Thursday was Duruthu full moon poya day
Buddhism and concept of gods
By Vitharandeniye Vajirawansa Thero, Incumbent, Singhagiri Vihara, International Buddhist Cultural Institute
There are many debates about Buddhism and the concept of gods. All religions in the world can be divided into two major categories as human centred and god centred. In Buddhism, man is the lord of himself and he has the freedom to think. God centred religions believe that man, all other creatures and the world is being controlled by an almighty god. Most religions of the world like Islam, Christianity and Hinduism are god centred religions.
Lord Buddha too has taught about gods in some of the sutras and Buddhism describes about three types of gods.
1. Samuththi Deva
2. Vishuddhi Deva
3. Opapathika Deva
‘Samuththi Deva’ are the elites of a society like kings, counts and ministers etc. ‘Vishuddhi Deva’ are the noble enlightened persons like Buddhas, pase Buddhas and Arahath. ‘Opapathika Deva’ are the gods who are born in the heavens, or higher levels of existence, because of their meritorious deeds in ‘Sansara’.
This article describes the ‘Opapathika Deva’ concept. The concept of god was believed even before Lord Buddha was born. People are said to have worshipped nature like trees and rocks. In addition during early times, they believed in devils, cobras and the dead as well. Then they believed in 33 000 000 gods and thereafter converted that in to the belief of one almighty god ‘Maha Brahma’. The ‘Tripitaka’ shows us that people used to believe in divisions of devils like ‘Gandarva’, ‘Kubmbhanda’ and ‘Naga’. They believed that ‘Deva’ (gods) and ‘Bhrahma’ as the noble ones. Buddhism describes about six heavens dwelt by gods who were born there because of their meritorious deeds. The one nearest to the world of humans is ‘Chathummaharajika’ heaven where there are four gods, tutelary of the four directions.
‘Dutharashta’ the chief of East, ‘Viruta’ the chief of South, ‘Virupashta’ the chief West and ‘Vaishravana’ the chief of North are the four gods in this ‘Chathummaharajika’ heaven. These gods are said to be the protectors of Buddhism. Above the ‘’Chathummaharajika’ is the ‘Thavathinsha’ heaven where the king of heavens, god ‘Shakra’ dwells. Above this are the two heavens ‘Yamaya’ and ‘Thusitha’. Next are the ‘Nimmanarathi’ and ‘Parinimmitha’ heavens. Creators of heavens are said to be dwelling in ‘Nimmanarathi’ heaven.
Most of the gods in these heavens have had conversations with Lord Buddha and Buddhism divides these gods into two categories.
1. ‘Samyak Drushtika’ gods.
2. ‘Mithya Drushtika’ gods.
‘Samyak Drushtika’ gods are the ones who have learned and accepted Buddhism. They always protect the humans who share merits with them (Punyanumodana) while ‘Mithyadrushtika’ gods, with wrong ideas, only enjoy the luxuries in heavens they are dwelling in. However, Buddhism teaches that one needs to do meritorious deeds in the human world to be born a god or a goddess of any sort. Lord Buddha has focused on gods in many sutras like Mangala, Dhajagga, and Atanitiya etc.
Lord Buddha was a god in ‘Thavathinsha’ heaven and, on a request of gods, was born in the human world after considering the five requirements (Pas Maha Belum). Gods too listened to Lord Buddha’s first sermon at Isipathnarama in ‘Baranesa’ which has itself described about heavens. It is said that 100 years in the human world is one day in some heavens while its a 1000 years in the human world is one day in some other heavens. In addition to that, the sutra describes about flowers in heavens like ‘Madara’, ‘Parasathu’ and ‘Kadupul’ and it describes happiness as the only food of the gods.
‘Maha Samaya’ sutra of ‘Deega nikaya’ describes about gods of time and their areas of power. According to the ‘Sakkapaha Sutra’ of ‘Sangyuktha nikaya’
Ye gahatta punnakara
Dhammena darang posanthi
Thee namassami mathalee
The king of gods ‘Shakra’ respects the people who conduct meritorious deeds. Thus, those who live by the ‘dharma’ are blessed by gods. Sutras of ‘Anguththara nikaya’ also describe that the gods come to the human world and protect the people who live by the ‘dhamma’.
When Lord Buddha performed miracles, gods are said to have come and worshipped him and according to the Mahawamsa, when Lord Buddha came to Sri Lanka, god Sumana Saman held a parasol for him. God Sumana Saman was considered as the chief of the ‘Samanala’ area and Lord Buddha is said to have entrusted Sri Lanka to his care when Lord Buddha passed away. At this time the king of gods ‘Shakra’ is said to have expressed their sympathies, saying the verse ‘Anichcha vatha sankara’.
Buddhism teaches about twenty ‘brahma’ worlds which are above the heavens of gods. ‘Brahma’ are described as a nobler group than gods and those who have attained ‘Anagami pala’ (third stage of enlightenment) come to live in the ‘brahma’ world known as ‘Shuddha vasa’.
Buddhism shows that ‘Samyak Drushtika’ gods have attained stages of enlightenment ( marga pala) following the teachings of Lord Buddha and they attend to the needs of Lord Buddha and ‘Sangha’ and protect the people who live by the Dhamma. Thus, Buddhism broadly describes the concept of gods in its teachings.
But today, Sri Lankans and the people of the world have tended to believe in gods in a different manner other than how it is mentioned in Buddhism. As Sri Lanka was invaded by several foreign nations, Sri Lankans are used to the beliefs of Hinduism and Christianity. During the era of Polonnaruwa kingdom, kings married Hindu women and constructed ‘devala’ inside temples so that their queens could worship at the ‘devala’ when the king was worshipping at the temple. It kept evolving from then on and today ‘devalas’ can be seen in almost all the temples. Buddhists, in addition to worshipping at Buddhist temples, have started worshipping Hindu gods like Vishnu, Kataragama, Vibheeshana, Dedimunda, Natha and Paththini etc. The people, who believe that gods have a greater power than humans, make offerings to gods and wish for prosperity. But according to the Buddhist concept, this cannot be accepted as a wise act. One has to work to make his wishes come true and expecting the gods to come and do miracles will not help him all.