How To Understand The Multiple Planes of the Universe in Taoism
Lao Tze did not write about the multiple levels of heavens in the Tao Teh Ching. He spoke only of the necessity of returning to the Origin (Tao Teh Ching Chapter Sixteen). In later times, the Taoist masters classified the heavens into thirty-three levels. The Thirty- three heavens are the generally accepted number of heavens in the Taoist religion.
However, there is a mystical transmission from Ji-Gong Buddha entitled ‘A Trip to Heaven’. Ji -Gong Buddha speaks of heaven as having three main levels, each of which is divided into twelve heavens for a total of thirty-six. The twelve levels of each heaven correspond to the twelve periods within a Kalpa and the twelve hours of the Chinese day (the Chinese clock has twelve two hour intervals).
Unlike the Buddha Sutras, there are few commentaries containing relevant information on the thirty-three heavens. Based on passages in Chuang Tze’s Inner Chapters (Chuang Tze is one of the foremost philosophers of Taoist literature.) we may conclude that the thirty-three heavens correspond to the Buddhist ideas of heaven in many respects.
Chuang Tze, in his commentary on Taoism, addresses the six heavens in the World of Sensual Desire, and openly states that death is only a transformation.
“At first Tao had no name. Words are not eternal. Because of words, there are distinctions. Let me describe these distinctions. There is left, and there is right; there is relationship, and there is duty; there is discernment, and there is discrimination; there is competition, and there is struggle. These are called the eight virtues.
Beyond the six realms of heaven, earth, and the four directions, the sage accepts but does not discuss. Within the six realms, he discusses but does not pass judgment.”
Chuang Tze, Inner Chapters, Gia-Fu translation.
“Tzu Lai fell ill. He lay gasping for life while his wife and children gathered around crying. Tsu Li came to see him and said, ‘Shhh! Get away from him! Do not disturb the transformation.’ Leaning against the door, he said to Tsu Lai, ‘Great is the Maker! What will He use you for now? Where will He send you? Will He make you into a rat’s gizzard or a snake’s leg?”
Tsu Lai replied, ‘A son must go wherever his parents tell him to go! East, West, South, or North. Yin and Yang are not other than one’s parents. If they brought me to the verge of death and I do not obey them, then I am only being stubborn. They are not to be blamed. The great earth burdens me with a body, causes me to toil in life, eases me in old age, and rests me in death. That which makes my life good makes my death good also. If a skilled smith were casting metal and the metal should leap up and say, ‘Make me into a famous sword like Mo Yeh!’, the smith would surely consider it an ill omen. Now, if by chance I were to say, ‘Make me a man! Make me a man!’ the Maker of Things would certainly consider me an ill omen. Now, if I regard heaven and earth as a great melting pot and creation and transformation as a master smith, then where can I be sent and not find it fitting? Thus, calmly I sleep and freshly I waken.”
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