Deva

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Translations of
Deva
English Deity
Pali देव
(deva)
Sanskrit देव
(deva)
Burmese နတ်
(nat)
Chinese 天人
(Pinyintiān rén)
Japanese
(rōmaji: ten)
Khmer ទេវ , ទេវតា , ទេព្ដា , ទេព
(Teveak, Tevada, Tepta, Tep)
Korean 천, 天
(RR: cheon)
Tibetan ལྷ
(lha)
Thai เทวะ , เทวดา , เทพ
(thewa, thewada, thep)
Vietnamese thiên nhân

A deva (Sanskrit and Pāli) in Buddhism is one of many different types of non-human beings who share the godlike characteristics of being more powerful, longer-lived, and, in general, much happier than humans, although the same level of veneration is not paid to them as to buddhas.

Other words used in Buddhist texts to refer to similar supernatural beings are devatā ("divinity") and devaputta ("son of god"). While the former is a synonym for deva ("deity"), the latter refers specifically to one of these beings who is young and has newly arisen in its heavenly world.

The term deva is commonly translated as god or gods. For example, the deva realm is referred to as the god realm.

Types

Deva refers to a class of beings. It includes some very different types of beings which can be ranked hierarchically according to the merits they have accumulated over lifetimes. The lowest classes of these beings are closer in their nature to human beings than to the higher classes of deva. Devas can be degraded to humans or the beings in the three evil paths once they have consumed their merits.

Deva and three devis in reverence. UPenn Ms. Coll. 990, Item 4 Page A40

The devas fall into three classes depending upon which of the three dhātus, or "realms" of the universe they are born in.

The devas of the Ārūpyadhātu have no physical form or location, and they dwell in meditation on formless subjects. They achieve this by attaining advanced meditational levels in another life. They do not interact with the rest of the universe.

The devas of the Rūpadhātu have physical forms, but are sexless and passionless. They live in a large number of "heavens" or deva-worlds that rise, layer on layer, above the earth. These can be divided into five main groups:

  • The Śuddhāvāsa devas are the rebirths of Anāgāmins, Buddhist religious practitioners who died just short of attaining the state of Arhat (Brahma Sahampati, who appealed to the newly enlightened Buddha to teach, was an Anagami from a previous Buddha[1]). They guard and protect Buddhism on earth, and will pass into enlightenment as Arhats when they pass away from the Śuddhāvāsa worlds. The highest of these worlds is called Akaniṣṭha.
  • The Bṛhatphala devas remain in the tranquil state attained in the fourth dhyāna.
  • The Śubhakṛtsna devas rest in the bliss of the third dhyāna.
  • The Ābhāsvara devas enjoy the delights of the second dhyāna.
  • The Brahmā devas (or simply Brahmās) participate in the more active joys of the first dhyāna. They are also more interested in and involved with the world below than any of the higher devas, and sometimes intervene with advice and counsel.

Each of these groups of deva-worlds contains different grades of devas, but all of those within a single group are able to interact and communicate with each other. On the other hand, the lower groups have no direct knowledge of even the existence of the higher types of deva at all. For this reason, some of the Brahmās have become proud, imagining themselves as the creators of their own worlds and of all the worlds below them (because they came into existence before those worlds began to exist).

The devas of the Kāmadhātu have physical forms similar to, but larger than, those of humans. They lead the same sort of lives that humans do, though they are longer-lived and generally more content; indeed sometimes they are immersed in pleasures. This is the realm that Māra has greatest influence over.

The higher devas of the Kāmadhātu live in four heavens that float in the air, leaving them free from contact with the strife of the lower world. They are:

  • The Parinirmita-vaśavartin devas, luxurious devas to whom Māra belongs;
  • The Nirmāṇarati devas;
  • The Tuṣita devas, among whom the future Maitreya lives (they are also referred to as the Contented Devas);
  • The Yāma devas (or Devas of the Hours);

The lower devas of the Kāmadhātu live on different parts of the mountain at the center of the world, Sumeru. They are even more passionate than the higher devas, and do not simply enjoy themselves but also engage in strife and fighting. They are:

  • The Trāyastriṃśa devas, who live on the peak of Sumeru and are something like the Olympian gods. Their ruler is Śakra. Sakka, as he is called in pali, is a Sotapanna and a devotee of the Buddha. (These are also known as the Devas of the Thirty-Three.)
  • The Cāturmahārājikakāyika devas, who include the martial kings who guard the four quarters of the Earth. The chief of these kings is Vaiśravaṇa, but all are ultimately accountable to Śakra. They also include four types of earthly demigod or nature-spirit: Kumbhāṇḍas, Gandharvas, Nāgas and Yakṣas, and probably also the Garuḍas.

"Furthermore, you should recollect the devas: 'There are the devas of the Four Great Kings, the devas of the Thirty-three,..."[2] [196. Dh.] "Feeders of joy we shall be like the radiant gods (devas)."

Sometimes included among the devas, and sometimes placed in a different category, are the Asuras, the opponents of the preceding two groups of devas, whose nature is to be continually engaged in war.

Humans are said to have originally had many of the powers of the devas: not requiring food, the ability to fly through the air, and shining by their own light. Over time they began to eat solid foods, their bodies became coarser and their powers disappeared.

There is also a humanistic definition of 'deva' [male] and 'devi' [female] ascribed to Gotama Buddha: a god is a moral person.[3] This is comparable to another definition, i.e. that 'hell' is a name for painful emotions.[4]

See also

References

  1. Susan Elbaum Jootla: "Teacher of the Devas", The Wheel Publication No. 414/416, Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1997
  2. The Ārya Saïghàñasåtra Dharmaparyāya
  3. the Pali Text Society's Samyutta Nikaya Book iv Page 206
  4. the Pali Text Society's Samyutta Nikaya Book i Page 61


Further reading

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