The Buddhist abhidharma (special topics of knowledge) and Kalachakra (cycles of time) literatures provide two distinct presentations of cosmology, each for a different purpose. Study of the abhidharma one is undertaken primarily for developing discriminating awareness (shes-rab, Skt. prajna) by working with set theory applied to complex system analysis. The Kalachakra presentation is designed to model the structure of the human body and is primarily for application in advanced tantric meditation to overcome karma. Each presentation is valid in the context of its own purpose and neither was formulated for the sake of navigation.
The abhidharma explanation given here is based on an extensive one-year course taught by Geshe Sonam Rinchen (dGe-bshes bSod-nams Rin-chen) on Treasure-house of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa'i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakosha) by Vasubandhu (dByigs-gnyen). Geshe-la elucidated the text in accord with Vasubandhu’s Autocommentary on “Treasure-house of Special Topics of Knowledge” (Chos mngon-pa'i mdzod-kyi rang-‘grel, Skt. Abhidharmakoshabhashya) and the First Dalai Lama’s (rGyal-wa dGe-‘dun rgya-mtso) Commentary on the Hallowed “Treasure-house of Special Topics of Knowledge”: Illuminating the Path to Liberation (Dam-pa’i chos mngon-pa’i mdzod kyi rnam-par bshad-pa thar-lam gsal-byed).
The Kalachakra presentation is based on Adornment for “The Stainless Light” (Dri-med ‘od-kyi rgyan) by Kedrub Norzang Gyatso (mKhas-grub Nor-bzang rgya-mtsho), Presentation of the Generation Stage of Glorious Kalachakra: The Oral Tradition of Manjushri (dPal dus-kyi 'khor-lo'i bskyed-rim-gyi rnam-bzhag 'jam-dpal zhal-lung) by Detri Rinpoche (sDe-khri 'Jam-dbyangs thub-bstan nyi-ma), and Heart-Essence (Teachings) of the Holders of the Caste (Rigs-ldan snying-thig) by Kyenrab-norbu (mKhyen-rab nor-bu).
Notes and addenda to clarify the explanations are provided within square brackets.
Description of the Universe
A world system has a square Core Mountain (Mount Meru) surrounded by seven concentric rings of fresh water seas and lesser golden mountains. Beyond the seventh ring of mountains lie four oceans, one in each cardinal direction, with an island-world (continent) in the middle of each ocean. These oceans constitute the eighth sea. Beyond each continent lie two smaller isles (subcontinents), with the entire configuration surrounded by an outer eighth ring of black iron mountains.
The seas and lands of each world system rest on a cyclindrical base of solid gold. This is on top of a cylindrical, water (liquid) base which, in turn, is on a cylindrical base of wind (gas). [Compare this with the scheme of gas giants and rocky planets with molten cores.] A thousand such world systems equal a galaxy; a thousand galaxies equal a cluster; and a thousand clusters equal a supercluster. Therefore, a thousand, million, billion world systems equal 1000 to the 3rd power. According to an alternative explanation, all the world systems of a supercluster share common gold, water and wind bases. Countless superclusters are going through their own cycle of evolving, enduring, disintegrating, and being bare, though not synchronously with each other.
The cylindrical wind base is 1,600,000 yojana deep and a zillion in diameter. [One yojana or “ ancient mile” equals 4.5 modern miles. The number “zillion,” literally “countless,” is the highest number in the traditional Indian number scheme, and is equivalent to 10 to the 60th power.] There is one wind base in common for a whole supercluster. For each world system there is one cylindrical water base which is 800,000 yojanas deep and one gold base which is 320,000 yojanas deep, on top of each other and on top of wind, both with the same diameter 1,203,450 yojanas. The seas and oceans are all 80,000 yojanas deep.
Mount Meru is 160,000 yojanas high with 80,000 yojanas below the water and 80,000 yojanas above. Mount Meru’s cross-section is square with each side being 80,000 yojanas in length. Thus, the portion of Mount Meru above water looks like a cube. Mount Meru is made of precious gems: in the East, it is made of silver and white in color; in the South, beryl and blue in color; in the West, red crystal and hence red in color; and in the North, gold and yellow in color. These colors are reflected in the sky and in the waters of the directions. Therefore, as we live in southern direction, we experience the sky and waters as blue.
As for the eight rings of mountains on the gold base, the seven closest to Mount Meru are actual mountains, while the eighth is an iron fence encircling the perimeter of the entire gold base. The mountains are called Having Yoke (Shaped Peaks), Having Plow (Shaped Peaks), Having Acacia Catechu (Forested Peaks), Having Beautiful to Behold (Peaks), Having Horse-ear (Shaped Peaks), Having (Peaks) Bent in Respect, and Having Wheel-rim (Shaped Peaks). The height of each ring of mountains above water is the same as its width and each ring of mountains is half the size of the next. The first ring is 40,000 yojanas, the second 20,000 yojanas and so on, with the eighth being 312.5 yojanas.
The seven fresh water inland seas are named after the qualities of their waters: Cool, Delicious, Light, Soft, Clear, Oderless, and Not Harmful to the Stomach or Throat When Drunk.The width of the seven is progressively half of each other, with 80,000 yojanas between Mount Meru and the first sea, 40,000 yojanas between the first and the second and so on. Between the sixth and the seventh it is 1,250 yojanas and between the seventh sea and the black, iron fence mountain are 322,000 yojanas of the eighth sea, namely the four salt water oceans, in which the four island worlds and eight smaller isles are situated.
In the East is the Island of Giants, with a jewel mountain as its treasure. Adjacent to it are the Isle of Gigantic People and the Isle of Giants. In the South is the Rose-Apple Island (Skt. Jambudvipa), with a wish-granting tree as its treasure. This is where we live. Adjacent to it are the Isle of Yaktail Fans with pygmy cannibals and the Isle of Other Yaktail Fans. In the West is the Island of Wealth from Cows, with wish-granting cows as its treasure. Adjacent to it are the Isles of Pretence and of Supreme Paths to Travel. In the North is the Island of the Voice of Doom, with a harvest of crops needing no cultivation as its treasure. Adjacent to it are the Isles of Voice of Doom and Companion Voice of Doom.
The Islands of Giants in the East are in the shape of a trapezoid, with each side curved and convex like a half-moon, with three sides 2000 yojanas in length and the one closest to the outer ring of the iron mountain 350 yojanas. The Rose-Apple Island in the south is shaped like an equilateral triangle, 2000 yojanas on each side, with one point facing toward the iron ring and this point is truncated and 3.5 yojanas. The Isles of Wealth from Cows in the West are round, 2500 yojanas in diameter. The Isles of Voice of Doom in the North are square, 2000 yojanas to a side. The isles are the same shapes, but smaller and to right and left of the side toward the iron fence.
Each world system has a cylindrical wind mandala [not a common one for a supercluster of world systems as in abhidharma] and fire, water and earth mandalas.[Abhidharma has no fire mandala and has a gold base instead of an earth one.] Each mandala is 50,000 yojanas deep, one atop another, with the wind mandala being 400,000 yojanas in diameter, fire 300,000 yojanas, water 200,000 yojanas and the earth 100,000 yojanas. Thus each mandala is 50,000 yojanas from its outer to its inner circumference, as with a layered wedding cake. In the middle of the earth mandala, there is a round [not square as in abhidharma] Mount Meru, 100,000 yojanas high, the bottom is 16,000 yojanas in diameter and its top is 50,000 yojanas. On top of Mount Meru there is another portion, which is only a mental form, and which is another 100,000 yojanas high, like a head on top of the body of Mount Meru. Of this “head,” the neck is 25,000 yojanas, the face is 50,000 yojanas and the crown protrusion is 25,000 yojanas high.
Around Mount Meru there is a ring-shaped border rim area 1000 yojanas across. There are six rings [not seven as in abhidharma] of alternating continents, seas and mountains. [Abhidharma has rings of only seas and mountains, no continents.] The space between the outermost mountain ring and the border rim of Mount Meru is 16,000 yojanas [16+1+8+8+1+16 = 50] and then this is divided into eighteen equal portions of 888.88 yojanas for each ring. All of the mountains are equal in height and all of the continents, seas and mountains are equal in width [not progressively smaller as in abhidharma]. The continents from the inside going outward are the Moon, White Light, Clean, Something or Other Somewhat Human, Crane, and Forceful. The seas are Honey, Butter, Yoghurt, Milk, Water, and Beer. The mountains are the Blue Light, Massive, Steady, Jewel Light, Reservoir, and Cool Mountain. Mount Meru is black in the east, blue in the south, white in the north and yellow in the west. Therefore the colors as well differ from the colors in the abhidharma world system. [It is as if the colors of the abhidharma system were shifted one position to the left, for example the southern blue color in abhidharma becomes the eastern black color in Kalachakra.
Note also that the measurements are different: In abhidharma, twenty-four fingerwidths (sor) equal one cubit (khru), four cubits equal one armspan (gzhu-‘dom), five hundred armspans equal one ancient furlong (rgyang-grags), and eight furlongs equal one ancient mile (dpag-tshad, Skt. yojana). In Kalachakra, two thousand armspans equal one furlong, and four furlongs equal one ancient mile. Thus, a Kalachakra mile is twice the length of the abhidharma mile and is thus about nine modern miles. Also, in mandala measurements, in the non-Kalachakra systems, four cubits equal one doorwidth (sgo-tshad), whereas in Kalachakra six cubits equal one doorwidth.]
Mount Meru has five curtains or veils hanging down from along its side [either straight down according to Kedrub Norzang Gyatso or like inverted brass plates according to the Kalachakra astrology master Kyenrab-norbu – that is, they first go horizontally out toward the circumference and then hang vertically down]. The outermost curtain hits the top of the outside of the Cool Mountain and thus encloses all of the continents, lakes and mountains within.
Outside of this is the seventh continent, the Great Rose-Apple Island (Skt. Jambudvipa). It is ring-shaped, 25,000 yojanas across the thickness of the ring[25 of the ring + 50 inbetween + 25 of the ring = 100 yojanas of the earth mandala]. It is divided into twelve parts, with each part touching the next part and not separated by oceans. These are called the Southern, Eastern, Western and Northern Continents and each of these has an Eastern, Central and Western part. The central one of each direction is marked by a shape, but not actually in that shape. The East is round like a full moon 7000 yojanas wide. The South is marked by a triangle 8000 yojanas wide. The North is marked by a half-moon 9000 yojanas and the West is a square 10,000 yojanas. [In abhidharma, the Eastern Island-World is shaped like a trapezoid, the Southern like a triangle, the Northern like a square, and the Western is round.] As in the abhidharma, these are also sometimes called the Island of Giants in the East, the Rose-Apple Island in the South, the Wealth from Cows Island in the West and the Voice of Doom Island in the North. Thus, Kalachakra has two Rose-Apple Continents.
The 25,000 yojanas wide ring of the Great Rose-Apple Island is divided in half, with a northern and a southern part, the northern part being the half that is closest to Mount Meru. The northern half is 12,500 yojanas wide and is divided into six parts, going from north to south: Himavan, Kailash or Shambala, Chin, Li, Bhotia and India. This is the same in all twelve divisions of the Great Rose-Apple Island and all are called by the same names. [Note that Himavan (Gangs-can; Having Snow) is a commonly used name for Tibet, Chin for the Dolpo region of northwestern Nepal, Li for the Kathmandu Valley, and Bhotia for the Terai region of southern Nepal. Although some scholars identify Chin with China, Li with Khotan and Bhotia with Tibet, this makes little geographical sense.]
The dividing line between the northern and southern halves of the Great Rose-Apple Island is where, at the Smaller Rose-Apple, the sun in Cancer is directly overhead, marking the summer solstice. [This corresponds to the Tropic of Cancer where Ujjain, the center of ancient Hindu astrology is located.]
Beyond the Great Rose-Apple Island, which is at the end of the earth mandala, the 50,000 yojanas of the water mandala is the Salty Ocean. The seventh mountain is the Fire Mountain, Vajra Mountain or Volcano and this is at the border of the water and fire mandalas.
In Kalachakra, three thousand worlds are not 1000 to the 3rd power as in abhidharma. Rather, the “ world sphere of a thousand” means that, taking the above world as the center, in each of the ten directions there are one thousand such worlds. In the intermediate sphere of two thousand, take one of these world-spheres of the thousand and on each of its ten sides, it has two thousand of the same. The world sphere of the three thousand is one of these and on each of its ten sides there are three thousand such world-systems. The world sphere of the great thousands is one of these and there is a zillion (= 10 to the 60th power) world-systems on each of its ten sides. In Kalachakra, however, the main emphasis is on just one world-sphere, since it is analogous to the human body. However, just as there are countless limited beings (sentient beings), analogously there are countless world spheres.
Description of the Limited Beings in a Universe
There are eight hot and eight cold joyless realms (hells), with each of hot realms having four neighbouring joyless realms on each of its four sides. The hot joyless realms are located below Bodh Gaya, India, while the cold joyless realms are located below Tibet. As the island worlds are 80,000 yojanas deep on top of the gold base, both the hot and cold joyless realms start 20,000 yojanas above the gold base, have 4000 yojanas between them and the highest is 32,000 yojanas beneath the ground. Each realm is a square, 20,000 yojanas on each side. Thus, the joyless realms extend way out beyond the Rose-apple Island (the Southern Continent), since the Rose-apple Island is in the shape of a truncated triangle 2000 yojanas on each side.
The clutching ghosts (hungry ghosts) are 500 yojanas below Vaishali, India, on the Rose-apple Island, but they also wander on the surface.
Creeping creatures (animals) are found on the land, in the sea, in the sky and even some in divine realms (for instance, the mounts of the gods).
Humanoids live on all four island worlds. Their faces are the shapes of their island worlds, that is, on the Rose-Apple Island the shape is that of an equilateral triangle, truncated on the bottom. Humanoids of the South, East, West and North are progressively twice the size of each other. Thus, on the Northern Island, the humanoids are sixteen times our size. Those on adjacent isles are half the size. The Rose-Apple Island is a land of action where one can experience the results of actions taken in one life. Therefore, there are differences among the humanoids and thus there is incentive to work. The other three are lands of luxury where the humanoids live in ease and comfort as the result of past life actions. What is done in this life makes no difference in this life; it only brings effects in the future. Therefore, there is no incentive to work or improve oneself.
The would-be divine (Skt. asura, anti-gods) are on the slopes of Mount Meru and beneath the sea surrounding it.
The divine beings (Skt. deva, gods) live in the various divine realms (heavens). There are six divine realms on the plane of sensory desires (desire realm). The lowest are the guardians of the four directions, and they are on the slopes of Mount Meru. The slopes of Mount Meru have four inhabited bands. The first band is 16,000 yojanas high, the second is 8,000 yojanas, the third is 4,000 yojanas, and the fourth is 2,000 yojanas high. There are 10,000 yojanas altogether that are empty, which means a 2500 yojana empty portion between each of the four inhabited bands. Thus, the fourth band reaches a height of 40,000 yojanas, which is half way up the 80,000 yojanas portion of Mount Meru that is above water. On the lower three bands are the gods of wealth (Skt.yaksha). The guardians of the four directions are on the fourth band, but they also live on the seven mountains and the four islands.
The second divine realm on the plane of sensory desires is the Divine Realm of the Thirty-three Gods (the Heaven of the Thirty-three) and this is on top of Mount Meru. This is where most of the gods of the Hindu pantheon reside. The next four divine realms on this plane are above Mount Meru. The distance between realms is the same above and below. The first is 40,000 yojanas above the surface of the Southern Island (that is, halfway up Mount Meru). Thus, the second (the Divine Realm of the Thirty-three Gods) is 40,000 yojanas above that or 80,000 yojanas, that is, 80,000 yojanas above the Southern Island. The next is 80,000 yojanas above that or 160,000 yojanas.
The measurements continue like that for the divine realms on the plane of ethereal forms (form realm) as well. They are divided into four levels of mental stability (Skt. dhyana). The first, second and third levels have three divine realms each, while the fourth has three ordinary and five pure abodes, which equals seventeen. Then, on the plane of formless beings (formless realm), there are four divine realms and these have no physical location. Thus, in total, there are twenty-seven divine realms.
Divine beings increase in size as one goes up Mount Meru. The four guardians are one-quarter of a furlong tall, that is, 125 armspans. The size of the deities increases by a quarter of a furlong for each of the divine being realms on the plane of sensory desires. The would-be-divine beings are the size of the divine beings of the Divine Realm of the Thirty-three Gods, that is, half a furlong (250 armspans). The size of the divine beings of the first Brahma Realm, which is the first of the seventeen divine realms on the plane of ethereal forms, is half a yojana. For the first four divine realms on the plane of ethereal forms above this, the size increases by a half yojana each, until it reaches two yojana. Then, above this, the size doubles, so in Akanistha, the highest of the seventeen, the height is 16,000 miles. [Note that the bodies of the divine beings of the first division of the fourth level of mental stability are rounded off in the texts from 128 yojanas to 125.]
The plane of formless beings has no location, since it is without any physical form.
There are thirty-one states of existence, divided into eleven, sixteen and four realms on the three planes of samsaric existence respectively. The eleven on the plane of sensory desires are the joyless realms, clutching ghosts, creeping creatures, human, would-be-divine, and the six divine beings. There are eight or seven joyless realms, depending on the Kalachakra text one consults. The wind mandala of 50,000 yojanas in depth is divided into two parts of 25,000 yojanas in depth each. The outer part of the bottom half is the Vajra Flame joyless realm [Kyenrab-norbu omits this; whereas Kedrub Norzang-Gyatso includes it]and the inner part is Great Wailing. The top half is Great Darkness. The fire mandala as well is divided into two; the bottom half is the Fire Joyless Realm and the top half is Hideous Smoke. Thus, there are five hot joyless realms. The water mandala is divided into two; the bottom half is Swamp Water Joyless Realm and top half is Sand Water Joyless Realm. These are the two cold joyless realms. The earth mandala is divided into two; the bottom half is the Thorn Joyless Realm (analogous to the adjacent joyless realms of abhidharma). The top half is the abode of the would-be-divines and nagas. Thus, all together there are eight joyless realms.
Humans, creeping creatures and the clutching ghosts live on the continents. The Greater Rose-Apple Island with all twelve divisions is the land of actions, while the six inner continents are the lands of luxury.
As for the divine beings on the plane of sensory desires, the guardians of the four directions are on the rim of Mount Meru, while the Divine Realm of the Thirty-three Gods is on top of its main body of 100,000 yojanas high. Then the next four divine realms on this plane are on the bottom third of the neck of Mount Meru with the neck being 25,000 yojanas, divided by three and that divided by four makes 2083.33 yojanas each.
The plane of ethereal forms has sixteen divine realms, not seventeen as in abhidharma. They are not divided as in abhidharma into the four states of mental constancy, wth each state having three, three, three, and eight divine realms respectively. However, they have the same names as in abhidharma. The first four are on the upper two-thirds of Mount Meru’s neck. These four are called the white share (or eon) or the four earth places. Then, the 50,000 yojanas of the face are divided into three: the chin, nose and forehead. The chin portion is divided into four and these are the all-around perfect share or four water places. The nose portion is divided into four and these are the beyond-Brahma share or four fire places. The forehead is divided into four and these are the Brahma share or four wind places.
As for the plane of formless beings, the 25,000 yojanas of Mount Meru’s crown protrusion is divided into four, which are the excellent Dharma share or four space places. The word “share” or “eon” in the names of each of these divine realms refers to the length of the lifespans there. Here, the formless divine beings have not only subtlest consciousness and subtlest energy-wind as in the Guhyasamaja system, but also have a subtlest seminal drop (khu-ba phra-mo). This refers to a drop of the space elemental source (nam-mkha’i khams) with the quality of sound. [That quality of sound is perhaps what is referred to elsewhere in the Kalachakra literature as subtlest speech.]
In this space source of the subtlest seminal drop, the particles of the other four elemental sources (wind, fire, water and earth) are not prominent, but are present in an ordinary, non-prominent way. In other words, it contains a trace of them. This is because, Kedrub Norzang-gyatso argues, from only one quality, sound, one could not derive the propensities for all of the others. Thus, because the formless divine beings have a subtlest seminal drop, they have a physical abode.
The Analogy of the Measurements in Kalachakra to the Human Body
From the bottom of the wind mandala to the peak of Mount Meru is 400,000 yojanas [(50x4)+100+25+50+25]. This parallels the measurement from the bottom of the feet to the top of the head being four cubits. From one end of the wind mandala to the other is 400,000 yojanas and this parallels the measurement from the tip of one outstretched arm to the tip of the other being four cubits.
From the bottom of the wind mandala to the base of Mount Meru is 200,000 yojanas, which parallels from the bottom of the feet to the hip being two cubits. This portion is divided into eight sections of 25,000 yojanas each, which parallels the feet to the hips being divided into eight sections, [although here each section is not a quarter of a cubit. Instead, the thigh and calf of each leg are each one cubit, divided into the foot, the actual calf, the actual thigh and the hip, with each of these being half a cubit. The two legs make eight sections in all, though each is a half a cubit.]
Mount Meru being 100,000 yojanas parallels from the hip joint to below the neck, in other words the spine being one cubit. The neck of Mount Meru being 25,000 yojanas parallels the neck of the human body being a quarter of a cubit. The mountain face being 50,000 yojanas parallels the human face being a half a cubit. The mountain forehead being 25,000 yojanas parallels the human forehead being a quarter of a cubit.
From the center of Mount Meru to the end of the earth mandala being 50,000 yojanas parallels from mid-chest to the shoulder joint being half a cubit. [Note that a cubit is the measurement from the fingertip to the elbow, from the elbow to mid-chest. Thus, from the outstretched fingertip to the wrist is half a cubit, from the wrist to the elbow is half a cubit, from the elbow to the shoulder joint is half a cubit, and from the shoulder joint to the mid-chest is half a cubit.] The top part of the water that shows [recall that all element mandalas have their bases at the same level, with only part of them showing above the mandala immediately below it] being 50,000 yojanas parallels from the elbow to the shoulder being half a cubit. The top part of the fire mandala that shows being 50,000 yojanas parallels from the wrist to the elbow being half a cubit. The top part of the wind mandala that shows being 50,000 yojanas parallels from the fingertip to the wrist being half a cubit. The three sections like this of the right arm parallels the three continents of the East, the left arm parallels the three of the South, the right leg parallels the three of the North and the left leg parallels to the three of the West. [The three refer to from the fingertip to the wrist, the wrist to elbow and the elbow to shoulder joint.]
Also, just as the wind mandala is 400,000 yojanas, the water 200,000 yojanas and the earth 100,000 yojanas, so too, the distance from the center of the body to the fingertips is four half-cubits. Half of that measurement is the distance from the navel to the throat and half of this measurement is the distance from one nipple to the other nipple. [This correlates to the body, speech and mind mandala palaces being from their centers to their walls equal to four, two and one doorspans, respectively.] Or the body correlation of the 400,000 yojanas is from the pubic bone to the crown and half of that measurement is from the navel to the throat. Finally half of that measurement is the distance from halfway between the heart and the navel to halfway between the heart and the throat.
If one takes thirty days as one month and twelve months as one year, then the lowest of the six classes of divine beings on the plane of sensory desires lives five hundred years comprised of fifty year-long days (nine million human years). The second level lives one thousand years comprised of one hundred year-long days. The lifespan increases like this by a factor of four for each of the six classes.
The first of the seventeen classes of divine beings on the plane of ethereal forms lives for half an intermediate eon comprised of half an intermediate eon-long days. Here, an intermediate eon actually means half a great eon, that is, forty intermediate eons and half of that is twenty intermediate eons. An intermediate eon is the time required for the human lifespan to go from ten to 80,000 years and back to ten changing at a rate of one year a century (or sixteen millions years). Therefore, the first of the seventeen classes of divine beings lives twenty intermediate eons comprised of twenty intermediate eon-long days, and the next three classes’ lifespans increase by twenty intermediate eons each, such that the fourth class lives eighty intermediate or one great eon comprised of one great eon-long days. From the fifth to the seventeenth class of ethereal form divine beings, this doubles, so that the seventeenth’s lifespan is 8192 great eons comprised of 8192 great eon-long days. For the divine beings in the formless dimension, the lifespan is 20,000 great eons comprised of 20,000 great eon-long days, then 40,000, 60,000 and 80,000.
The hot joyless realm lifespans are given in terms of divine lifespans. The first hot joyless realm lifespan is five hundred years comprised of days equal to the lifespan of the first divine realm, that is, nine million year-long days. The second realm lifespan is one thousand years comprised of days equal to the lifespan of the second divine realm. Like this, the lifespans increase by a factor of eight up to the sixth hot joyless realm. The seventh hot joyless realm lifespan is twenty intermediate eons comprised of days equal to the lifespan of the first divine realms of the plane of ethereal forms, and the eighth is forty intermediate eons comprised of days equal to the lifespan of the second divine realms of the plane of ethereal forms (or 3.4 x 10 to the 31st power years).
For the cold joyless realms, if there is a bin of eighty sacks or pecks of sesame seeds and one takes out one sesame seed every hundred years, the time it takes to empty the bin is equal to the lifespan of the first of the cold joyless realms. [One peck equals twenty pints; one pint equals six handfuls. If there are 15,000 seeds to a handful, then this is 1.4 x 10 to the 10th power years.] The lifespans in the rest of the eight cold joyless realms increase by a factor of twenty for each realm.
As for the four humanoid species, the lifespan is one thousand years on the Northern Island. This lifespan is definite; members of the three other humanoid species can die untimely deaths. The lifespan in the West is five hundred years, two hundred and fifty years in the East, and one hundred years but variable in the South. Creeping creatures’ lifespans are variable. Clutching ghosts live five hundred years of month-long days (or fifteen thousand years).
For the first joyless realm (Thorn) and for the nagas within the earth mandala, the lifespan is one small eon. For the second and third joyless realms inside the water mandala, it is one medium eon. For the fourth and the fifth joyless realms inside the fire mandala, it is one supreme eon. For the sixth and the seventh joyless realms inside the wind mandala, it is one great eon. For the Vajra Flame Joyless Realm, the lifespan is until the world sphere gathers in. For divine beings, the lifespans of the six classes of the plane of sensory desires is one, two, three, four, five, and six small eons respectively. For the sixteen classes of divine beings in the plane of ethereal forms, the lifespan is from one to sixteen eons, out of which, according to Kedrub Norzang-Gyatso, for the lower eight, these are medium eons and for the top four, as pure places, these are supreme eons. For the four classes in the plane of formless beings, the lifespan is one to four great eons respectively.
As for the length of time of these eons, if there is a cube-shaped pit, one yojana on each side (or nine modern miles on each side) filled with hairs and one takes out one hair every hundred years, when the pit is emptied, this is one day of a small eon. One hundred years of these days is one small eon. Thus, one small eon equals 1.1 x 10 to the 36th power years. Medium, supreme, and great eons are the square of this number. [Note that the lifespan in the lowest joyless realm, Avichi, in abhidharma is 3.4 x 10 to the 31st power years, so here in Kalachakra the lifespans are much longer.]
There are two traditions of what “square” means in this context. The Shong (Shong-‘gyur) and Jonang (Jo-nang ‘gyur) translation lines take it literally as square. Thus, if one small eon is one hundred years of those days, then one intermediate eon is one hundred times one hundred or ten thousand (10 to the 4th power), a supreme eon is equal to 10 to the 8th power, and a great eon would equal 10 to the 16th power small eon years. According to the Rva Lotsawa translation line (Rva-‘gyur) followed by Kaydrupjey, if one takes one hair out every hundred years of a small eon – that is, one hair every one small eon – then the time it takes for the bin to be emptied is one day of an intermediate eon. An intermediate eon lasts a hundred years of those days. If one takes out one hair every hundred years of an intermediate eon, the time it takes for the bin to be emptied is one day of a supreme eon and it has hundred years of such days. If one takes out one hair every hundred years of a supreme eon, the time it takes for the bin to be emptied is one day of a great eon and it has a hundred years of such days.
Humans live up to a hundred years. With 21,600 breaths per day, the length of time of 777,777,000 breaths is a hundred years. For tiny bugs, the length of time of one twenty-one thousand six hundredths of a human breath is the length of time of an insect’s breath. Therefore, 21,600 of these equals one day in their lives [and thus a day of their lives equals the time of one human breath], thirty days equals one month, twelve months equals one year, so they live one hundred of these years. For clutching ghosts of victims of violent deaths (Skt. bhuta), thirty human breaths equal one of their breaths and they live one hundred years of those. For the would-be-divine, one human day equals one of their breaths, and they live one hundred years of these. Lifespans, however, can be shorter or longer. Yogis can extend their lifespans by making one breath last a whole day.
The Four-Phase Cycles of a Universe
Each supercluster of 1000 to the 3rd power world systems goes through a cycle, which is out of synch with the other superclusters, so there is always a place to be born. One cycle is one great eon. Some of these great eons are illuminated eons, during which Buddhas manifest; and some are dark eons when Buddhas do not manifest. One great eon equals eighty intermediate eons. An intermediate eon is the time for the human lifespan to go from ten to 80,000 years and back to ten, changing at one year every century. Thus, an intermediate eon is sixteen million years. The eighty intermediate eons are divided into four groups of twenty intermediate eons each.
The first twenty intermediate eons are the intermediate eons of evolving. From the potentials for the elements and from the collective karma of those who will be reborn in this universe, there first develops the gentle breeze of the wind mandala. This is made of spherical particles. [Note that all particles (rdul-phran) are made of eight subparticles. The eight are subparticles of the four element sources (‘byung-ba’i khams) – earth, water, fire and wind – and subparticles of the four derivative elements (‘byung-gyur) subparticles of sight, smell, taste and touch. Depending on which of the subparticles predominates, the particle is a particle of that subparticle, for example wind. Sound particles are not a conglomerate like this; therefore sound is explained as a separate category of particles. Sound is a vibration, not a conglomerate of many subparticles together. Also, there are particles of the cognitive sensors. These particles are different from the above-mentioned ones. On the plane of ethereal forms, particles have no smell or taste component, since the divine beings there have no smell sensors or taste sensors.] Energy-wind is the support of the universe [as it is also the support for subtlest consciousness in anuttarayoga tantra].This is to refute that the universe is on the back of the tortoise avatara of Vishnu or that it is the product of the thought of Ishvara.
As a universe evolves, above the wind mandala comes a cloud with the essence of gold. Huge rain produces the water mandala. This is churned by the wind, producing a golden mandala on top (like butter). Then another cloud with the essence of all the elements produces a second rain, which produces another water mandala. The wind churns this and, from the best elements, comes a Mount Meru. From the medium quality elements and a second churning, come the seven golden mountains. From a third churning and the least quality elements, come the four continents.
During the first of the twenty intermediate eons of evolving, the divine realms above Mount Meru appear first, starting with the three Brahma realms and then developing downwards. In other words, the divine realms in the first state of mental constancy on the plane of ethereal forms appear first, since for most great eons, the divine realms above the Brahma Realms are still enduring. Then those realms depending on land and sea build up, from the lowest joyless realm going upwards. During the next nineteen intermediate eons, the various life forms evolve, starting from the divine beings of the Brahma realm (Fastidious First) and progressing downwards. Since Brahma appears first, he thinks that he creates all that appears after him, and from this comes the notion of a creator god.
Humanoids of this early time are known as humans of the first eon. They are born by miraculous emanation and they all look alike with bodies made of light, no reproductive organs, but full sense organs. They have extraphysical powers, live on the food of absorbed concentration, and have no excretion. Their lifespans are immeasurable, since during this period there is no sun, moon, or stars, and thus no divisions of time. The natural radiance of their bodies gives ample light.
Rain comes and wind solidifies the top of the accumulated water into soil with a taste as sweet as honey. From past tendencies of disturbing emotions, attachment to taste arises. One person sticks a finger in the soil and tastes it. The others imitate this and thus the custom of eating begins. As the result of eating solid food, their bodies become heavier and lose their natural radiance. With the diminishing light, the external luminaries of the sun, moon and stars appear, halfway up Mount Meru (40,000 yojanas above sea level) at the height of the first ring of golden mountains. These luminaries travel on the wind on the peaks of this mountain.
Those who eat much become uglier and those who eat less stay more beautiful. They look down on the uglier ones and the first quarrelling arises. The sweet soil becomes depleted and so people begin to eat the moss that grows on the ground. Greed increases, and thus quarrels and arguments increase, and the moss becomes depleted. The same happens with the shoots of flowers. After this, people eat wild, huskless grain that needs no cultivation. As people eat grosser food, they develop bodily faculties to eliminate waste and also reproductive organs. Due to past tendencies, desire for each other arises. The more vulgar people begin to copulate and others throw rocks in disgust. Therefore, to have sex in private, people build the first houses.
Out of laziness, some people start to hoard food. They do not want to pick grain each day. Because there is so much hoarding, people become increasingly more fearful that they will not get a proper share of the food. From this situation, theft arises, as well as mistrust and the division of land into private tracts. Those with the most stored grain feel that if they had a king to protect them and to settle disputes, it would be good. They choose the person who is the most handsome and who has the most pleasant personality. Thus, the earliest kings are popularly elected. The king decides over land and grain disputes, and gets one-sixth of the crops as salary. This starts lines of cosmic emperors ruling with a wheel of authority over several island-worlds (chakravartin emperor). If they rule over one island-world, they have an iron wheel; two islands, copper; three, silver; and four, gold. These are only during the first eon, when the lifespan decreases from measureless to 80,000 years. The chakravartin emperors have bodies of the Southern Continent and facsimiles of the thirty-two signs of a Buddha. [The first eon, then, refers to the twenty intermediate eons of evolving.]
Then come the twenty intermediate eons of enduring. The first of the twenty is the great period of decrease, when the human lifespan on the Southern Continent goes from 80,000 years to ten, decreasing at a rate of one year every two hundred years. The next eighteen intermediate eons are up-and-down periods, with human lifespans ranging from ten years to 80,000 and back to ten years, changing at a rate of one year every one hundred years. Then the twentieth intermediate eon is a great period of increase, during which the human lifespan increases from ten to 80,000 years, increasing at a rate of one year every two hundred years.
Buddhas come only during decreasing phases when the lifespan is decreasing between 80,000 and one hundred years. The first Buddha of this eon appeared when the lifespan was 60,000 years, the second at 40,000, the third at 30,000, and the fourth, Shakyamuni, when the lifespan was one hundred years. The fifth, Maitreya, will come when the lifespan increases to 80,000 years again. The present illuminated eon is called the “fortunate eon” and has one thousand Buddhas (during its twenty intermediate eons of enduring). It will be followed by sixty dark eons (each lasting eighty intermediate eons) and then a star-like eon with 20,000 Buddhas.
When the human lifespan is less than a hundred years, it is the time of the five degenerations (snyigs-ma lnga). During this period, people are not receptive to the Buddhas’ teachings because of:
- Degeneration of lifespan – when lives pass ever faster and no one lives thousands of years as they did in golden ages
- Degeneration of disturbing emotions and attitudes – when these are rampant even among those with robes, who have left their households
- Degeneration of outlook – especially among householders, without any respect or belief in anything constructive
- Degeneration of beings – when people and animals become smaller than in ancient times, weaker and less able physically to care for themselves
- Degeneration of the times – when natural resources deplete, the environment degardes, and epidemics, wars, and so on occur.
The downward trend of lifespan ends, according to A Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge, alternatingly. The first time the lifespan reaches ten years, there is a seven-day holocaust of weapons, when the people are dwarf-like, deformed, foul-smelling, and so aggressive that they use whatever they can to kill each other. The survivors flee to caves, see the disadvantages of murder, and then the times improve. The second time the lifespan reaches ten years, there is a seven-month, seven-day plague because of the lack of cleanliness and of concern for others. When survivors see the disastrous results of acting negatively to each other and to the environment, then the times improve. The third time the lifespan reaches ten years, there is a seven-year, seven-month, seven-day famine. The people have been acting so negatively that it affects the weather, the crops fail, and hoarding and fighting increase. Then people repent and the process reverses. According to An Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa; Skt. Abhidharmasamuccaya), all three occur each time: when the lifespan is thirty then there is famine, when twenty plague, and when ten weapons.
Then there are the twenty intermediate eons of disintegrating. During the first nineteen, life forms gradually become extinct, from the lowest hot joyless realm up to the divine Brahma realms. If the karma to have rebirth in that life form is exhausted, then the beings are reborn into another life form; or if not, then in the same life form in a different supercluster. First, the three worse rebirth states become extinct, at which point, one human naturally achieves the first level of mental constancy. This person thinks, “How nice,” and tells others about it. From absorbing themselves in meditation, they are reborn in the Brahma realm. This happens for the humans of the Southern, Eastern, and Western Continents. Humans of the Northern Continent are reborn only as divine beings on the plane of sensory desires. Then, the same process of naturally absorbing in the first level of mental constancy occurs with the divine beings on the plane of sensory desires and they are reborn in the Brahma realms. Then, one being in the first Brahma realm naturally achieves the second level of mental constancy and all are reborn there.
With no divine beings left to cause rainfall, then in the twentieth intermediate eon, all realms up to and including the first-level constancy Brahma realms are destroyed by the burning of seven suns that come into existence one at a time. The first burns up all vegetation; the second dries up all streams and smaller rivers; the third dries up Lake Manasarovar and the four great rivers that flow from Mount Meru (Mount Kailash); and the fourth and fifth dry up the oceans, reducing them to a few drops. The sixth dries up everything, not leaving even a drop of moisture; the seventh causes the earth and Mount Meru to go up in smoke; and the seventh causes everything to go up in flames so that not even the ashes remain.
Then follow twenty intermediate eons of being bare. This cycle repeats seven times. Then, the next time, the supercluster is destroyed by water, including the second-level constancy divine realm. [Note that each of the billion world-systems in a supercluster has its own realm of first-level mental constancy, but just one common realm of second, third, and fourth-level mental constancy for the entire supercluster.] This sequence of eight cycles repeats seven times and is again followed by the destruction seven times by fire. Next time, the supercluster is destroyed by wind, including the realms of third-level mental constancy. The sequence of sixty-four then repeats. The environment of the fourth-level mental constancy cannot be destroyed by any of the four elemental sources – solid, liquid, fire, or gaseous. The environment of each of the divisions there disintegrates when the potentials for limited beings to remain there are finished and they die.
Kalachakra indirectly mentions the cycles of evolving, enduring, disintegrating, and being bare, but not many of the details. Kalachakra has a special discussion, however, of the particles of the elemental sources (khams). There are five kinds: earth with five qualities of odor, form, taste, touch and sound. Each one is subtler than next. His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains that the particles of the eight types of abhidharma subparticles (leaving out sound) are probably included here. Water particles have four qualities, leaving out odor. Fire particles have three qualities, leaving out odor and form. Wind particles have two qualities, leaving out odor, form and taste. Space particles have only one quality, sound. During the bare eons, the four grosser types of particles abide fragmentedly, meaning they are not held together. This situation also has the label of being called space particles. Because space particles, with the quality of sound, endure throughout all four cycles of a universe, one could say that they are eternal. Kalachakra explains that this is the deeper hidden level of meaning of the eternal sound of the Vedas and Samkhya.
Detri Rinpoche explains that a space particle also refers to the space between particles at the time particles disperse from being together; that is, they are in a situation with space in-between them. Thus, there are two situations of space particles, one when the particles stick together and one when they do not stick together.
Also note that for a world system, below its wind mandala and above its Mount Meru, there are also space particles, that is, particles of the five element sources not touching or held together. This is called the void alone (stong-pa gcig-bu) and appears like the empty space between things.
Then from the potential of the collective karma of the limited beings that will be born in a particular universe, wind particles come to adhere to each other and, from this, comes blowing wind. From fire particles sticking together comes the aspect of lightning with wind (like static electricity). From water particles sticking together comes rain with wind and fire/lighting. From earth particles sticking together comes rainbows with wind, fire, and water. Space particles abide as the pervader of all the others and, here, this refers to affectable space as the place for things, the space they occupy.
As for the origin of the sun, moon, planets and so forth, first the constellations and zodiac signs arise. Then, at zero degrees Cancer, the sun first arises and this is the beginning of the first actual year. The sun then orbits counterclockwise and when it reaches zero degrees Aries above the vertical axis or central meridian of the Central Eastern Continent [equivalent to the ascendant from the perspective of the Central Southern Continent], the moon first arises, that is, with a new moon. This is the beginning of the first lunar-date day and why the zodiac begins with Aries. This is also the first Monday, and now Sunday and Monday alternate. When the sun reaches six degrees forty minutes Leo and this occurs above the meridian, Mars arises. This is the first Tuesday and now there are three weekdays alternating. When the sun reaches ten degrees Scorpio on the meridian, Mercury and Wednesday arise. When it reaches ten degrees Virgo and the meridian, Jupiter and Thursday arise. At twenty degrees Gemini and the meridian, Venus and Friday arise. At zero degrees Sagittarius and the meridian, Saturn and Saturday arise.
Kalachakra does not have a full discussion of the development of limited beings and their enduring as in the abhidharma. However, during the disintegration phase of a universe, first earth particles no longer adhere to each other, then water, fire, and wind particles come apart progressively, and what remains are merely space particles.
The Enduring of Buddha’s Teachings
From the point of view of the sutras, the sutra teachings will last five thousand years divided into ten periods of five hundred years each, with the teachings progressively declining. The first three are “chapters” (le’u) or periods of understanding deep awareness or the three periods of gaining results, which are the arhat, non-returner and the once-returner periods. The second three periods are the three chapters or periods of practicing – discriminating awareness, absorbed concentration and ethical self-discipline periods, when people practice primarily these disciplines. Then the next three periods are the chapters or periods of scriptures – abhidharma, sutra and vinaya periods, since the teachings and actions during these periods are in accordance with these. Then the last is the period of upholding merely the signs, that is, practitioners just wear robes, but do not hold the view or conduct.
Two thousand five hundred years from Buddha’s passing away was marked in 1956 CE. Therefore, the abhidharma dating begins 544 BCE and will end 4456 CE. We are now in the period of practicing primarily ethical self-discipline.
The duration of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings will be 5104 years. Buddha was born in 960 BCE, and during his 81 st year, in 880 BCE, he taught Kalachakra. This marks the start of the count of 5104 and thus the teachings will disappear in 4224 CE. This is 32 years before they are predicted to end according to sutra.
Buddha taught Kalachakra in the stupa at Shridhanyakataka (dPal ‘bras-spungs) in Andhra Pradesh, South India. The King of Shambhala, Suchandra (Zla-ba bzang-po), came with 96 lesser kings and then brought the teachings back to Shambhala, wrote down the Root Tantra and composed a commentary to it. He ruled for three more years. He was the first of the line of seven religious kings. The next six kings each ruled for one hundred years. Then Manjushri Yashas (‘Jam-dpal grags-pa), the first Kalki (rigs-ldan; Holder of the Castes), wrote The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra (bsDus-rgyud, Skt. Laghutantra). His son, Pundarika (Pad-ma dkar-po), wrote the commentary Stainless Light (Dri-med ‘od, Skt. Vimalaprabha).
As for the line of the twenty-five Kalkis, each rules for one hundred years except for the tenth who rules for 182 years and the eleventh who rules for 221 years. The rule of the Tenth Kalki starts at 624, the beginning of the Muslim era (sic 622). The rule of the Twelfth Kalki starts 403 (me mkha’ rgya-mtsho) years later, in 1027 CE, when the Kalachakra system enters Tibet and this is when the Kalachakra calendar tradition begins. The rule of the Eleventh Kalki starts in 806 CE, which marks the beginning of the precis calculation system (byed-rtsis). In the 98 th year of the Twenty-fifth Kalki, Rudrachakrin (Drag-po ‘khor-lo-can), that is, 2424 CE, which is 1800 years after the beginning of the Muslim period, there will be a great war, which Shambhala helps win.
Up to this point, 3304 years will have passed [3+600+221+182+2200+98]. These are called the earlier four ages or yugas, namely the Full Age (krtayuga), Three Parts (tretayuga), Two Parts (dvaparayuga) and the Age of Conflicts (kaliyuga), which started in 1598 CE. After the war, the Kalachakra teachings will flourish for another 1800 years, which are the later four yugas or ages, each of 450 years. 3304 + 1800 = 5104. After this period, Rudrachakrin’s teachings of Kalachakra will last for 1800 years on each of the other eleven continents in turn, and therefore, altogether last 21,600 years.
The Motion of the Heavenly Bodies, Seasons and So Forth
Night and day vary on one side of Meru and the other as the sun rotates around Mount Meru. The days get longer and shorter, and thus the seasons arise due to the sun going too far to the north or the south.
The constellations as well as the heavenly bodies of the sun, moon and planets [all referred to as “planets” gza’] rotate clockwise around Mount Meru, and thus they rise in the East and set in the West. However, the motion of the heavenly bodies relative to the constellations is counterclockwise; that is, each night at the same hour, Mars moves further east as the constellations at the ascendant move further west. The motion of the heavenly bodies, then, is like that of a fly walking counterclockwise on a record that is spinning clockwise. [From a modern scientific point of view, the apparent clockwise motion of the heavenly bodies arises from the perspective of the earth’s counterclockwise rotation on its own axis. Their apparent counterclockwise motion relative to the constellations arises from the perspective of the earth’s clockwise revolution around the sun.]
Each heavenly body has its own constant speed, but sometimes each moves faster, sometimes slower, which means that sometimes it is ahead or behind its mean position. Thus, there are two sets of faster and slower corrections: at the mean position when the planet is conjunct with its birth-house, and the other when it is conjunct with the sun. These are equivalent to how, in elliptical motion, there are faster and slower parts of the orbits.
The sun rotates around Mount Meru clockwise. Therefore, as in abhidharma, day and night vary on one side or the other of Mount Meru.
To describe the rotation of the seasons, draw twelve imaginary epicycles (go-la), one for each of the twelve continents of the Great Rose-Apple Island.[Epicycles are small circles drawn around the circumference of a bigger circle.] The circumference of the bigger circle and thus the center of the twelve epicycles around it are at 12,500 ancient miles into the water mandala, which is equivalent to the equator. In general, the epicycles are drawn in the space between Cool Mountain (the outer circumference of the top of Mount Meru) and Fire Mountain (the outer circumference of the water mandala). This is a ring consisting of 25,000 yojanas of the earth mandala (where the Great Rose-Apple Island is) and 50,000 yojanas of the water mandala. Thus, the circle drawn on the dividing line between the northern and southern parts of the Greater Rose-Apple Island (at 12,500 yojanas from Cool Mountain) is the equivalent of the Tropic of Cancer; while three-quarters into the water mandala (at 12,500 yojanas from Fire Mountain) is equivalent to the Tropic of Capricorn.
These epicycles are oblique [in other words, at a slope], as if they lay around an opened umbrella, with the highest part of the slope near Cool Mountain and the lowest near Fire Mountain. The part of the slope near Cool Mountain is 86,000 yojanas high (Mount Meru is 100,000 yojanas high) and the part of the slope near Fire Mountain is 75,000 yojanas high. The motion of the sun above the horizon in the summer is the shape of a lotus petal [like a three-quarters circle] and in the winter like the shape of a bow [like a quarter circle].
Each epicycle has the twelve signs of the zodiac around it. For the epicycle at the Central Southern Continent, Aries is halfway between the Cool and Fire Mountains, on the right side; that is, toward the east on the circumference of the bigger circle [on the equator]. On the epicycle at the Eastern Southern Continent, Aries is one position counterclockwise; that is, closer to Cool Mountain and on the equator circumference is Pisces. For the Western Eastern Continent, Aries is in the next counterclockwise slot and Aquarius is on the equator. At Central Eastern Continent, Aries is closest to Cool Mountain. At Central Northern Continent, Aries is again equidistant from the two mountains, and at the Central Western Continent, Aries is closest to Fire Mountain.
During Aries, the sun travels in an oblique, eccentric circle described by connecting all the Aries points of the twelve epicycles. At Taurus, the sun travels through all the Taurus points. Wherever the sun is closest to Cool Mountain, it is at its highest in the sky and therefore it is the summer solstice, and where the sun is closest to Fire Mountain, it is at its lowest in the sky and therefore the winter solstice. Where the sun is equidistant, it is halfway up in the sky and this is either the spring or the autumn equinox. Thus, when the sun is in Aries, it is the spring equinox in the Central Southern Continent, the summer solstice in the Central Eastern Continent, the autumn equinox in the Central Northern Continent, and the winter solstice in the Central Western Continent. Thus, the seasons vary on each side of Mount Meru. [Note that this not quite like the seasons being the opposite in the northern and southern hemispheres.]
Divide the space from the center of each continent to the center of the next into thirty portions, starting with the Central Southern Continent. However, divide the areas over which the third, sixth and ninth epicycles pass [from the middle of the Eastern Western to the middle of the Central Western Continents, from the middle of the Eastern Northern to the middle of the Central Northern Continents, and from the middle of the Eastern Eastern to the middle of the Central Eastern Continents] into thirty-one portions. Divide the area over which the twelfth epicycle passes[from the middle of the Eastern Southern to the middle of the Central Southern Continent] into thirty-two portions. The sun rotates around Mount Meru clockwise and thus the equinox rotates, such that it occurs one day later in each of 365 areas as it circles Mount Meru in one year of 365 days. [Note that this is more like the precession of the equinox, but according to Western astronomy, this goes counterclockwise.]
Not only are the length of days different around Mount Meru due to the sun being further north or south, there are also different length days in the six lands of each continent, going from the Tropic of Cancer up to Cool Mountain, also due to sun being further south or north in the sky.
Thus, there are different descriptions of cosmology for different purposes. The abhidharma description is for gaining knowledge and training in discriminating awareness, as in the three higher trainings. In the Guhyasamaja system, this abhidharma presentation is also the basis for meditation analogous to the disintegration and evolution of a world-system.
The Kalachakra description is to show the analogy with the body so that one has a parallel basis for purification and analogous meditation. Also, it provides a basis for a calendar and for astrology. Moreover, it has symbolic meaning in reference to the human body. For Westerners, this Kalachakra presentation is also interesting since there are many suggestive ideas, such as lands of action and luxury, how civilization begins and ends, and so forth. Thus, these two descriptions of cosmology serve many purposes, and are not just interesting information. Within the Buddhist context, the main point is that Buddha taught them both to help train the mind to have less limitations and shortcomings, and to be better able to help others.