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Enlightened Gods?


#1

The Buddha was according to a famous formula a teacher/master of gods and humans (satthā devamanussānaṃ).

Obviously he had several named enlightened human followers. And many gods were followers too, according to the suttas. But do the texts mention also enlightened divine followers?

Were the prominent gods (Sakka, Sahampatti) enlightened? And if not, then why?

To get this out of the way, it is a myth that human birth is according to the suttas the most precious one. In contrast, many texts advocate a heavenly rebirth, especially for lay people. So, can we find examples of gods that became arahants through the teachings of the Buddha?


#2

anāgāmi(n)

masculine &; ~inī feminine one who does not return (to this world; one who has reached the third stage, and will be reborn only in a Brahma world, and attain arahatship there). SuttaCentral


#3

Obviously anagamis are divine beings in their realm. I was interested in suttas that have heavenly followers of the Buddha, who are as gods being taught, and become arahants as gods - just as humans followed the Buddha, were taught, and became arahants.


#4

I have a thought exercise, not a sutta to a consider since I could not find one…

If gods are the manifest ideal essence of a particular form (e.g., Earth as one of the 33), then their Realization would entail immediate extinction. At the very least, it would be a wee bit of a conflict of interest for Earth to say “I am not Earth! I do not conceive in Earth! Earth is not mine!”


#5

I had a similar thought to make it work, but I think we have to modify it. Out of convention the suttas count the Vasus (fire, earth, wind, atmosphere, sun, sky, moon, stars) as gods - qua part of the 33 - but they don’t really appear in a personal form in the suttas. Nor is it said that the Buddha taught earth, wind, etc.

So let’s play the thought with Sakka (more or less equivalent with Indra). He’s one of the oldest and most prominent devas of India, ruler of devas, and a follower of the Buddha.

If we imagine that the Buddha’s teaching caused Sakka to become enlightened and therefore (as we speculate) ‘disappear’ India would have ‘lost’ one of its most prominent divine beings. Imagine you wake up one day and are told by Brahmins that the Buddha made your favourite god disappear, never to come back :slight_smile: That’s probably unacceptable!

So, either Sakka-Indra is not there any more, and nobody noticed, or he is enlightened without disappearing and nobody noticed (Indra was a warrior-god, not a peaceful one), or in spite of being witness to all the teachings he hasn’t realized.


#6

Thanks for the hint. It led me to DN21.

In DN21, Sakka becomes a stream-enterer, gains an extended life after which he will become human, become enlightened and go to become a non-returner abiding with

the glorious Akaniṭṭhas.
So long as my final life goes on,
there my home will be.

Regarding the question of why the 33 do not get enlightened. The answer is also in DN21. The gods of the thirty-three are:

blessed with heavenly sensual pleasures.

:sparkler: (eon-long deva party) :tada:

The other gods, being not on the N8FP, get a god-awful hangover and wake up with the demons and or ghosts apparently…

:pray:


#7

Thanks for DN 21, I remembered vaguely gods to be stream-enterers but didn’t remember suttas…

What is curious about DN 21 that Sakka seems to be perfectly content with stream-entry. At the same time he seems to have the divine eye (?!) when he precisely predicts his future lives. The divine eye typically comes with enlightenment only. But why not continue practicing for enlightenment. The text suggests ‘that’s how it is’ - gods become sotapannas, get reborn as human, then as anagami-devas.

Interesting also that during the text he declares sotapatti, and at the end he says his conversion formula (which again suggests sotapatti, but is to my knowledge never defined as such):

And while this discourse was being spoken, the stainless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma arose in Sakka, lord of gods: “Everything that has a beginning has an end.”

Usually this formula is either used in the context of conversion of lay people, or a more profound insight into the Dhamma with unspecified level realization (e.g. in SN 56.11).

That’s hardly an obstacle for realization. DN 21 itself has “two of those gods in that very life gained mindfulness leading to the host of Brahmā’s Ministers.”

So gods can ascend through teachings, and hence why not to realization?

More importantly brahmaloka and Brahma gods are beyond sensuality, and so far I don’t see a Brahma god enlightened, for example Sahampatti who is so essential for Buddhism.


#8

I think you are taking the elemental ‘gods’ a wee bit too literally! I think they might have been inherited from a prior religion.

Some stream-entrants are content with it for seven lifetimes (sattukattha?) - there are stream entrants that attain enlightenment in this life, after that and after a maximum of 7. Sakka is the king hence endowed with a massive palace with deva maidens in every room, and once shows it off to Moggallana.

All devas have eyes - of the divine kind, and even humans who are not enlightened can have it to a limited degree. Some of them use it too mistake Brahma’s role as the creator.

Noble disciple’s (attained to the stream) are born in heavenly worlds and go to attain enlightenment in those or higher worlds is one route. Attaining stream entry as a heavenly being is another.

Conversion because they gained insight into the Dhamma, synonym for stream entry.

Yet very blissful hence not the most conducive places for understanding suffering.


#9

That’s conjecture - I don’t know of any instance in the suttas where someone is said to be in their 4th or 5th life after sotapatti and saying ‘they’re still content’. To be rich and wealthy is a good thing in the EBT, not an obstacle.

Suttas, or personal conclusion?

I don’t know of sutta references for that. When disciples of the Buddha are reborn as devas or as Brahma-companions it is always portrayed as a success for the teachings - not as a loss. That human life is the best of births, better than the divine realm is somehow popular opinion, but I have not seen evidence from the EBT yet (or maybe there is?)


#10

Interesting question. Though, full enlightenment in the suttas doesn’t cause a human to vanish in a puff of smoke or swiftly depart this world (the body lives out the rest of its allotted span). Presumably, that would also be the case for deva realms (even though the rest of the allotted span might number in eons)?


#11

True, ‘the disappearing arahant-god’ is just a crutch to explain why we don’t encounter arahant-gods in the suttas - they might have disappeared :slight_smile:

Still, it’s not the most elegant solution, and probably there is none. My best guess so far is that Buddhism culturally inherited the gods. As the previous target for worship they needed to be incorporated into the new karmic worldview - obviously beneath Buddha and arahants, and even the Sangha. Personal and known gods (Sakka, Brahma) made revering appearances in the texts to show the audience ‘that there’s a new boss in town’.

Because the gods were taken to be real the Buddha needed to be their teacher too, but at the same time the gods couldn’t be made too Buddhist. They needed to stay in place as Buddhist worshippers and lay followers - not as arahants.

As @karl_lew wrote, Buddhism couldn’t well pretend that the earth-god stopped identifying with its earth-ness. Neither would Indra resign from his post as god-leader and go forth, nor could Brahma disindentify from his Brahma-ness - they all needed to structurally stay in place. The gods needed to be subordinated (that is, for the population), not dissolved in nibbana.


#12

"with the wasting away of the three fetters, are ‘one-seed-ers’ (ekabijin): After taking rebirth only one more time on the human plane, they will put an end to stress.

"Or, not breaking through to that, not penetrating that, with the wasting away of the three fetters they are ‘family-to-family-ers’ (kolankola): After transmigrating & wandering on through two or three more families [according to the Commentary, this phrase should be interpreted as ‘through two to six more states of becoming’], they will put an end to stress.

“Or, not breaking through to that, not penetrating that, with the wasting away of the three fetters they are ‘seven-times-at-most-ers’ (sattakkhattuparama): After transmigrating & wandering on among devas & human beings, they will put an end to stress.”
AN 3.89

Unenlightened being with divine eye:

Partial Eternalism

2.1 There are some ascetics and brahmins who are partial eternalists, who assert that the self and the cosmos are partially eternal and partially not eternal on four grounds. And what are the four grounds on which they rely?

2.2 70There comes a time when, after a very long period has passed, this cosmos contracts. As the cosmos contracts, sentient beings are mostly headed for the realm of streaming radiance. There they are mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

2.3 71There comes a time when, after a very long period has passed, this cosmos expands. As it expands an empty mansion of Brahmā appears. Then a certain sentient being—due to the running out of their life-span or merit—passes away from that host of radiant deities and is reborn in that empty mansion of Brahmā. There they are mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

2.4 1.18 72But after staying there all alone for a long time, they become dissatisfied and anxious: ‘Oh, if only another being would come to this state of existence.’ Then other sentient beings—due to the running out of their life-span or merit—pass away from that host of radiant deities and are reborn in that empty mansion of Brahmā in company with that being. There they too are mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

2.5 73Now, the being who was reborn there first thinks: ‘I am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Undefeated, the Champion, the Universal Seer, the Wielder of Power, the Lord God, the Maker, the Author, the Best, the Begetter, the Controller, the Father of those who have been born and those yet to be born. These beings were created by me! Why is that? Because first I thought: “Oh, if only another being would come to this state of existence.” Such was my heart’s wish, and then these creatures came to this state of existence.’

74And the beings who were reborn there later also think: ‘This must be Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Undefeated, the Champion, the Universal Seer, the Wielder of Power, the Lord God, the Maker, the Author, the Best, the Begetter, the Controller, the Father of those who have been born and those yet to be born. And we have been created by him. Why is that? Because we see that he was reborn here first, and we arrived later.’

2.6 75And the being who was reborn first is more long-lived, beautiful, and illustrious than those who arrived later.

76It’s possible that one of those beings passes away from that host and is reborn in this state of existence. Having done so, they go forth from the lay life to homelessness. By dint of keen, resolute, committed, and diligent effort, and right focus, they experience an immersion of the heart of such a kind that they recollect that past life, but no further. DN1

The dhamma is for the benefit of the many. Not just those of an ascetic bent. Some won’t take to teachings of letting go of craving, or even demerit - to one bandit the Buddha merely requests him not to kill and rape though he may be engaged in ambush. A heavenly plane is good enough if that’s what can be achieved. The Buddha’s last concern was that everyone had at least become stream entrants, just before his parinibbana. Stream entrants produce a lot of merit as their sila is very good and therefore it’s said there’s no mention of a stream entrant being born back in a human plane in the EBTs.

About devas valuing a human rebirth:

”…when a deva is due to pass away from a company of devas, five prognostic signs appear:…” SuttaCentral


#13

Devas in no way is an obligatory aspect of the dhamma. As it is not verifiable. However if not now, at least then, it would have been an aspect of the worldview that needed addressing as it is closely connected to spiritual matters. It also inspired followers as mentioned elsewhere.

Bhikkhus, in this world with its devas, Māra, and Brahmā, among this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its devas and humans, whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, reached, sought after, an.ii.24 examined by the mind—all that the Tathāgata has fully awakened to; therefore he is called the Tathāgata.SuttaCentral


#14

According to the EBTs, the gods have extremely long lifespans, so who knows how long it takes them to get enlightened? And who would be around to see it? It does seem like the suttas are quiet on the subject.

Even then, none of the named gods are in permanent posts. They’re like presidents. They rise and fall, and eventually someone takes their place. The Buddha is attributed to saying that he was once Brahmā, Mara, etc… over the course of beginningless time. Take Iti 22:

There I was a Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Unvanquished Victor, the All-seeing, the All-powerful. Thirty-six times I was Sakka, the ruler of the devas.

If we take this at face value, it would seem the name is less important than the status of that god.

When you say “the gods,” do you mean the particular, named personalities we find in the EBTs, or all gods/deities in general?

If gods or deities weren’t real, I don’t think the Buddha would waste so much time talking about that realm. It would be misleading, and multiple passages in the EBTs demonstrate his intolerance of wrong view. Whether the named gods are exactly who they are or whatever element they represent is another story. That could most likely be a reference point for talking about gods that are otherwise unfathomable.


#15

That is only the Buddhist perspective of course. The Vedic view was that there was a history of the gods, but the present was pretty much static, at least in the sense that the gods were the gods. In detail the perspective changed between Vedas, Brahmanas, and Sutras. In a way this change and flexibilization was necessary so that Buddhism could further stretch it. But to come back to your point, the rise and fall of the Vedic gods was not in the scope of Brahmins.

Again, this is just Buddhism. For pre-Buddhism there was just Indra, not an Indra…

Buddhism was quite creative with supernatural beings. So I guess I mean more the specific gods that were inherited.

That’s the interesting question. How much of it was the Buddha, and how much are the Buddhist texts? Did the Buddha only mention gods in general, and later editors included the named gods?

I at least am very skeptical because of the anthropomorphization of the gods - humans create gods in their image. There are some subtle Anuruddha descriptions which are not anthropomorph - that might be a different story.


#16

We should consider that these are experiences in deep samadhi in which the faculty to experience these ‘visions’ have been developed. That is, they aren’t total fabrications or myth but subtle manifestations of a different kind that we don’t usually have an experience with.

“I didn’t approach the Blessed One by means of spiritual power, friend, nor did the Blessed One approach me by means of spiritual power. Rather, the Blessed One cleared his divine eye and divine ear element to communicate with me, and I cleared my divine eye and divine ear element to communicate with the Blessed One.” SN 21.3: The Barrel (English) - Bhikkhu Saṃyutta - SuttaCentral


#17

The abilities are developed:

When their mind has become immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—they extend it and project it toward clairaudience. With clairaudience that is purified and superhuman, they hear both kinds of sounds, human and divine, whether near or far. Suppose there was a person traveling along the road. They’d hear the sound of drums, clay drums, horns, kettledrums, and tom-toms. They’d think: ‘That’s the sound of drums,’ and ‘that’s the sound of clay-drums,’ and ‘that’s the sound of horns, kettledrums, and tom-toms.’ In the same way, when their mind has become immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—they extend it and project it toward clairaudience.


#18

How the bodhisatva approached the inquiry into devas:

Monks, before my awakening, while I was not yet completely awakened and but a being awakening, I perceived auras, but I saw no forms.

Monks, to me there came the thought:

“If I were both to perceive auras and to see forms, knowledge and vision within me would thus be better purified.”

Monks, later on, living zealous, earnest, resolute, I both perceived the auras and saw the forms, but I did not stand with, talk to or engage in conversation any of those devas. SuttaCentral


#19

It’s worthwhile remembering these were viewed as just experiences and not as ‘I am the one watching devas’. Phenomena weren’t viewed as externally existing objects, or as selves.


#20

Do you mean to say that all occurrences of devas in the suttas are meant as mere ‘visions’ of someone meditating, purely individual, without any relationship to objective beings?