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The Abode of Devas

From "Abhidhamma in Daily Life"


Translated by Professor Ko Lay
Revised by Sayadaw U Silananda
International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon, 1999

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The Abode of Devas

         We have studied the processes of world-systems, the nature of beings in the Niraya (hell), etc. The sufferings and joys of mankind are known to all and they need no explanation. Here the luxuries of celestial beings in the divine mansions will be described briefly, according to the books.

The Celestial Mansions

         The luxuries enjoyed by devas are far superior to our human pleasures, just as the mass of the ocean is incomparable to a droplet of mist on a blade of grass. In the place of Tavatimsa is the City of Sudassana sprawling at the top of Mount Meru. The city itself is ten thousand yojanas in extent. The Garden of Nandanavana located to the east of the city is so beautiful a park that even dying devas forget their grief when they enter it.

         The sight of graceful couples of devas and devis strolling about among verdant foliage and flowering plants also adds to the unique beauty of the park. In the middle of the park, there are two lakes, Mahananda and Culananda; the crystal waters are indeed a sight to look at, especially from the jewelled seats placed around the lakes. There are similar lakes in the other three cardinal directions of the city.

Devas and Devis

         The jewelled mansions where devas reside are created by their own good kamma. All devas look as if they are 20 years old, and devis, 16. They never age; they remain youthful and beautiful all their life. They eat only celestial food so their bodies produce no excreta. Devis are free from the travail of menstruation. (1) Mode of enjoying sensual pleasure is similar to the humans but are free of filth. (2) Devis do not take pregnancy. (3) Offspring are born directly as grown ups and appear in their arms or on their couches. There also are servant devas who own no mansions.

         How devas conduct courtship to devis to win favour or affection is a matter for conjecture. Do they follow the human routines or devices? There was the case of love-lorn deva, named Pancasikha, who composed and sang love-songs to the accompaniment of his divine harp. His songs were dedicated to Devi Suriyavacchasa, the beautiful daughter of Deva King Timbaru.

         Yam meatthi katam punnam, Arahantesu tadisu,

         Tam me sabbangakalyani, taya saddhim vipaccatam.

         "All along by myself, I have accumulated much merit by observing precepts and making offerings to the most homage-worthy Arahants, who are always pure, free of defilements. May these accumulated merits of mine come to fruition soon in the form of inseparable partnership for life with you, my love, my beauteous queen."

         In spite of his intense adoration for her, Surivavacchasa had an eye for Sikhanti, son of Deva Matali. So Sakka, the King of Devas, because of his services intervened and arranged the marriage between her and Pancasikha.

         Some devis dwelling in their own mansion would feel lonely and long for a partner. Devas have different kusala-kamma and so some are more beautiful than others; there mansions, too, excel that of others. Naturally there will be inferior devas who would harbour jealousy against those who are endowed with more potent kamma.

         All these divine abodes are full of carnal pleasures, and they are fully enjoyed by celestial beings. But of them, those who achieve Arahantship and those who achieve Anagami-magga being wearied of sensual pleasures cannot stay long in Deva Loka. The Anagamis die in order to be reborn as Brahmas. The Arahants enter parinibbana.

         Therefore, we cannot hope to become a yogi and meditate in the abode of devas, where divine sensual pleasures engulf us. Only those devas who had very diligently practised meditation in the previous human existence, or only those who are opportune to hear the Dhamma of the Buddha in person can improve and augment their virtue in the deva abode. Other devas are inclined to forget the Dhamma as they enter the gates of Nandanavana Garden.

         In Deva Loka, let alone Vipassana meditation, even the observance of sila (precepts) is difficult to perform. The devis would entice the devas who soon tend to discard the precepts. Call to mind how Campeyya, the King of Serpents, failed to observe precepts in the serpent abode; and how Sakka had to alight to the human world in order to observe Uposatha sila. Because of these unfavourable environments, all Bodhisattas perform their fulfilment of ten Paramis in the human world only. They do not live to their full term in Deva Loka, instead they deliberately terminate their life-span to be reborn as human beings and practise Paramis (Perfections).

         There is, however, a small hope for those virtuous devas who wish to perform meritorious deeds in deva loka. There is the Culamani Pagoda for worship. There also is the Sudhamma Lecture Hall. The Culamani Ceti enshrines Bodhisatta's hairs and right upper tooth of Buddha Gotama. It is built of solid emerald one yojana high. Couples of devas who have strong faith in the Buddha come to this pagoda with clear goodwill and offer flowers and other offerings. They devote their efforts to fulfil Paramis rather than to enjoy sensual pleasures in the celestial gardens.

         The Dhamma preaching hall, known as Sudhamma, is beyond description in grandeur and splendour. The whole edifice is studded with glittering jewels. Then aroma of the Paricchattaka (Pinle kathit in Myanmar) tree growing nearby and in full bloom pervades the whole building. In the centre of the hall is the preaching throne covered by a white umbrella. On one side of this Dhamma throne are seats for thirty-three senior devas, such as Pajapati, Varuna and Isana. (Comrades of good deeds of Magha youth). Next come the seats for other devas in order of their power and merit. (Such Sudhamma Halls exist also in the four higher deva planes).

         At the time for Dhamma meeting Sakka blows the Vijayuttara conch-shell, the sound of which reverberates all over the city of Sudassana which is ten thousand yojanas in size. The sound lasts four months in human terms. When the congregation is seated, the whole edifice glows with the radiance of the devas. Sometimes Sanan kumara Brahma comes down and delivers discourses. Sometimes Sakka himself preaches a sermon; or he gives the floor to another eloquent deva. Therefore, there is chance for performance of wholesome deeds like paying homage to the Culamani Pagoda or listening to the Dhamma discourses in the celestial realms. But these deeds cannot be expected to propel one to the extent of achieving Magga and Phala. They only serve to sustain virtuous consciousness and reduce the enjoying of the pleasures of celestial world.

         In the forthcoming age of decline, there is no hope for monks and laity to be fully imbued with Dhamma. Even the present age is no more decent. If we really dread the impending sufferings in samsara, we all should commence our efforts this very day so that we might attain Magga and Phala as soon as possible. Those who hope to meet the Buddha Metteyya in person and listen to his teaching to gain enlightenment in the deva world will have a very slim chance to do so. No sooner had they entered the gate of Nandavan Garden, than they will tend to forget what they have already accumulated. Even if they are fortunate enough to meet the next Buddha in person, they are very much likely to be entranced in sensual pleasures.

         So apart from Bodhisattas who are determined to save sentient beings, and apart from Chief Disciples-to-be, each and everyone ought to start endeavouring for attainment of liberation right away. Our revered teacher taught us thus: "While being confronted with dangers you should each endeavour in solitude. But why are you being foolish neglecting the future and putting off the practice of bhavana (meditation) for this or that time?"

(Supplement to the 1970 Edition)

How Sakka Forgot the Dhamma

         Sakka, the King of Devas and Sotapanna Ariya, once visited the celestial garden, riding on his elephant Eravana. At the gate he suddenly remembered a question he had planned to ask the Buddha. The problem was:

         What was the path taken by an Arahant to realise Nibbana, the cessation of all craving? He was well aware that in the midst of the Garden Festival he would forget his noble plan so he decided to visit the Buddha. He left his elephant and retinue at the garden gate and vanished from there to appear in the human world.

         When he arrived at the Pubbarama Monastery where the Buddha was preaching the Dhamma, he asked, "Exalted Buddha, how does an Arahant overcome his lust, greed and attachment to attain Nibbana, which is the cessation of craving?" He requested a brief answer so that he could return to divine Garden Festival in time. Therefore the Buddha replied briefly:

         "O Sakka, a monk who is to become an Arahant listens to the discourse which says, 'All things are not fit to be thought of wrongly as "I" or "Mine" . He tries to understand the nature of all things (the five aggregates). When all things are known, he further understands that they all are suffering. After that he dwells viewing all feelings as impermanent. After repeated viewing, he does not cling to anything and attains Arahantship and is able to go freely to Nibbana, the exhaustion of all craving."

         This, in short, was the Buddha's reply to Sakka. He was very pleased with the discourse, proclaiming "Well done=Sadhu", three times and returned to his celestial residence. The Venerable Moggallana heard this proclamation from inside the chamber. He wished to know if Sakka really comprehended the discourse or not, so he followed Sakka to Tavatimsa to find out.

         When the Sakka arrived at the celestial garden, he joined the devas in the merriment and being enhanced by the pleasures, he forgot the Dhamma he had just learnt. When he saw the Venerable Moggallana he was embarrassed. But he greeted the Venerable with due respect and paid obeisance.

         The Venerable Moggallana asked Sakka about the Dhamma he had just learnt from the Buddha. However hard he tried, Sakka was unable to recall anything at all because he was so entranced in sensual pleasures. He gave the lame excuse that he had forgotten the discourse as he was very much occupied with the affairs of Deva Loka. (See Culatanhasankhaya Sutta of the Mulapannasa.)

Food For Thought

         This discourse shows us how objects of sensual pleasures of the deva world can make us become oblivious to the noble Dhamma. Even Sakka, a Sotapanna Ariya with great intelligence and vigilance, cannot resist such objects which deaden the conscious mind. He himself asked the Buddha a question, he himself listened to the reply, and yet he could not recall the discourse in a matter of minutes. Such was the influence of the sensual pleasures he experienced in the celestial garden. There fore the following lessons should be noted:

        (1) Those who are virtuous and know that they are virtuous are very much likely to be reborn in higher abodes, namely human and deva worlds, and nowhere else. One cannot be a Brahma until achievement of jhana; and one cannot enter parinibbana until one becomes an Arahant. Even if one becomes a deva, bear in mind that Ariya persons like the Sakka are also liable to be forgetful of the Dhamma. If so, we are no exception. We may also forget whatever Dhamma we have accumulated.

        (2) Celestial beings generally spend their time enjoying the sensual pleasures of the deva world and tend to disregard the Dhamma. If they pass away while craving for their luxury, they are sure to be reborn in the four apayas. Once, five hundred devis passed away while singing and picking flowers in the garden. All of them were reborn in Avici hell.

        (3) To be born again a human is also no comfort. To be a virtuous person in a worthy fashion (1) one must be born in a period when the Sasana flourishes, (2) majority of the people are righteous, (3) one's parents and teachers must be virtuous, (4) one must be born not to wretched poverty but to a sufficiently well-to-do family. Only if these essential conditions are fulfilled will it be worth to be reborn as a human being.

        (4) Considering the state of the Sasana, we find that virtuous persons are very rare to find these days. Sensual pleasures are abound; most people pursue vain pride and wealth; charity is done more for fame than for merit: reverence of the Samgha is contaminated with false pride and propaganda. Corruption is rampant even at the very top.

        (5) Devotees and supporters of the Sasana do not send their children to the monasteries, so monastic education is fading out gradually. There are no more lay students in most monasteries; without them how can there be samaneras (novices)? Without samaneras how can there be bhikkhus well versed in the texts? If such a situation prevails there would soon be no qualified abbots to preside over the monasteries. Most bhikkhus would be ex-family men who renounced worldly life only at a ripe age and therefore not versed in doctrines and disciplinary rules

        (6) The supporters of the Sasana mostly send their children to modern schools where the sole purpose of education is vocational training. But such education is for the benefit of this life only. Such education does not provide knowledge of Magga, Phala and Nibbana, The products of such schools do not comprehend the effects of kamma. Hence it is unlikely for them to believe in the higher abodes or the lower woeful abodes. Such people with wrong views will surely not care to offer alms-food, let alone the four requisites, to the Samgha.

        (7) In future the younger generation will no more be fortunate enough to inherit wealth from their parents. Nowadays parents have to struggle hard even to afford education for their children. Novel commodities in the form of diverse consumer goods are abound in the markets. When children grow up and earn their living, it will be difficult for them to make both ends meet. Or they may have to resort to illegal means of acquiring wealth. In such hard times, how could people support the Sasana?

        (8) Bhikkhus do not at all attempt to modify the old monastic system to keep pace with the time. They are responsible for giving basic education as well as ethical teachings. Conditions are now favourable, yet some monastic schools do not devise their plans on modern lines. They cannot attract the interest of today's parents. Persons with modern education look down upon the system of monastic schools. So, will they have the goodwill to support the Sasana? On reflection we will find that the decline of the Sasana is approaching.

        (9) In future the majority will not be virtuous persons endowed with morality. The age of righteous persons is the time when metta, karuna and mudita flourish. Today loving-kindness is a rarity. Without loving-kindness there could be no compassion for the poor and no sympathetic joy for the wealthy. Today the world is full of envy, jealously, hatred, pride and greed. Both strata, the high and the low, are cultivating vain pride in different manners, conceit by the elite, and hurt pride or contempt by the down-trodden.

        (10) Everyday we find novel commodities and sources of pleasure everywhere; and so greed gains momentum, just like adding fuel to fire. Greed when it cannot be satisfied leads to intense hatred; and further on to atrocities, murders and wars. If righteous people are rare these days, what will be the future like?

        (11) With righteous people getting rarer and rarer in future there will be few good parents and teachers. In the midst of the immoral society, future generations will find it difficult to be righteous themselves without the moral guidance of parents and teachers. It is not easy then to go to Deva Loka, to enjoy sensual pleasures there. Nor is it easy to be reborn in the human world where akusala (unwholesome deeds) are burgeoning.

        (12) I would like to relate my experience at the Yangon railway station in 1957. I went to Yangon to attend the consecration of a Sima. On my return a bhikkhu friend from Yangon saw me off at the station. While we were waiting for the train, we saw people rushing, pushing violently fighting for seats on the train as it was shunted into the station. I was made to understand that it was a daily scene.

        (13) I began to reason like this: "This train journey will last two days at the most. Lest they should not get good seats, some push and elbow violently for a good seat. Some pay extra money to have a reserved seat; on the train they scout around for trust worthy companions; some feel unhappy if their seats are not to their liking; some are overcome by anxiety if their neighbours look dishonest."

        (14) "If people can take such toil for a journey of just two days, why can't they exert enough effort for the long, long journey, passing through many existences to arrive at Nibbana? Why can't they endeavour to get good places, to find the right companions to accompany them on this long journey? If, by ill chance they be reborn in the four apayas, they will suffer life long and akusala will be on the increase life after life; they will never get good seats in the long journey through samsara.

        "Even when they become human beings they will be poor, needy and destitute. To avoid such catastrophes they should try really hard to be reborn in happy abodes. If they can try hard to get seats for a two-day railway journey, why can't they do so for a life-long journey. They are so short-sighted, and lack in intelligence." I began to feel pity for their stupidity; and I told my companion bhikkhu of my thoughts.

        (15) Readers of this book should consider these facts seriously and try to comprehend the unique Dhamma as much as they could manage. If you have already accumulated some Paramis (Perfections) in many past existences, you should continue your efforts in the line of minimising evil deeds and consolidating your Paramis such as dana and sila. Only then will you be a virtuous deva in the deva world; or a virtuous human in the human world. Like Bodhisattas who practised Paramis even in the dark ages void of Sasana, you should also try to fulfil your Paramis as much as possible so as to gain habits and maturity in the performance of wholesome deeds.

End of the supplement

The Pleasures of Brahmas

         Brahmas are very peaceful beings; they enjoy the tranquillity of jhana-kusala they had performed previously to gain the Brahma realm. They are reborn as Brahmas only after attaining jhana; and for this they had to meditate in solitude in quiet places away form the crowded cities, villages, houses, monasteries, remote from the throngs of society and the worldly sensual pleasures. Brahmas have no spouses, no children. They have no sexual organs so they do not enjoy the pleasures of kama-guna. They had clearly seen the faults of sensual pleasures even during their meditation period as human beings. So they live a very pure life, free from all thoughts of sensual pleasures.

         In their divine palaces and gardens, all Brahmas live in serenity, in saintliness. Some enjoy their jhana bliss while others develop merra-bhavana radiating waves of loving-kindness. Like in the human world there are different grades of Brahmas. There are Brahma kings, Bramapurohitas (advisers or counsellors) and lower grade Brahmas who form the retinue in attendance to the king. [Lower class Brahmas cannot see the Brahma king without his consent.]

         Asannasatta Brahmas

         Asannasatta Brahmas are those divine beings without any consciousness or mind. As human beings they find faults of citta (mind) and sanna (memory). They think that all forms of greed arise because of citta. They also think that life would be so peaceful had there been no citta. While concentrating on the fault of consciousness, "Citta is loathsome. Citta is loathsome", they develop a kammatthana called sannaviraga-bhavana (disgust for sanna).

         When they die they are reborn as Brahmas in the Asannasatta Brahma realm and live like golden statues, standing, sitting or reclining, without consciousness. Their life-span is 500 kappas long.

         Arupa Brahmas

         Arupa Brahmas have no rupa; they have consciousness only. In the human world they worked for attainment of jhanas; after that they concentrate on the faults of rupa; they think that the rupa is the seat of suffering. Then they develop rupaviraga-bhavana (disgust for rupa). When they die they become Arupa Brahmas, beings without material form, in the open space called Arupa Brahma realm. They live as continuous steams of consciousness high in the heavens for many kappas.

         [Non-Buddhists will find it hard to believe in these two types of Brahmas]

         Form Brahma to Hog

         Of the Brahmas born in the Brahma realm, the Ariya Brahmas (who have achieved Magga and Phala) will not go downwards to the lower realms. They soar higher, become Arahants and realise Nibbana. But for Brahmas who are not yet Ariyas, they will have to descend to either deva or human abode at the exhaustion of their jhana power. But they will not fall directly into the woeful planes. Due to the past kusala they become devas or humans of Dvihetuka or Tihetuka category in the next life. From these planes they, according to their own actions, may fall into the four apaya existences and become animals, petas or sinners in hell.

         In the cycle of samsara, ordinary worldlings, puthujjana persons, although they reach the highest abode of Brahmas, are liable to fall into bad, lower planes, such as the animal kingdom. There is a saying "Once a radiant Brahma; next a filthy hog". Being a puthujjana is a very dreadful state. From Bhavagga, the highest Brahma realm, you might one day fall to the woeful planes. A rocket, missile or a projectile will soar skywards as long as there is propulsive energy; once the energy is spent, it must fall down again. So also sentient beings, at the exhaustion of their jhana power, must return to the lower abodes. [Bhavagga is the highest of all planes of existence. It is also known as nevasannanasannayatana bhumi]

End of section on Bhumis, Planes of Existence.


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