Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

30. Description of the World

Chapter 11: Three Interim Eons

1. The Buddha told the monks, “There are three interim eons. What are the three? The first is called the eon of warfare, the second is called the eon of famine, and the third is called the eon of plague.

The Eon of Warfare

2. “What is the eon of warfare? The people of this world originally lived for 40,000 years. After that, their life spans were reduced to 20,000 years. After that, their life spans were reduced further to 10,000 years. Their life spans became 1,000 years … 500 years … 300 years … 200 years until today when few people live for more than 100 years, and many live for less. After that, people’s life spans are reduced to ten years. At that point, woman are married at five months old.

3. “In that time, there are delicious flavors in the world such as those of ghee, honey, rock honey, and black rock honey. These delicious flavors naturally disappear, the five grains stop growing, and only weeds and grass remain. In that time, superior clothing made of twilled silk, plain silk, cotton, and linen is no more. There’s only crudely woven grass clothing.

4. “In that time, brambles, biting insects, scorpions, vipers, and venomous creatures appear all over the land. Gold, silver, beryl, and the rest of the seven treasures naturally disappear from the land. It’s filled with just rocks, sand, and rubbish.

5. “In that time, sentient beings just increasingly do the ten bad deeds, and the names of the ten good deeds aren’t heard anymore. Without names for good deeds, how could anyone practice them?

6. “People then who aren’t dutiful to their parents, don’t respect their elders, and do evil are given offerings, and people respect and serve them. It’s just as today when people who are dutiful to their parents, respectful to their elders, and do good are given offerings, and people respect and serve them. Those people do evil and get offerings in the same way. When their lives end, they fall to animal births, just as people today [who are respected] are born up in heaven.

7. “In that time, people look at each other harboring malice, wishing only to kill each other. They’re like hunters who see a herd of deer and want only to kill them. They don’t have a single good thought. Those people are like that. They want only to kill each other and don’t have a single good thought.

8. “In that time, the land consists of gully streams, river valleys, mountain precipices, and hills. There’s not a single level plain. People travel in fear, worrying with their hair standing on end.

9. “The eon of warfare takes place in seven days. People pick up grass, wood, bricks, and stones, and they turn into swords in their hands. The swords have sharp edges, being suitable for cutting anything. They then take turns hurting each other.

10. “When intelligent people see people hurting each other with swords, they flee in terror. They go into mountain forests and caves where no one else lives and hide there for seven days. They think and say to each other, ‘I won’t hurt anyone! Let no one hurt me!’ Those people stay alive during those seven days by eating grass, wood, and roots. After seven days have passed, they come back out of the mountain forests.

11. “At that point, someone else spots them and rejoices. They say, ‘I see someone now who’s alive! I see someone now who’s alive!’ Like a parent recognizing a child whom they haven’t seen for a long time, they rejoice and celebrate, unable to control themselves. That person is likewise. They rejoice and celebrate, being unable to control themselves.

12. “Those people cry and lament to each other for seven days. Then, they cheer each other up for seven days, rejoicing and congratulating each other.

13. “After their bodies break up and their lives end, those people fall to hell. Why is that? They had always harbored anger and malice toward each other, so it was because of their lack of humanity. This is eon of warfare.”

The Eon of Famine

14. The Buddha told the monks, “What is the eon of famine? In that time, people often behave contrary to the Dharma. Deluded by wrong views, they commit the ten bad deeds. Because they do evil, no rain falls from the heavens. The hundred grasses wither and die, and the five grains aren’t harvested, only stalks and straw.

15. “What is the famine? In that time, the people sweep up grain from fields, markets, roads, and garbage dumps to keep themselves alive. This is the famine.

16. “Again, during the famine, people go to shops, butchers, and cemetery grounds. They dig up bones and make broth from them that they drink to survive. This is the white bone famine.

17. “Again, during the eon of famine, the five grains become grass and trees when people plant them. The people then pick flowers and make broth from them to drink.

18. “Again, during the famine, plant and tree flowers fall and cover the land. People sweep the flowers up and cook them to survive. This is the grass and tree famine.

19. “In that time, sentient beings fall to the hungry ghosts when their bodies break up and their lives end. Why is that? It’s because those people always harbored greediness during the eon of famine. Having no focus on generosity, they are unwilling to share [their food] and aren’t mindful of other people’s hardships. This is the eon of famine.”

The Eon of Plague

20. The Buddha told the monks, “What is the eon of plague? In that time, the world’s people cultivate the correct Dharma, have right view, don’t have deluded views, and perfect the ten good deeds. A yakṣa spirit comes from another world, and the yakṣa spirits in this world are reckless and lustful, so they can’t protect the people here. The yakṣa spirit from another world then attacks and disturbs this world’s people. It hits, whips, and steals their vitality. Disturbing people’s minds, it drives and threatens them as it leads them away.

21. “It’s like when a king orders his generals to defend the country, and bandits come from another direction to attack. Those reckless people attack country’s villages. This is likewise. A yakṣa spirit from another world captures the people here by hitting and whipping them. It steals their vitality, driving and threatening them as it leads them away.”

22. The Buddha told the monks, “Even if the yakṣa spirits of this world aren’t reckless and lustful, the yakṣa that comes from another world is powerful. The yakṣas of this world are afraid of it and run away. That great yakṣa spirit then attacks and disturbs people. It hits and whips them, stealing their vitality. It then kills them and leaves.

23. “It’s like when a king or a king’s great minister sends his generals to protect the people, and the generals are careful and not reckless at all. Barbarian generals come from another direction with large armies to destroy their cities and towns, looting the people’s possessions. This is likewise. Even when the yakṣa spirits in this world aren’t reckless and lustful, the yakṣa from another world has great power. The yakṣa spirits here are afraid of it and run away. That great yakṣa spirit then attacks and disturbs people. It hits and whips them, stealing their vitality. It then kills them and leaves.

24. “During the eon of plague, people are born up in heaven when their bodies break up and their lives end. Why is that? It’s because people in that time are kind to each other. They take turns asking, ‘Are you sick? Are you in good health?’ For this reason, they are born up in heaven. Therefore, this is called the eon of plague.

25. “These are the three medium eons.”


Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 29 June 2022