Kalpas in the Buddhist Religion

Buddhism is a religion with both complex and simplistic aspects. The cosmology, or system of how the world began and how it works, is a complex one that includes the idea that an infinite number of worlds have come into existence and have faded away. Buddhists use the word “kalpa” to designate lengths of time in the existence of worlds and universes.

What is A Kalpa?

Kalpa is a concept used in Buddhist cosmology to indicate a period of time spanning the formation, existence, destruction and final non-existence of a world or universe. It is similar to the concept of an “aeon.” Originally, a kalpa was thought to last about 4 million years. However, Buddhist scholars later expanded the concept. The term is generally used to mean extremely long periods of time during which great changes occur.

How Long Is A Kalpa?

The Buddha was asked how long a kalpa was, and he answered with a metaphor. He said a kalpa was the length of time for a stone, 16 miles on each side, to be worn away if touched with a cloth every 100 years. Another metaphor explains a kalpa as like a large empty cube 16-miles square. If you insert a tiny mustard seed every hundred years, the stone would be filled before the kalpa ends. It appears to mean an immense period of time. The period must serve to encompass all the ages of creation and dissolution of a world system.

Types of Kalpas

The lengths of a kalpa can vary greatly. A short kalpa would be somewhere in the range of 16.8 million years. A medium kalpa would be about 320 billion years. A long, or great, kalpa would be around 1,347 million years. A period of extended time may be expressed in multiples of kalpas. As this shows, the time span of Buddhist cosmological thinking is huge, with an infinite number of worlds that have existed in the past and will exist in the future.

The Current Kalpa

Kalpas are usually mentioned in reference to the appearance of Buddhas, or enlightened beings. In the current kalpa, it is said we are fortunate to have experienced five Buddhas. Kusanda Buddha, Konagamana Buddha, Kasyapsa Buddha and Buddha Shakyamuni. The Buddha of the future is called Maitreya Buddha. He will appear around 80,000 years before the end of the current kalpa.

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