha can last long or short (PJ1) depending on whether or not they lay down a set of disciplinary rules. Our Buddha Gotama has done this, and 2500 years thereafter the teachings have not disappeared. However, 10000 years is a very long time and I would not be surprised that in 10000 years from now the teachings have disappeared. A new Buddha can only arise when this is the case and elsewhere in the suttas there is a description of the slow decline of the teachings that precedes it, some signs of which we can already see today.


Wow, I sure hope the wise person that wrote this sticks around SC for while…this is good stuff and I want to know more! :slight_smile:


Venerable @Vimala, may I ask, you say that it is most reasonable to estimate to be that the Buddha Kassapa lived during the last ice age, between 2.6 million and 12,000 years ago, whereas according to MN 123 Acchariya-abbhūta Sutta ( I quote this from the article above ), after his life as the human Vessantara, Gotama is reborn in the Tusita heaven. Later, he is then reborn as Gotama, his last birth. My question would be, in your opinion, how long will it takes about the life span in this Tusita heaven ?, I think, this is becomes important because of the time distance of the supposedly era of Buddha Kassapa’s life must be greater then the life span of human Vessantara in Tusita heaven, before he was reborn as Gotama. Forgive me for asking this, I’m just curious. Thank you… :slight_smile:

When first converting to Buddhism, it didn’t take very long for me to realize that the Buddhist scriptures aren’t meant to be taken 100% literally:

In the Pali canon, the distinction is not made between a lower truth and a higher truth, but rather between two kinds of expressions of the same truth, which must be interpreted differently. Thus a phrase or passage, or a whole sutta, might be classed as neyyattha or samuti or vohāra, but it is not regarded at this stage as expressing or conveying a different level of truth.

Nītattha (Pāli; Sanskrit: nītārtha), “of plain or clear meaning”[9] and neyyattha (Pāli; Sanskrit: neyartha), “[a word or sentence] having a sense that can only be guessed”.[9] These terms were used to identify texts or statements that either did or did not require additional interpretation. A nītattha text required no explanation, while a neyyattha one might mislead some people unless properly explained:[10]

There are these two who misrepresent the Tathagata. Which two? He who represents a Sutta of indirect meaning as a Sutta of direct meaning and he who represents a Sutta of direct meaning as a Sutta of indirect meaning.[11]

Saṃmuti or samuti (Pāli; Sanskrit: saṃvṛti, meaning “common consent, general opinion, convention”,[12] and paramattha (Pāli; Sanskrit: paramārtha), meaning “ultimate”, are used to distinguish conventional or common-sense language, as used in metaphors or for the sake of convenience, from language used to express higher truths directly. The term vohāra (Pāli; Sanskrit: vyavahāra, “common practice, convention, custom” is also used in more or less the same sense as samuti.
Two truths doctrine - Wikipedia

The only Buddha recorded by history is Gautama Buddha. I don’t spend much time worrying about whether there were literal buddhas who came before him.

Even as a Pure Land Buddhist, I regard Amida Buddha as a symbolic expression of the Dharmakaya or Buddha-nature in all things:

For example, Shinran wrote: “Supreme Buddha is formless, and because of being formless is called jinen (naturalness). Buddha, when appearing with form, is not called supreme nirvana. In order to make it known that supreme Buddha is formless (emptiness), the name Amida Buddha is expressly used; so I have been taught.” Shinran and his school understand Amida to be a symbol for the Buddha-nature that all beings are universally endowed with. Because Amida’s light embraces all beings and never abandons anyone, all creatures without exception will be liberated from suffering and ignorance.
Essential and Pure - Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

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Because I personally strongly believe that we are not alone in this vast universe, where there are millions of other planets that may also be inhabited by conscious creatures like humans, so I am very sure that there may be buddhas on another planets which very far from our earth. I think the way we look at the expansiveness of the universe along with all the possibilities that could be happen in it, this is one of my reasons why I see that Buddhism ( again this is my personal opinion ) has a perspective which is unique, modern, and science-anticipating compared to other religious systems…

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From a scientific perspective, on what evidence are we not alone in the universe? While there may be intelligent life on other planets, I’m curious about the possible evidence.

As far as the vast timescales of the Buddhist scriptures, their literalness is sort of undermined by the fact that, according to modern cosmology, the universe is only about 13.8 billion years old:

The Big Bang theory states that it is the point in which all dimensions came into existence, the start of both space and time.[33] Then, the question “What was there before the Universe?” makes no sense; the concept of “before” becomes meaningless when considering a situation without time.[33] This has been put forward by J. Richard Gott III, James E. Gunn, David N. Schramm, and Beatrice Tinsley, who said that asking what occurred before the Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole.[33]
Cosmological argument - Wikipedia

Forgive me, don’t you think that saying there’s no evidence of extraterrestrial life, just because we haven’t seen it yet, is too naive ?

‘’ As far as the vast timescales of the Buddhist scriptures, their literalness is sort of undermined by the fact that, according to modern cosmology, the universe is only about 13.8 billion years old: "

Is that so ?, In fact, scientists themselves seem to be dissatisfied with their own Big Bang theory and begin to look for an alternative explanations which in quotation marks are very similar to the Buddhist vast timescales whicht you mentioned before.

Thank You :slight_smile:

You could say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but what about Buddhism requires intelligent life on other planets to be true?

A collection of one thousand solar systems are called a " thousandfold minor world-system " ( culanika lokhadhatu ). Or small chiliocosm.

A collection of 1,000 times 1,000 world-systems ( one thousand squared ) is a " thousandfold to the second power middling world-system " ( dvisahassi majjhima lokadhatu ). Or medium dichiliocosm.

The largest grouping, which consists of one thousand cubed world-systems, is called the " tisahassi mahasassi lokadhatu ". Or great trichiliocosm.

The Tathagata, if he so wished, could effect his voice throughout a great trichiliocosm. He does so by suffusing the trichiliocosm with his radiance, at which point the inhabitants of those world-system will perceive this light, and then proceeds to extend his voice throughout that realm.

[ Aṅguttara Nikāya 3. Tika Nipāta 8. Anandavaggo". Mettanet - Lanka. Retrieved 7 May 2015. ]

That sounds like a miracle which breaks the laws of physics and, as far as I know, Buddhism doesn’t require literal belief in such miracles.

Yeap…, and you’re 100% correct !, but that’s not the point, the point is… that this quotations implies that Buddhism as a concept does recognizes the existence of other solar systems, and recognizes the possibility of intelligent life existence on other planets, which this point of view is very scientific and far beyond the cosmological concepts of other religions, which might assumes that the Earth is the center of the Universe and there’s no possibility of life anywhere other than on earth. This is the point…

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Even if earth were the only planet with intelligent life, that doesn’t mean earth would be the center of the universe. As far as references to intelligence life on other planets, I won’t take them literally until there’s evidence of such life.

‘Seeing is believing’, I understand that, but for me, personally, better to believe than not believe ( about the existence of the extraterrestrial ), UFO things requires a suficient explanation. Thank you… :slight_smile:

It seems to me an easy trap to fall into when one projects the aspects of the present world to others. Similar to anthropomorphizing, one assumes that in pre-Cretcious-Tertiary meteorite times or on other planets there were humans evolved and formed just like homo sapiens, who had the same religions (Brahmanism), were in the same developmental stages (making pottery), on and on. To me, the parallel universe fits better than this, even though I don’t really understand it nor really care (as the Buddha didn’t).

As mentioned in this thread, there has to be some myth in this subject to be considered. Myths are wonderful! They exist to help tell the story of how the forces outside of us impact and influence us, to see things from a different angle.


Agreed completely. When the Dhamma is there, our duty should be to strive for liberation.

The Sammā Sambuddha Himself has declared in Kiṭāgiri Suttaṃ, (SuttaCentral)

"For a faithful disciple who is practicing to fathom the Teacher’s instructions, this is in line with the teaching: ‘The Buddha is my Teacher, I am his disciple. The Buddha knows, I do not know.’

For a faithful disciple who is practicing to fathom the Teacher’s instructions, the Teacher’s instructions are nourishing and nutritious.

For a faithful disciple who is practicing to fathom the Teacher’s instructions, this is in line with the teaching: ‘Gladly, let only skin, sinews, and bones remain! Let the flesh and blood waste away in my body! I will not relax my energy until I have achieved what is possible by manly strength, energy, and vigor.’

A faithful disciple who is practicing to fathom the Teacher’s instructions can expect one of two results: enlightenment in the present life, or if there’s something left over, non-return.”

Sukhi Hotu!