Pali-english Dictionary

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From the definition vimāna.

General remarks:

(a) The notion of the vimāna is peculiar to the later, fantastic parts of the Canon, based on popular superstition (Vimāna & Peta Vatthu, Apadāna, Jātaka and similar fairy tales). It shows distinct traces of foreign (Hellenic-Babylonian) influence and rests partly on tales of sea-faring merchants (cp. location of V. in mid-ocean). On the other hand it represents the old (Vedic) ratha as chariot of the gods, to be driven at will (cp. below 5, 7, 8). Thus at Vv 16 (here as 500 chariots!), 36, 63, 64; J. I, 59 (deva-vimānasadisa ratha).—(b) The vimānas are in remote parts of the world (cp. the island of the blessed), similar to the elysium in Homer’s Odyssey, e.g. IV. 563 sq. : s)e)s *)hluζion pedi/on kai peiρata gai/hs a)qάnatoi pemyousin etc. (trsln G. Chapman: “the immortal ends of all the earth, the fields Elysian Fate to thee will give; where Rhadamanthus rules, and where men live a nevertroubled life, where snow, nor show’rs, nor irksome winter spends his fruitless pow’rs, but from the ocean zephyr still resumes a constant breath, that all the fields perfume”). Cp. Ehni, Yama p. 206 sq.—(c) In popular religion the influence of this eschatological literature has been very great, so great in fact as to make the Vimāna and Peta-vatthus & the Jātakastories, exemplifying the theory of retribution as appealing to an ordinary mind by vivid examples of mythology, greater favourites than any other canonical book. From this point of view we have to judge Mhvs 14, 58: Petavatthuṃ Vimānañ ca sacca-saṃyuttaṃ eva ca desesi thero . . .—

The descriptions of the Vimānas are in the most exuberant terms.

The palaces (kingdoms in miniature) are of gold, crystal or exquisite jewels, their pillars are studded with gems, their glittering roofs are peaked with 700 pinnacled turrets (VvA. 244, 289; also as “innumerable” VvA. 188, or 18, 000 Ap. 63). Surrounded are these towering (ucca) mansions by lovely, well-planned gardens, the paths of which are sprinkled with gold dust; they are full of wishing-trees, granting every desire. There is a variety of stately trees, bearing heavenly flowers & fruit, swaying gently in delicious breezes. Lotus ponds with cool waters invite to refreshing baths; a host of birds mix their songs with the strains of cymbals and lutes, played by heavenly musicians. Angelic maidens perform their dances, filling the atmosphere with a radiant light which shines from their bodies. Peace and happiness reign everywhere, the joys of such a vimāna cannot be expressed in words. This elysium lasts for aeons (cira-ṭṭhitika Vv 801, kappa-ṭṭhāyin Th. 1, 1190); in short it is the most heavenly paradise which can be imagined.—For a monograph of vimāna the Vimāna Vatthu and its Commentary should in the first place be consulted.—

The inhabitants of the Vimānas

The inhabitants of the Vimānas are usually happy persons (or yakkhas: see Stede, P. V. trsl. 39—41), called devatā, who have attained to such an exalted state through their own merit (puñña see foll. 4).—Departed souls who have gone through the Petastage are frequently such devas (at Vv 172 called pubbadevatā). That these are liable to semi-punishment and semi-enjoyment is often emphasized, and is founded on the character of their respective kamma: J. I, 240 (vimāna-petiyo sattāhaṃ sukhaṃ anubhavanti, sattāhaṃ dukkhaṃ); J. V, 2 (vemānika-peta-bhavena-kammassa sarikkhako vipāko ahosi; i.e. by night pleasures; by day tortures); cp. Pv. II, 12 (see Stede, Gespenstergeschichten des Peta Vatthu p. 106), III, 78; PvA. 204, 210, & Divy p. 9. Expressions for these “mixed” devatās who are partly blessed, partly cursed are e.g. : vimānapeta PvA. 145, 148, 271, 275; f. vimāna-petī PvA. 152, 160, 186, 190; vimāna devatā PvA. 190; vemānika-peta J. V, 2; PvA. 244; DhA. III, 192 (as powerful, by the side of nāgas & supaṇṇas).—In their appearance they are like beautiful human beings, dressed in yellowish (pīta, expld as “golden” robes (cp. the angels in the oldest Christian apocalyptic literature: on their relation to Hellenic ideas see e.g. A. Dieterich, Nekyia, Leipzig 1903, pp. 10—18, 29: red & white the colours of the land of the blessed), with gold and silver as complementary outfit in person and surroundings. Thus throughout the Vimāna Vatthu, esp. Nos, 36 & 47 (pīta-vimāna). Their splendour is often likened to that of the moon or of the morning star.—

Origin of Vimānas.

A vimāna arises in the “other world” (paraloka) at the instant of somebody doing good (even during the lifetime of the doer) and waits for the entry of the owner: DhA. III, 291 sq. In the description of the vimāna of the nāga-king (J. VI, 315=Vv 8422) it is said on this subject: a vimāna is obtained neither without a cause (adhicca), nor has it arisen in the change of the seasons, nor is it self-made (sayaṅkata), nor given by the gods, but “sakehi kammehi apāpakehi puññehi laddha” (i.e. won by one’s own sinless & meritorious deeds).—Entering the Vimāna-paradise is, analogous to all semi-lethal passing over into enchanted conditions in fairy tales, compared with the awakening from sleep (as in a state of trance): sutta-ppabuddha DhA. III, 7. Of the Vimāna itself it is said that it appears (pātur ahosi), e.g. VvA. 188; DhA. I, 131; or arises (uggañchi) DhA. III, 291; VvA. 221.—

Location of the Vimānas.

The “vimāna” is an individual paradisiacal state Therefore vimānas are not definitely located “Elysian Fields. ” They are anywhere (in this world as well as in the Beyond), but certain places are more favourable for their establishment than others. Thus we may state that kat) e)coxήn they are found in the neighbourhood of water. Thus either in the Ocean (majjhe sāgarasmiṃ Th. 1, 1190; samudda-majjhe PvA. 47), where access is possible only through adventures after shipwreck or similar causes (J. IV. 1 sq.; Pv IV. 11); or at one or the other of the great lakes of the Himavant (Pv. II, 12). They are in out-of-the-way places (“end of the world”); they are also found in the wilderness: Vv 84; Pv IV. 32. As tree-vimānas with rukkha-devatā as inhabitants they occur e.g. at J. III, 310; V, 502; Pv. I, 9; II, 9; PvA. 244. Very often they are phantasmagorical castles in the air. By special power of their inhabitants they may be transported to any place at will. This faculty of transference is combined with the ability of extremely swift motion (compared to the speed of thought: manojava). Thus a golden palanquin is suspended in mid-air above a palace at VvA. 6 (ākāsa-cārin, sīgha-java). They are said to be ākāsaṭṭhānāni J. VI, 117; SnA 222, 370 (but the palace of the Yakkha Āḷavaka is bhumma-ṭṭha, i.e. stands on the ground, and is described as fortified: SnA 222). The place of a (flying) vimāna may be taken by various conveyances: a chair, an elephant, ship, bed, litter etc. Or the location of it in the other world is in the Cittalatāvana (Vv 37), or the Pāricchattaka tree (Vv 38), or in the Cātummahārājika-bhavana (VvA. 331).—Later on, when the theory of meritorious deities (or departed souls raised to special rank) as vemānikā devā was established, their abode was with their vimānas settled among the Tāvatiṃsa (e.g. VvA. 188, 217, 221, 244, 289; DhA. III, 291), or in the Tusita heaven. Thus Tusita-pura interchanges with Tusita-vimāna at DhA. II, 208. The latter occurs e.g. at DhA. III, 173, 219.

The dimensions of the Vimānas.

The dimensions of the Vimānas are of course enormous, but harmonious (being “divine”), i.e. either of equal extent in all directions, or specially proportioned with significant numbers. Of these the foll. may be mentioned. The typical numbers of greatest frequency are 12, 16, 30, 700, in connection with yojana. The dimensions, with ref. to which 12 & 16 are used, are length, width, height, & girth, whereas 700 applies usually to the height (DhA III 291 e.g. where it is said to be “over 700”), and the number of turrets (see above 2). At VvA. 267 (satta-yojana-pamāṇo ratho) No. 7 is used for 700; No. 30 (extent) is found e.g. at DhA. III, 7; ThA. 55; No. 12 e.g. at J. VI, 116; DhA. III, 291; VvA. 6, 217, 221, 244, 246, 291 sq.; No. 16 at VvA. 188, 289.—

Vimānas of sun and moon.

A peculiar (late?) idea is that sun and moon have their vimānas (cp. Vedic ratha=sun). There are only very few passages in the post-canonical books mentioning these. The idea that the celestial bodies are vimānas (“immense chariots in the shape of open hemispheres” Kirfel, Kosmographie der Inder p. 282) is essentially Jainistic. See on Jain Vimānas in general Kirfel, l. c. pp. 7—9, 292—300.—In the Pāli Com. we find SnA 187, 188 (canda-vimānaṃ bhinditvā=breaking up the moon’s palace, i.e. the moon itself); and DhA. III, 99 (candimasuriyā vimānāni gahetvā aṭṭhaṃsu).—

Other terms for vimāna, and specifications.

Var. other expressions are used more frequently for vimāna in general. Among these are ratha (see above 1 a); nagara (Pv. II, 125); pura (see above 5, as tusita°); pāsāda; either as dibba° (DhA. III, 291), or vara° (VvA. 130), or vimāna° (Vv 3110).—The vimānas are specified as deva-vimāna “heavenly palace, ” e.g. J. I, 59; Vism. 342; VvA. 173; or (in a still more superlative expression) brahmavimāna, i.e. best or most excellent magic palace, highest paradise, e.g. D. I, 17 (here perhaps “palace of Brahmā”); III, 28 (“abode of brahmās” Rh. D.); It. 15; Vism. 108. The latter expression is abbreviated to brahma (nt.) “highest, best thing of all, ” “summum bonum, ” paradise, magic palace: ThA. 47 (Ap. v. 6) & 55 (Ap. v. 8), at both places as sukataṃ, i.e. well made.—A rather odd expression for the paradisiacal state (in concrete form) is attabhāva (existence, cp. Gr. biotή Hom. Od. IV. 365?) instead of vimāna, e.g. DhA. I, 131 (tigāvuta-ppamāṇa); III, 7 (id.).—


Of innumerable passages in the books mentioned above (under 1) only the foll. may be given for ref. : J. III, 310 398, 405; V, 165, 171; VI, 117 sq. 120 sq.; Ap 35, 55, 59; Dāvs. IV, 54 (acalaṃ v. antalikkhamhi nāvaṃ gativirahitaṃ ambhorāsi-majjhamhi disvā); and Vimāna Vatthu throughout. Of passages in the 4 older Nikāyas we have only A. II, 33 (ye devā dīgh’āyukā uccesu vimānesu cira-ṭṭhitikā). At S. I, 12=23 we should read “na ca mānaṃ” for “na vimānaṃ” (K. S. I. 18). (Page 630)

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