Homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Highest Self Enlightened One!
Susan Elbaum Jootla
Published: 2015-03-22 — Updated: 2017-12-02
A deva (divine being) greets the Lord Buddha. Click on the image to download a larger version.
In the canonical formula for contemplation of the Buddha, nine epithets of the Awakened One are mentioned. One of these, likely to be overlooked, is sattha devamanussanam, “teacher of gods and humans.” The present essay focuses on one aspect of this epithet: the Buddha’s role as teacher of the devas or gods. In the pages to follow we will carefully consider the instructions and techniques he used when teaching beings of divine stature. If we study these teachings we will gain deeper understanding of how we should purify our own minds, and by studying the responses of the gods we can find models for our own behavior in relation to the Master and his teaching.
Many religious leaders consider themselves prophets whose authority stems from an Almighty God, but as our epithet implies, the Buddha’s relationship to divinity was very different. He instructed deities, as well as humans, on how to end all suffering (dukkha) by eradicating ignorance and other unwholesome states. The gods came to the Buddha to request instruction and clarification, to support his Sasana or Dispensation, to praise his incomparable qualities, and to pay homage at his feet.
▶“Maha—Mangala Sutta 1 — Venerable Sayadaw U Jotika.” Click on the video to play it.
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Devas and brahmas are often mentioned throughout the Pali canon. They regularly manifest themselves on the human plane and participate in many episodes of the Buddha's career. Some of these higher beings are foolish, some exceedingly wise; some are barely distinguishable from well—off people, others are extremely powerful, long—lived, and magnificent. The multiple connections between the Buddha and beings of the higher planes can inspire meditators to develop the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the end of suffering.
This essay will explore: (1) the Buddha's direct instructions to devas and how they can help human meditators practice the Dhamma; (2) how devas, out of gratitude and faith, honor the Buddha and support his Dispensation; and (3) the process of attaining liberation for devas, brahmas, and humans.
The Buddhist universe consists of thirty—one planes of existence (see chart below). Every being lives on one or another of these planes. After death all beings, except the arahants, will be reborn in a realm and under circumstances that accords with their kamma — their volitional actions of body, speech, and mind made in that existence or in any previous one. We will often refer to this chart to indicate where, in the cosmic hierarchy, the deities we meet come from.