Kalpa (Sanskrit: कल्प, lit. 'a formation or creation'), sometimes spelled calpa in British English, in this context, means "a long period of time (aeon) related to the lifetime of the universe (creation)", where its archaic spelling is kalp, with other forms of kalpam, kalpānāṃ, and kalpe, derived from klip (Sanskrit: कॢप्, romanized: kḷp, lit. 'to create, prepare, form, produce, compose, invent').
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In Hinduism, a kalpa is equal to 4.32 billion years, a "day of Brahma" or one thousand mahayugas, measuring the duration of the world. Each kalpa is divided into 14 manvantara periods, each lasting 71 Yuga Cycles (306,720,000 years). Preceding the first and following each manvantara period is a juncture (sandhya) equal to the length of a Satya Yuga (1,728,000 years). A kalpa is followed by a pralaya (dissolution) of equal length, which together constitute a day and night of Brahma. A month of Brahma contains thirty such days and nights, or 259.2 billion years. According to the Mahabharata, 12 months of Brahma (=360 days) constitute his year, and 100 such years his life called a maha-kalpa (311.04 trillion years or 36,000 kalpa + 36,000 pralaya). Fifty years of Brahma are supposed to have elapsed, and we are now in the Shveta-Varaha Kalpa or the first day of his fifty-first year. At the end of a kalpa, the world is annihilated by fire.
The duration of the material universe is limited. It is manifested in cycles of kalpas. A kalpa is a day of Brahmā, and one day of Brahmā consists of a thousand cycles of four yugas, or ages: Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. ... These four yugas, rotating a thousand times, comprise one day of Brahmā, and the same number comprise one night. Brahmā lives one hundred of such "years" and then dies. These "hundred years" total 311 trillion 40 billion (311,040,000,000,000) earth years. By these calculations the life of Brahmā seems fantastic and interminable, but from the viewpoint of eternity it is as brief as a lightning flash. In the Causal Ocean there are innumerable Brahmās rising and disappearing like bubbles. Brahmā and his creation are all part of the material universe, and therefore they are in constant flux.— Brihat Swasthani Brata Katha
- Śveta (current)
The Vayu Purana, in chapter 21, gives yet another list of 28 kalpas, with five more in the next chapter.
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In the Pali language of early Buddhism, the word kalpa takes the form kappa, and is mentioned in the assumed oldest scripture of Buddhism, the Sutta Nipata. This speaks of "Kappâtita: one who has gone beyond time, an Arahant". This part of the Buddhist manuscripts dates back to the middle part of the last millennium BCE.
Gautama Buddha claimed an incalculable number of Buddhas lived in previous kalpas: Vipassi Buddha 91 kalpas ago, Sikhi Buddha 31 kalpas ago, and three prior Buddhas in the present kalpa. He confines his teachings to the present kalpa, the duration of which he doesn't arithmetically define, but uses a similitude:
Were a man to take a piece of cloth of this most delicate texture [of fine cotton], and therewith to touch in the slightest possible manner, once in a hundred years, a solid rock, free from earth, a yojana [~14 miles] high, and as much broad, the time would come when it would be worn down, by this imperceptible trituration, to the size of a mung or undu seed. This period would be immense in its duration; but it has been declared by Buddha that it would not be equal to a Maha Kalpa.
Described in the Vibhanga division of the Abhidhamma Pitaka are sixteen rupa brahma lokas (worlds or planes) and four higher arupa brahma lokas, each attained through the imperfect, medial or perfect performance of the four states of jhana (meditation), granting a duration of life measured in kalpas that exceed the top-most heavenly loka of 9.216 billion years:
- 1st jhana leads to 3 lowest rupa lokas with respective lifespans of 1/3, 1/2 and 1 kalpa.
- 2nd jhana leads to 3 higher rupa lokas with respective lifespans of 2, 4 and 8 kalpas.
- 3rd jhana leads to 3 more higher rupa lokas with respective lifespans of 16, 32 and 64 kalpas.
- 4th jhana leads to 7 highest rupa lokas with respective lifespans ranging from 500 to 16,000 kalpas, and 4 still higher arupa lokas with respective lifespans of 20,000; 40,000; 60,000 and 84,000 kalpas.
At the termination of each kalpa, the lower three rupa brahma lokas, attained through the 1st jhana, and everything below them (six heavens, Earth, etc.) are destroyed by fire (seven suns), only to later again come into being.
In one explanation, there are four different lengths of kalpas. A regular kalpa is approximately 16 million years long (16,798,000 years), and a small kalpa is 1000 regular kalpas, or about 16.8 billion years. Further, a medium kalpa is roughly 336 billion years, the equivalent of 20 small kalpas. A great kalpa is 4 medium kalpas, or around 1.344 trillion years.
The Buddha did not give the exact length of the maha-kalpa in terms of years. However, he gave several astounding analogies to understand it.
- 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.
In one instance, when some monks wanted to know how many kalpas had elapsed so far, Buddha gave the below analogy:
- 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.
Another definition of Kalpa is the world where Buddhas are born. There are generally 2 types of kalpa, Suñña-Kalpa and Asuñña-kalpa. The Suñña-Kalpa is the world where no Buddha is born. Asuñña-Kalpa is the world where at least one Buddha is born. There are 5 types of Asuñña-Kalpa:
- Sāra-Kalpa - The world where one Buddha is born.
- Maṇḍa-Kalpa - The world where two Buddhas are born.
- Vara-Kalpa - The world where three Buddhas are born.
- Sāramaṇḍa-Kalpa - The world where four Buddhas are born.
- Bhadda-Kalpa - The world where five Buddhas are born.
The Elder Scrolls series
The concept of kalpas was an inspiration for the kalpas of the universe of the Elder Scrolls series of action role-playing open world fantasy video games. In The Elder Scrolls, kalpas represent each life cycle of the mortal realm of Mundus.
City at the End of Time
In City at the End of Time, a science fiction novel by Greg Bear, Kalpa is a fortress city built on Earth by descendants of humans in the last period of the Universe to protect themselves from the Chaos that is devouring it.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the kalpas are represented by five large and increasingly tedious optional dungeons, which are designed to test the player. Each kalpa is designed to appear deeper, darker, and more neglected than the previous, signifying the large expanse of time a kalpa truly represents. Nocturne contains many Buddhist and Hindu themes, although they are mostly left to interpretation as the game does little in the way of direct explanation of its themes.
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The cycle [of creation and destruction] is either called a yuga (MBh. 1.1.28; 12.327.89; 13.135.11), a kalpa, meaning a formation or a creation (MBh. 6.31.7 [= BhG. 9.7]; 12.326.70; 12.327.23), or a day of the brahman, or of Brahmā, the creator god (MBh. 12.224.28–31). Sometimes, it is simply referred to as the process of creation and destruction (saṃhāravikṣepa; MBh. 12.271.30, 40, 43, 47–49).
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- Paarthurnax's dialogue in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim