The Gods of the "Realm of the 33"

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Thanks - does ‘overwhelming radiance’ mean obscured by luminosity? Is a subtle form of perception required to see the radiant-deva clearly?


Is there a clear reference in this soma-drinking early Vedic period to eating cows? If so, please provide link to original text. The ownership of many cattle was a sign of wealth but, is there a specific reference to eating them? They may have been ‘mostly’ lacto-vegetarians that used bull’s to plow fields etc. - beasts of burden.

The kshatriya caste have always been permitted to eat meat. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say Hindu’s are all vegetarians. Maharaja’s - being kshatriya’s - are permitted to eat meat and still be hindu-rulers.

They also eat buffalo in India! The gayal oxen resemble buffalo and would not have arrived with the Aryan herders.

Muslim butchers can hang buffalo carcasses outside their shops in ‘Tamil Nadu’. The saddened Hindu’s see this but don’t try to prevent it from happening.

I don’t think the buffalo are worshipped in Hinduism. I am glad that vegetarianism has been practiced in that part of the world for however long it has been part of the culture.

I wonder if the Buddha’s diet before the renunciation may have played a part in his teachings on diet? Khattiyas are permitted to hunt and eat meat in the caste-system.

By establishing an order that was casteless, the Buddha would have needed to allow for the different eating habits of all the castes. Those from his own background would not have to be vegetarians to join. Those who were would not be discouraged.


I would like to stress this even more. While we only have our clumsy ‘gods’ there is a big difference between devas and brahmas.

It’s good to keep in mind that in non-ascetic Brahmanism to be reborn in brahma-loka was the highest goal and was thought to be eternal. Whereas devas were created and also their immortality was acquired and was not inherent. So they are heavenly but still crude.

Only the ascetics, jains, and later Buddhism had a notion of a nirvana beyond the brahmaloka.


It’s not early Vedic but the Dharmasutras (slightly post-Buddhist) have explicit rules:

The meat of one-hoofed animals, camels, Gayal oxen, village pigs, and S´arabha cattle are forbidden. It is permitted to eat the meat of milch cows and oxen. (Apastamba Dharmasutra 1.17.29-30)

The late Vedic (and pre-Buddhist) Satapatha Brahmana says “Meat is indeed the best kind of food” (SB; SB

Coming to the oldest Rgveda we find

RV 1.162.12 Those who inspect the prizewinner when cooked and who say about him: “It smells good! Take it off (the fire)!”
and those who draw near in hopes of a share of the meat of the steed— let the applause also of those urge us on.

RV 10.86.14 Indra: “For they cook fifteen, twenty oxen at a time for me. And I eat only the fat meat. They fill both my cheeks.”


I suppose this is a horse? The fellow - with his cheeks stuffed with fatty-meat - is he a brahmin or a kshatriya? Is there evidence for the existence of the Vedic caste-system existing at this early period? Do they talk about brahmins and other kinds of Aryans?

I heard that kshatriyas are permitted to eat meat - in Hinduism. They can also drink alcohol etc. in the warrior-varna and last, but not least, they can kill others in warfare without an unwholesome karmic reaction.

Kshatriya’s are allowed to rule, judge, convict, punish and execute people - and protect their subjects.

The dharma/duty of a ‘kshatriya’ is different from the dharma of the other castes. They have their own code of conduct.

The original migrating aryans who were the forebears of the Vedic-Aryans were cattle herders who rode horses - I believe. At some point the cattle they herded may have been ‘deified’.

I am curious as to whether they were sacrificing their ‘domesticated cattle’ along with horses etc. I get the impression that it is the brahmin-cattle that were the original holy-cows.


If you’re really interested in these details I suggest you go into the trenches :slight_smile:
Here are the original texts:
and here you find many scholarly articles:


How early in the Vedic literature do we find a reference to ‘Brahman’? How early do we find a reference to ‘Brahmaloka’ - the abode of the first-being (Brahma)? As I understand it, Brahman is the ultimate ground of being that is eternal whereas, Brahma is the first being to arise in the universe.

In the Rig-Veda there is a hymn that seems to say the foremost-being in the universe may know or, not know, the origin of the created universe. This means that there was something there that predated the existence of Brahma that he may or, may not know, about.

“Creation Hymn
Then was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.
What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?
Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider.
That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.
Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was undiscriminated chaos.
All that existed then was void and form less: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit.
Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.
Sages who searched with their heart’s thought discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent.
Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it?
There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder.
Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.” - Wikipedia

Therefore, if the goal of the Vedic-seers was Brahman - the ‘Brahma-Satya’ (highest truth) and this truth ‘is’ before the arising of ‘this’ universe then, we could say that they believed their teachings lead beyond Brahma and his abode.

From the hymn:

“All that existed then was void […] Thereafter rose Desire […] Desire, the primal seed and germ […] Sages who searched with their heart’s thought discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent.”

The Buddha taught the ‘desire for existence’ (bhava tanha) gives rise to rebirth - re-becoming. Universal cycles arise and cease in order to facilitate the re-becoming. The craving for existence gives rise to an endless sequence of universes - this is also taught in the 'Navnath Sampradaya '.

There is archaeological evidence for the existence of the Navnath tradition at the same period that Asoka produced his edicts.


Please reference the sources so that others can find them as well…


I asked if you knew:

If the teachings about Brahman occur earlier or, are a central theme in the early Vedic literature and, ‘Brahman’ and ‘Brahmaloka’ are not synonyms then, what are we to make of your statement:

I heard about the ‘Navnath’ belief about the origin of the universe through reading a teaching given by ‘Nisargadatta Maharaja’. He was a modern teacher in the Navnath Sampradaya.


When you write “Creation Hymn” please add from which collection, which number etc, otherwise it could be composed in the 18th century or whenever.

‘Brahman’ as you mean it is a creation of the late Brahmana and early Upanisad literature, not really the Rigveda. Same with brahmaloka. Both are pre-buddhist but not super-ancient. So maybe 800-500 BCE to give it a thumbnail number.


From Wikipedia:

"The concept Brahman is referred to in hundreds of hymns in the Vedas. For example, it is found in Rig veda hymns such as 2.2.10,[29] 6.21.8,[30] 10.72.2

Original: ब्रह्मणस्पतिरेता सं कर्मार इवाधमत् । देवानां पूर्व्ये युगेऽसतः सदजायत ॥२॥
ऋग्वेद: सूक्तं १०.७२

ऋग्वेदः सूक्तं १०.७२ - विकिस्रोतः"


Sure, because it’s complex. That’s why I wrote “Brahman as you mean it”. There is a lot to dig if you want details. Gonda’s “Notes on Brahman”, 1950 can be a good start.


What do you think this means:

Presumably this means the first-being in the universe may know or, not know, the origin of everything - the ground of being - Brahman (the absolute). What else could it mean? The creation hymn implies that there may be something before ‘Brahma’ or his ‘cosmic address’ (Brahmaloka) - doesn’t it? This idea was already present from the outset in the Vedic tradition.

When the Buddha gave the teaching to Brahma who had assumed he was the origin of everything - the all in the all - we can hear an ‘echo’ from the ‘Rig Veda’. The Rig Veda had ‘already’ introduced the notion that the first being may not know the origin of the ‘all’. He may know or, perhaps he knows it not - from where all this phenomenal-display has arisen?

The first-being is not characterised as omniscient in the ‘Rig Veda’. The big-guy in the sky may be clueless when it comes to his own origins and the origin of everything else, hence, his confusion. The Buddha helped him to come to his senses - correct? At least, that’s how the story goes …


The article to which I linked cited several sources of evidence that early Indiams ate cows.


They probably did as it is unlikely that the first Aryan migrants had deified their cattle. It was probably a Vedic innovation. I am curious as to when this shift towards vegetarianism first appeared and why. Some non-Vedic wanderers may have been vejjoes that had an influence on the newcomers. I think it could have started a lot earlier than is commonly believed. Vegetarianism has never been compulsory for all the castes in the Vedic tradition. Therefore, the idea that all Hindus are vegetarians may be a common misconception - a remake. The Hindus eat a lot of fish along the coastlines.


I must confess the description of 31 planes of existence is quite late. The best source may be the Visuddhimagga.

For the “Abhassara Devas” - a reference in Dhammapada comes to mind: “susukham vata jiivaami … devaa abhassaraa yathaa” - We live very happily … like ‘the gods of overwhelming radiance’.

Regarding visibility of the devas: … spiritual development is necessary to see any of the beings in the 31 planes, except two planes: human and animals… To be able to see Brahma gods is a high achievement.


Afaik its somewhat standard for most of the sectarian Abhidharma as well.

I wonder where they stand chronologically compared to Visuddhimagga…

This is from an Abhidharmakośakārikā study guide.


What is “Afaik?”

The diagramm you posted is very similar to the concept of the universe found in the late Abhidhamma literature of Pali.

I have a very nice printed poster from Sagaing, a present received in the early 1980’s from an old Burmese nuns, 80 years’ old at that time. She must have kept it for decades. May be it is about 100 years old now.
The 31 planes are shown there in pictures with little deva-mansions, names, life, spans and distances, - all in Burmese and in Pali in Burmese script.

The sources for such stuff are quite late, may be from the sub-commentary strata of Pali Abhidhamma literature cellaneousor from the “miscellaneous literature” (ganthantara).

There is a medieval Pali treatise on this topic written in Chiang-mai (Northern Thailand) entitled “”.
It presents the world view of the Theravaada Buddhists, as it was before Europeans widened the scope. …

As far as I can see the table you sent me (based on Abhidharmakosha) is quite similar. But it uses Sanskrit names instead of Paali. and refers to Chinese and Pure Land Buddhism, which is far removed from Paali sources …
There is one exception in the table: at the level of the 4th Jhaana four planes are mentioned, while the Paali tradition gives only two: Vehapphala = B.rhat-phala and Asanya-satta.

The other two planes may be inserted to keep up the symmetry of three mental planes for each Jhaana (since asanya-satta have only body, no mind, they do not count under this aspect).

In the Pali literature the sources for these details start with “Abhidhammattha-sangaha” (by Anuruddha, 12th century Sri Lanka). But the concepts were not developed at this time.

Visuddhimagga is 4th/5th century AD. It is based on the lost commentaries in old Sinhalese used by Buddhaghosa.

  • The canonical Abhidhamma books do not present this topic.

But there are Suttas like Brahmajala-sutta in Diigha Nikaaya, which go into some detail about ancient Indian achievements regarding planes of existence in the Brahma world. A net of 62 world-views based on Jhaana experiences and remembrances of past lives, is presented there.

I must confess, I made aother mistake: my explanation of the “gods of minor radiance” refers to the second Jhaana, not the third Jhaana. This comes from relying on memory, instead of checking the text. … It should have been clear to me from the fact that “exstasy - piiti” is such a prominent trait in this Jhaana.
The lower Jhaanic factors are discarded, as one proceeds to develop Jhaanas.
“subha-” is more calm and sublime, corresponding to the Jhaanic factor of “sukha - ease”.
vitakka- vicaara-piiti-sukha-…
To reach the fourth Jhaana even “sukha” has to be discarded.


Afaik or AFAIK = “as far as I know”. It is a caveat, meaning, I think this is right, but I might be wrong, because I am not 100% sure.

The Pāli Abhidhamma & other Abhidharmāḥ, afaik, do not have significant disparities as to cosmology (aside from Mahāyāna Abhidharmāḥ, where the Abode of the Arians is replaced by the Lotus Vault World).

Their disparities lie elsewhere, in their claffication-systems of dharmāḥ.


Something absolute huge that no one talks about a lot was the sheer upheaval of this:

Replacing this:

This gigantic upheaval wasn’t limited to Theravāda societies.

The Japanese Buddhist intelligentsia rushed to defend Sumeru cosmology when Westerners first introduced the notion of a planet earth. “Buddhism” had to jettison a lot of this cosmological material to adapt all over.

If fact, for better or worse, the six realms of rebirth shared in most normative Buddhisms are “places” more or less on that second diagram.

It something of a uncomfortable notion, the pseudo-sciencey look of the diagram.

Perhaps this is where the tendency to psychologize Buddhism comes into prominence. This worldview is hard to defend.