Talk presented at the Riverside Dharma Centre by Tseten Thokmey on Saturday, May 14, 2016
Before we begin tonight’s topic, I wanted to address an interesting question that was submitted to me through the suggestion box. It reads as follows, with a few minor editorial corrections:
What about the importance of superstitious elements in Buddhist texts and teachings?
As example, the “phenomena” that happened around Buddha’s death? The “body-signs,” that allow [one] to recognize a “holy” person?
The claim about “transcendental realms.” Nobody knows such things for sure.
My standpoint here is: It is better never to forget the scientific rule: Stay at things that every time can be proven.
(And simply to say, “Yet you did not meditate enough” for explaining why a person cannot accept some sayings is a not an acceptable answer.)
Simply to claim a bunch of things that nobody can prove is the typical sign for religion. And I think, in such a case nobody needs Buddhism in the west. There are already enough religions around.
At one side it is maybe a good idea to bring Buddhist ideas to a wider social stratum, with “popular and easy to understand ideas.”
But the negative side is: The core of the teaching is blurred into an almost useless palaver.
At least in Germany there is a saying: Give people a set of philosophical ideas, and they will make a religion from it.
This is a vexed question to be sure. The writer declares that there are superstitious elements in Buddhism and gives examples, but they don’t give a definition. The question includes a number of hidden (or not so hidden) assumptions, including that nobody knows anything about transcendental realms, that we should never forget the scientific rule [sic] that we should “stay at” things that can be proved (which they have already violated in the previous assumption; you can’t prove a negative), that saying that you need to meditate more is “not acceptable” (why not?), and that accepting things that cannot be proved (assuming of course that this is what we are doing) is the sign of a religion and thus automatically bad (there is also no explanation of why religion is bad). There is also the highly doubtful assumption that religion is just a collection of unprovable assertions, neglecting the obvious historical fact that religion emerges directly out of human experience, often involving thousands of people. The question is ultimately ethical, revealed by the use of words like “should,” “better,” and “acceptable.”
The implicit assertion is that some aspects of Buddhism are superstitious because they are not proved, and that this should not be accepted because only things based on reason, science, and evidence should be accepted.
The view implicit in this question is familiar to us. It is the perspective of Western scientific rationalism, also known, somewhat pejoratively, as “scientism.” Only science is true, therefore, only things proved by science should be accepted as true and only such truths have value. Nothing else should be accepted. This is the literal meaning of “superstition,” literally “standing outside reason.” However, if we are going to evaluate this question, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether the axioms and assertions on which the question itself is based are actually true? In other words, is it in fact rational for science to claim that it and it alone is rational, and that the truths that it discovers are the only truths that exist? Moreover, is reason itself self-evidently perfect and complete? In other words, is it true that scientific rationalism is the sole and exclusive standard of truth and value?
I would argue that the fundamental axiom that science alone is true is in fact false. Science may discover facts, but the fact that science discovers facts does not itself prove that science has discovered all facts, or that the facts discovered by science are the only facts, or that the scientific world view derived from these facts is in fact perfect and complete. Facts themselves are notoriously tenuous. To a 19th century Newtonian Einsteinian relativity, quantum physics, and string theory are crazy, as they still are to Randian objectivists for example, yet this difference represents only a century in the whole history of science. If the history of science is any indication – and our writer appears to want us to base our beliefs on experience, not belief – the scientific world view is not static, fixed, or absolute, but constantly changing and evolving. Therefore, how can science be set up as a standard of truth when in another hundred years it will be completely different? One thing is certain – in another million years, science will be unrecognizable to us.
New discoveries by definition are “superstitious,” in that they “stand outside reason,” therefore any view based on the notion that the prevailing scientific ethos is the standard of truth is going to reject and suppress anything that contradicts that world view. Therefore, the moment we take science as the standard of truth we kill science itself and progress ends. Aldous Huxley predicted just such a development in Brave New World.
Moreover, why should we assume that reason is the only arbiter of truth? Truth means the way things are, the nature of the world, the nature of reality itself. Even if we accept that reason and science do discover truths, how does it follow from this fact that only reason and science have this quality. If the premise of the question is true, i.e., that “nobody knows such things,” then neither can we know that they do not exist. Thus, this question contradicts and thus refutes itself at every turn. It sets up the straw man of a perfect standard of truth that neither reason nor science can actually meet. However, there is no such standard. Therefore, the whole question falls apart based on its own premises. Open mindedness rather than disbelief is the correct conclusion.
It is not hard to think of truths that fall outside the purview of science and reason. We all appreciate the truths of great art, music, literature, and philosophy, yet all of these things would be rejected by a strictly scientistic ethic of the sort that our writer is postulating. These are all unproved and unprovable things that are therefore superstitious and have no value according to our writer. Indeed, such an ethic is discovered upon close examination to be authoritarian and anti-humanist if not fascistic. Art, music, literature, and philosophy have also often been inspired by and inspired religion. What sort of society rejects everything metaphysical, suppresses religion, and only tolerates art, music, literature, and philosophy that serves industry, reason, and science? Attempts were made in the past century to create such a world in the USSR and in Maoist China. Are these societies ethical?
The truly rational, scientific mind does not close itself off to unproven possibilities, and fully realizes that science is a human enterprise that only describes a small, although basic, fraction of reality. Reason itself can never comprehend ultimate reality because it is inherently restricted by arbitrary linguistic conventions that are rooted in human biological evolution. Why should we assume that the human brain is even capable of comprehending reality, any more than we assume that a mosquito can appreciate Bach? The fact that we can, apparently, do so is in fact a great mystery and the stuff of mysticism.
So what about superstitious elements in Buddhist texts and teachings? Since superstition “stands outside reason,” a text or a teaching only becomes superstitious when it is not understood. Science itself becomes superstitious when it is not understood, as I have shown. Therefore, there are no texts or teachings in Buddhism that are inherently superstitious. There are only texts and teachings that are not understood. They only become superstitious when used or misused in a certain way. Otherwise, they are just texts and teachings. The question then becomes, how do we understand Buddhist texts and teachings? The first example mentioned apparently refers to the tradition that the Buddha’s pyre could not be lit until Mahakassapa arrived, and that it then burst into flame spontaneously. Ok, let’s look at this story or tradition. We might doubt that this incident occurred historically, but this only makes it superstitious if we understand this story historically. There are those who would argue that only the historical frame of reference is “valid.” Once again, we have an ethical judgement masquerading as an axiomatic assertion. I think that it fails for much the same reason that assertion that science is the only valid standard of truth fails. So how else can we understand this story of the Buddha’s pyre? In fact, this story can be understood symbolically, as an expression of Mahakassapa’s importance to the sangha or even as an expression of the intensely energetic nature of the Buddha’s attainment and the extraordinary significance of the parinibbana. It might even be understood as an exaggeration of something that “actually” happened. I am thinking of a somewhat similar story about the death of Ramakrishna, that after he died his collarbone was actually hot to the touch. Truth may be communicated in many different ways, not only historically. To say that only historical truths have value is itself superstitious. Human language, history, psychology, theology, and art all attest to the extraordinary importance of symbolism and mythology in human communication.
This question further undermines itself because, in setting up science and reason as the sole standards of truth it sets up scientific rationalism as a new religion, even as it rejects religion. Thus, the question refutes itself.
The Buddha does not simply state that a bunch of things are true. Belief in the truth of a bunch of arbitrary things has no particular merit in Buddhism. The Buddha invites us to investigate the truth of the dharma and thus arrive at its truth through questioning and direct experience. Buddhist confidence is not based on faith, it is based on analysis and experience, and only when you have inquired into the dharma deeply and proved it to yourself will you or should you have confidence in it. If you want to find out about the truth of spiritual experience and the transcendental realms, you can find out for yourself. The Buddha doesn’t demand that you “believe” anything, but like all systems of knowledge, there is a degree of trust involved in the beginning. The same is true of science. The language of science is mathematics. How can one “prove” that mathematics – a human construct – is the language of reality? The fact is, one cannot. It is a faith but it works, so it is accepted. However, what this writer is advocating in his “question” is the very opposite of questioning. Rather, it based on a dogmatic belief in science and reason that does not withstand questioning, combined with an uncritical notion of what Buddhism actually is. Certainly, Buddhism can be as uncritical and naïve as the writer implies, but this does not prove that this is what Buddhism actually is or should be, but only how superstitious and religious people can use or misuse it.
So what about the importance of superstitious elements in Buddhist texts and teachings? I say, investigate them until you find their inherent merit and truth. Then they are no longer superstitious, because they have been looked into rationally. Because reason and science both indicate that not everything is subject to observation and experiment or even knowable, it is better to be open-minded about the infinite possibilities of experience and the modes of knowledge itself, including rationality, language, symbolism, and direct experiential realization. I also think that this is the authentically scientific attitude. Interestingly, it is also the attitude that an increasing number of people are taking to the UFO phenomenon, which makes a nice segue to the topic of tonight’s discussion.
In his YouTube video, “Buddhism and Alien Abductions” (April 26, 2015), the nonconformist Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm, who has also stirred the pot on the topic of female ordination in Thailand, broached the topic of the so-called UFO contact experience, declaring that while he has never seen a UFO he has seen garudas and nagas! Garudas are enormous predatory birds with intelligence and social organization. Nagas are snakes or dragons that live in lakes or underground streams and are said to guard treasures. A famous naga even petitioned the Buddha to become a monastic! Several Buddhist saints including Gotama himself have been identified with nagas, which can take human form at will (Brahm’s naga was an impossibly huge snake that he saw in the Asian rainforest). The Buddha himself says that the naga is a symbol of the arhant (MN 23).
No less impeccable an authority than A.K. Warder says that the statement of no less impeccable a Buddhist king than the great Ashoka himself that by the king’s conversion to the dharma the gods are “mixing” with humanity refers to an ancient UFO flap! Of course, Warder does not use this exact terminology but the implication is clear to anyone who is familiar with the UFO phenomenon. Perhaps surprisingly, it is also supported by the Pali suttas! Warder writes,
The most likely reference would appear to be to divine portents seen by men, indicating the presence of gods, such as the light and radiance said to precede an appearance of Brahma. … Perhaps Asoka was watching hopefully for the ‘wheel gem,’ … to appear in the sky, and he may have been encouraged by celestial phenomena, such as the appearance of a comet, a nova, or an exceptional display of meteors, to believe that his change of heart and of imperial policy had begun to make itself felt in the universe. That gods might appear to men was widely believed in India in this period. (Indian Buddhism, p. 239f.)
Nor is this the only UFO account associated with Buddhism. The great Buddhist reformer Nichiren avoided execution due to the appearance of a UFO that appeared in the sky like the full moon. In the 19th century, the great Chinese Zen Buddhist master Xu Yun Da Shi climbed Da Luo Peak, where he witnessed numerous UFOs, which he called “wisdom lamps.” Doubtless other examples could be found.
Human beings have described contact experiences with all sorts of mythological beings throughout history. We know these as faires, elves, pixies, gnomes, and other special terms for demigods and quasi-supernatural beings that appear infrequently and interact with humans in various ways. In ancient times, such experiences seem to have been more prevalent than they are today, but as we shall see this may not be the case. Dr. W.Y. Evans-Wentz made a special study of the “fairy faith” in Ireland, and concluded, based on analyzing numerous credible firsthand accounts, that such experiences are less easily dismissed than many might like to believe and that they exhibit their own internal consistency. Native Americans, East Indians, Asians, and indeed all of the peoples of the world describe similar beings, which are often said to interact with human beings, abducting people and children and leaving physical signs behind. There are even accounts of sexual relationships, both voluntary and involuntary, with such beings!
Interestingly, Buddhism also refers to such beings. In Buddhist vertical cosmology the realm, plane, world, or dimension – I will use these terms more or less interchangeably – next above our own world, and separated from us by the thinnest of veils, is the realm called the Four Great Kings. The Four Great Kings are devas or spiritual beings, described as luminous aerial beings, attributed to the four directions and to the four elements that we know as fire, water, air, and earth – a universal archetype. Thus, the realm of the Four Great Kings is an elemental nature realm. The denizens of this realm resemble the aforementioned fairies, which are also said to be luminous and aerial, including references to deva cities and extensive interactions with humans. The devas are even said to travel in “cars fit for the gods” (DN 32).
In addition to the realm of the Four Great Kings, the Buddhist texts also refer to “earthbound devas” that coexist with people. These are described as socially organized; invisible, although they can make themselves visible if they choose; telepathic and able to influence people and even governments at will; and preferring to live in ancient cities or remote wilderness areas. Earthbound devas are a distinct class of being and should not be confused with either ghosts or hell beings.
Finally, the Buddhist texts refer to the asuras, another class of deva which were expelled from the higher spiritual realms and which inhabit the earth, especially the water or where earth and water meet. These are very advanced and intelligent spiritual beings but their spirituality is oriented toward self-love, power, hedonistic enjoyment, and competition – what we in the West might term “pagan.” They are very ambitious; barbaric despite their spiritual development; and jealous of the higher spiritual beings; many hate people, although the texts also make a point that some asuras honour the Buddha and may even be Buddhists! Although in appearance and behaviour they are similar to the Judaeo-Christian notion of demons, in Buddhism asuras and hell-beings or demons are also distinct classes of being. The Buddhist hells – really, purgatories – and their inhabitants occupy four levels below the human and three below the asuras, below the ghosts and the animals. The asuras are one plane, level, or dimension “below” the human realm, although they interact with human beings as well as the inhabitants of the realm of the Four Great Kings.
Even the inhabitants of the realm of the Thirty-Three Gods, next above the Four Great Kings, interact with human beings from time to time. Asuras are higher than the ghosts and the animals. One of the roles of the inhabitants of the realm of the Four Great Kings, and the Four Great Kings themselves, is to report to the Council of the Thirty-Three Gods on the progress of humanity, in a sort of cosmic hierarchy. This is all Canonical.
Similarly, UFO contactees report encounters with a wide variety of different sorts of beings, some of which resemble the inhabitants of the Four Great Kings (e.g., smallish, gnome-like beings), asuras (e.g., the so-called reptilians), and even Brahmas (divine humanoid type beings). All of these beings seem to be associated with the UFO in a kind of cosmic hierarchy. Thus, UFOs themselves do not appear to represent a singular phenomenon but rather a plurality of mutually interrelated but also distinct phenomena.
All of this may be dismissed as mythology in our age of fasco-corporatism and scientistic nihilism were it not for one singular fact, which has been extensively documented by Jacques Valee in his magnum opus, Passport to Magonia (1969, reprinted 2014), and this is the detailed and extensive similarity of the experiences associated with these beings, including descriptions of the beings themselves, with the modern UFO phenomenon, including the contact experience, as well as clear descriptions of the distinctive traits of the UFO phenomenon in the early Buddhist texts themselves. The latter confirm Vallee’s thesis, of which Passport to Magonia is an elaboration, that the UFO phenomenon, whatever else it is, is an archaic and possibly primordial human phenomenon that has been experienced and described throughout human history and that has psychological and physical aspects that clearly identify the UFO phenomenon as a real, distinct phenomenon that cannot be entirely reduced to conventional causes, including error, hoax, optical illusions, hallucinations, and mental confusion, as is widely claimed by skeptics who have not studied the data deeply or objectively.
Unfortunately, the whole field of UFO studies has become sensationalized and popularized to the point where it is almost impossible to see it clearly. It has become the tool of an incredible variety of agendas, some of which are based on outright lies and deceptions. Even governments have become involved. Because of this confusion, the majority of the population do not take this phenomenon seriously. However, anyone who takes the trouble to study the available information objectively will quickly discover that this is a mistake. One must, however, select one’s resources carefully, since there is so much disinformation, especially on the Internet.
I certainly don’t claim to be an expert in this field or to have exhausted the available resources, but the researchers that I have personally found to be most credible, and on whose research this talk is based, include astronomer and computer scientist Dr. Jacques Vallee; astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek; psychologist Dr. Carl Gustav Jung; Harvard professor and psychiatrist Dr. John Mack; Professor Karla Turner; journalist John Keel; anthropologist Dr. W.Y. Evans-Wentz; and novelist Whitley Strieber. I would also mention string theorist Dr. Michio Kaku in this regard, who has hinted quite broadly that he knows something about this topic. Colin Wilson’s book, Alien Dawn, is a noteworthy popular summary of the evidence based on the research carried out by these individuals. Vallee himself claims to represent an “invisible college” of about a hundred scientists who are privately researching the UFO phenomenon in all of its aspects but do not seek publicity for obvious reasons. To summarize their research in detail goes far beyond the scope of this talk, but you can look up these experts for yourself, including many videos on YouTube and buy their books if you are motivated to do so. The main thing that you will notice about these experts is that, while their conclusions are indeed revolutionary, none of them subscribe to any of the prevailing popular theories about UFOs, including that they are extra-terrestrial in origin.
Vallee in particular has argued that if these things turn out to be extra-terrestrial, he will be disappointed. His own view seems to be that they are intelligent higher-dimensional beings with a long association with humans and the earth, possibly originating beyond the space-time continuum as we understand it. Even if they originated in our universe their civilization is potentially billions of years old, compared to a mere 10,000 years for human civilization. Vallee speculates that they may have learned to master both space and time, in which case the question of their “origin” may be factually meaningless. Since civilization grows exponentially, the qualitative difference between these beings and ourselves is clearly on the order of millions of times. Such a civilization will have harnessed the zero point energy and therefore be trans-galactic, even trans-universal or extra-dimensional in nature and not merely extra-terrestrial.
However, it is not my purpose here to argue about the ultimate nature of the UFO phenomenon, which is clearly very complex, but only to indicate that the phenomenon is real and exhibits real similarities to the Buddhist world view, confirming Vallee’s hypothesis that UFOs have appeared throughout human history. If we accept that UFOs are real, then Buddhism, along with many other religions, appears to be one of the effects of this phenomenon, at least partly, since the Buddha himself is depicted as interacting and communicating with devas or spiritual beings, to which he attributes at least some of his insights, and even appears as a UFO himself! The question that arises, therefore, and is of greatest interest to us is what the Buddhist texts themselves say about this phenomenon, and how this relates to the phenomenon that we experience today. Is there, in fact, a Buddhist theory of the UFO phenomenon?
I would also like to say that I personally did not enter into the study of the Pali Canon with any expectation that I would find any references to the UFO phenomenon. That there are such references came as a complete surprise to me, although I was vaguely aware of similar references in the Mahabharata and the Puranas. UFOlogy was a very peripheral interest of mine many years ago, but I lost interest in it until quite recently, largely because the evidence is so complex and confusing and I did not want to make UFOlogy my main concern. For the record, and in the interests of disclosure, I have seen a UFO. It was a Type IIIc experience in the Vallee classification, a daylight disc in the Hynek classification. I was not contacted or abducted; it occurred in August 1969 in King City, Ontario as best as I can recall, when I was 15 years old. The experience itself was very brief – only about thirty seconds – and is the only such experience of this type that I have ever had, but it showed me that sometimes things appear in the sky that are not easily explained.
UFO references are not incidental to the Pali Canon. One of the most extensive descriptions in the Pali Canon is the Mahasudassana Sutta in the Digha Nikaya. Interestingly, most of the UFO references in the Pali suttas appear in the Digha Nikaya, which according to Buddhist scholar A.K. Warder consists of the oldest and most authentic Buddhist texts. This sutta immediately follows the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, which describes the death of the Buddha. Mahasudassana consists of maha, ‘great,’ plus sudassana, ‘easily seen,’ ‘having a good appearance,’ the proper name of the gods of the plane of the Beautiful Devas, the third Pure Abode of the Rupaloka or world of form. Walshe translates it as “The Great Splendour.” Rhys Davids has “The Great King of Glory.” The language is more than suggestive.
This sutta was spoken in the Mallas’ sal grove at Kusinara, Kosala, shortly before the Buddha’s death in the same place, and is therefore one of the last sermons of the Buddha. The occasion is that Ananda is unhappy that the Buddha is going to die here, “in this miserable little town of wattle and daub, right in the jungle in the back of beyond,” rather than in a great city where the Buddha’s funeral can be arranged by his rich followers in proper style. In response, the Buddha tells Ananda the story of King Mahasudassana, who dominated the region; Kusinara, called at that time Kusavati, was his capital. The Buddha compares Kusavati to the deva city of Alakamanda, thus asserting that devas live in cities and introducing the topic of devas into the discourse.
The king was clearly devout, as he went up to the verandah on the roof of his palace after washing his head on the day of the full moon, with the intention of fasting. It is of course well-known that fasting sensitizes the consciousness to spiritual matters, which is why it is prescribed at such times. At that time a “divine Wheel Treasure appeared to him, thousand spoked, complete with felloe, hub and all appurtences.” A.K. Warder clearly accepts Rhys-Davids’s contention that this refers to the disk of the sun. It is also a classic description of a UFO. The description is striking, and is clearly similar to the well-known vision that befell Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible.
The king realizes that the appearance of such an object – there is no suggestion that the wheel is anything else – is a sign that he will become a World Ruler, and he formulates the intention to become a World Ruler as an Act of Truth. Sprinkling the wheel with water, so it must have been quite small and close, the wheel then moves in the four directions, plunging in and out of the sea, and wherever the wheel goes the king travels with his army and conquers the land without bloodshed, whereupon the king establishes a peaceful dharma empire for himself based on the fundamental legal principles of pansil – do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not lie, do not drink alcohol, plus moderation in eating. Thus, he conquers all of the lands from sea to sea, i.e., the whole Indian subcontinent called Jambudvipa. Finally the wheel returns to Kusavati and hovers above the king’s palace, which also doubles as a court of justice. Thus, the solar wheel treasure (or ‘gem’ in Warder’s translation) became a kind of omen or totem of a righteous World Ruler based on the rule of dharma.
The Sakkapanha Sutta describes another luminous aerial display in which the devas instantaneously transport themselves from the realm of the Thirty-Three Gods to Mount Vediya, where the Buddha is: “Then a tremendous light shone over Mount Vediya, illuminating the village of Amasanda – so great was the power of the devas – so that in the surrounding villages they were saying: ‘Look, Mount Vediya is on fire today – it’s burning! It’s in flames. What is the matter, that Mount Vediya and Ambasanda are lit up like this?’ and then were so terrified that their hair stood on end.”
The suttas also refer to how the devas experience time at a slower rate than human beings, suggestive of Einstein’s time dilation paradox. The devas also occupy space in a peculiar way, in that a vast number of devas can manifest in a very small space. We have already mentioned how the devas prefer wilderness areas, a characteristic shared with UFOs. UFOs also appear to have a telepathic rapport with the people who observe them, like the devas. Brahma appears as an unpredictable luminous aerial display, and the Buddha is described as a flying UFO casting off beams of light!
The great and still unresolved question of course is what are these objects? Vallee suggests that the UFO phenomenon acts like a control system, and that UFOs appear more frequently when the fundamental ideological paradigm of human civilization shifts toward scientific rationalism and materialism. Vallee also associates the appearance of UFOs with apocalyptic images and the end of civilizations. Vallee suggests that UFOs seem to be interested in convincing human beings that higher dimensional beings exist, but do so in such a way that the human social order is not unduly disrupted. That is to say, they seem to have regard for the limitations of human cognition. Since Buddhism is at least in part a result of UFO influence, and is ancient, untainted by modern influences, its explanation is of interest with the caveat that it is well-known that at some UFOs also lie, or combine truth and falsehood in various ways designed to disrupt the same expectations that they create. This suggests that they have a sophisticated agenda insofar as human beings are concerned, which is far from understood.
As I have already mentioned, Jacques Vallee hypothesized that UFOs have a long-standing historical relationship with the earth and with humanity. This alone explains the historical frequency of UFO sightings and contact experiences, their apparent interest in people, their apparent function as a control system, their ability to communicate with us at all, and the quasi-humanoid appearance of their inhabitants. Interestingly, the Aganna Sutta (the Primordial Sutta, DN 27) supports just this view.
Walshe translates the title of this sutta as “On Knowledge of Beginnings.” Rhys Davids has “A Book of Genesis.” Here the Buddha says that periodically at long intervals the world contracts. We know of course that the classical view of modern scientific cosmology is that the universe originates in a singularity, expands, and after a long period gravity forces it to contract back into the original singularity, repeating forever. According to the Buddha, when the world contracts beings are mostly reborn in the Abhassara Brahma world. The name of this world literally means “radiant” or “shining.” This is the seventeenth plane of Buddhist cosmology, the sixth realm from the bottom of the Rupaloka, next above the Brahma realms, and twelve planes above the human realm. It is also associated with the second jhana of “thoughtless bliss.”
So, the Buddha says, “there they dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious – and they stay like that for a very long time. Eventually, after a very long time, this world begins to expand again. At a time of expansion, the beings from the Abhassara Brahma world, having passed away from there, are mostly reborn in this world. Here they dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious – and they stay like that for a very long time.”
This passage clearly indicates the operation of karma. As the universe contracts, suffering increases, and beings degenerate, thus expiating much of their negative karma. As a result, human beings are reborn in the realm of the radiant devas as luminous aerial beings. After a long period, their good karma is exhausted and they are reborn when our universe begins to expand again, still retaining their energetic appearance. Thus, the Big Bang may be regarded as a tunnel or conduit from a higher dimensional world, through which these luminous aerial beings entered into our universe approximately 14 billion years ago. These are the spiritual ancestors of humanity, the original human beings, and therefore also our true nature, “the clear light.” Plato has a precisely similar notion when he describes human beings’ original nature as bisexual flying spheres. The Buddha also specifically states that these beings are neither male or female.
According to the Platonic world view,
in primal times people had double bodies, with faces and limbs turned away from one another. As spherical creatures who wheeled around like clowns doing cartwheels (190a), these original people were very powerful. There were three sexes: the all male, the all female, and the “androgynous,” who was half male, half female. The males were said to have descended from the sun, the females from the earth and the androgynous couples from the moon. These creatures tried to scale the heights of Olympus and planned to set upon the gods (190b-c). Zeus thought about blasting them with thunderbolts, but did not want to deprive himself of their devotions and offerings, so he decided to cripple them by chopping them in half, in effect separating the two bodies. (Wikipedia)
Plato’s description seems to associate humans with the same war in heaven that led to the expulsion of the asuras. The fact that we find this explanation of humanity in Buddhism and in Plato’s Symposium suggests that this is one of those archetypal ideas that characterize the primordial philosophy. Certainly, there are other examples too.
So brilliant were these beings, says that Buddha, that the sun, moon, and stars were invisible. However, this might also allude to the early expansion of the universe, before the stars appeared (about 200 million years after the Big Bang). However, as the universe cooled these beings’ bodies became more and more material, and as it cooled the world evolved. Over vast eons of time, the luminous beings ingested increasingly coarse and more material foods, and as a result, their bodies became more and more physical, finally developing the sexual characteristics of male and female. Out of this came all of the institutions and the vices of human society, including lust, territoriality, lying, stealing, killing, the development of the authoritarian state, social divisions, warfare, etc.
A variant of this story is repeated in sutta 26 of the Digha Nikaya. Clearly, the Buddhist symbol of the precious Wheel Treasure, the first possession of the righteous World Ruler, representing the Power of Truth and the dharma itself, is a UFO!
The Pali suttas also attest to the reality of psychic powers. Although scientism discounts such abilities, perhaps it will not surprise us at this point in the discussion to learn that the psychic powers attested to by Buddhism, including telepathic communication, astronomical visions, communication with devas, time dilation, teleportation, invisibility, the ability to pass through matter, and levitation are all attested to in the UFO literature as well as in the early Pali Buddhist suttas. Credible modern cases suggest that many of these experiences, perhaps most or even all of them, are not merely psychological, but leave physical signs and are therefore at least partly material in nature. Many UFO experiencers, especially contactees, have reported spontaneously developing many of these abilities after their UFO experiences. Clearly, reality is far more multifaceted and complex than the conventional view allows.
According to the oldest Buddhist texts, human beings originated in the Abhassara Brahma world. Literally meaning “radiant,” the Abhassara world corresponds to the second jhana, characterized by the experience of delight and joy. The Abhassara devas are given to exclamations of joy, and their bodies emit flashing rays of light like lightning. The Abhassara devas look very much alike, but have individuality. The Abhassara world transcends the periodic destruction by fire that characterizes the lower worlds at the end of each age. The Abhassara world is, however, subject to periodic destruction by water. The lifespan of these devas is two or eight mahakalpas, perhaps 3 or 10 trillion years according to one estimate.
When the universe is destroyed, beings are reborn in the Abhassara realm and when the universe reappears, beings from the Abhassara realm are the first to be reborn in our universe.
The texts describe the Abhassara devas as luminous aerial objects. According to our hypothesis, they enter into our universe at the “big bang,” which an increasing number of theorists are hypothesizing is a “white hole,” the terminus of a quantum tunnel that leads to a black hole in another universe. The Buddhist texts state that these beings appeared in the universe prior to the appearance of stars and galaxies, which refers to the first 200 million years of our 14 billion year old universe.
Over time, with the gradual cooling of the cosmic inflation (papanca), the Abhassara devas become increasing coarse and material, losing their luminous appearance as the stars and galaxies appear. This is attributed to their increasing infatuation with sensual pleasure. Ultimately, they appear as gendered human beings, who till the soil for food and develop territoriality, private property, the state, and all the vices associated with human beings – lust, greed, violence, warfare, etc.
Clearly, however, not all of the devas have lost all of their deva characteristics, and these coexist with us and interact with human beings, especially spiritually advanced human beings. The Buddhist texts refer to different sorts of such beings, especially the inhabitants of the Thirty-Three Gods, which appear as angelic beings; the inhabitants of the realm of the Four Great Kings, which appear as the nature spirits described by all human societies, and asuras, which are spiritually advanced beings that pursue a spirituality based on pride, arrogance, competitiveness, love of power and violence, etc. Nevertheless, at least some asuras, as well as other devas, are receptive to the dharma and venerate the Buddha and thus may be said to be Buddhists.
Although most devas are generally described as aerial and mobile, some devas are earthbound and live on the earth, mostly invisibly, especially in ancient human cities and remote wilderness areas. Sometimes these devas appear to human beings and even communicate with them. As higher dimensional beings, the human mind is an open book to them. They communicate telepathically and can influence human beings, including governments, on a subconscious level. These include the nagas, reptilian beings that can also take on a human appearance at will. Nagas are regarded as relatively advanced spiritual beings in Buddhism. Many advanced Buddhist practitioners have been claimed to be nagas (perhaps, reborn in human form), including the Buddha himself, and at least one naga sought to be ordained as a monastic (a request that the Buddha rejected, which is why candidates for Buddhist ordination are still asked if they are human).
This description is strikingly similar to the UFO phenomenon, including the manifestation of UFOs as luminous aerial phenomena, their apparent intentionality suggestive of intelligence, their ability to manifest physically and communicate with human beings telepathically, and the physical appearance of their inhabitants, which include similar beings of great nobility and beauty; smaller, gnome-like beings; and reptilian type entities. UFO inhabitants also manifest a great range of behaviours, from helpful and healing to positively malevolent and hostile, corresponding to devas and asuras respectively.
In addition to the foregoing, the Buddhist texts also describe a specific UFO-type manifestation called the Precious Wheel Treasure. The Precious Wheel Treasure symbolizes the power of truth and is associated with dharma. The manifestation of this phenomenon has all the characteristics typical of the UFO phenomenon, including luminosity, unpredictability, apparent intelligence, spiritual messages, and the classic “psychic powers” described in the Buddhist texts, including the ability to replicate and project multiple images of themselves, invisibility, the ability to pass through matter, and levitation or flying behaviour, as well as inducing astronomical visions and powers of healing and time dilation or “lost time.” People who have close encounters with UFOs often report developing at least some psychic abilities themselves, and often experience personal transformative experiences characterized by enhanced creativity, compassion, and spiritual and environmental concerns, as well as clairvoyance, clairaudience, astral travel, physical travel to other realms, and telepathy, also reported in the Buddhist literature.
The coincidences between the UFO phenomenon and similar descriptions in the Buddhist suttas are striking and extensive. It stretches credulity to believe that these similarities are accidental. These similarities further support Jacques Vallee’s hypothesis that the UFO phenomenon is ancient, perhaps even primordial, and has been experienced and described by human beings for thousands and probably tens of thousands of years at least.
 See, e.g., I.B. Horner, trans., The Book of the Discipline (Vinaya-Pitaka), Vol. I (Suttavibhanga), p. lvii. Horner also refers to monastics having sexual intercourse with yakkhinis, paralleling similar UFO reports.