The Intersection of Deva Realms and Buddhist Practice: Deavatanussati Meditation and Practice

The inspiration for this article came from a recent conversation with some of Kalyana’s friends. Working closely with both the Sri Lankan Buddhist community and the European community that has embraced Dhamma, I have observed a common perception regarding the Deva realm—a realm of gods and higher beings. It is often believed that beings in the Deva realm struggle to achieve Nirvana, cannot accumulate merit (Punya), and are too engrossed in worldly pleasures to perceive reality clearly. However, examining this belief through the lens of the Buddha’s teachings provides a more nuanced understanding.

### The Existence of Deva Realms

**Can Deva Realms Exist?

The existence of Deva realms and beings with advanced minds invisible to the human eye has been a topic of debate for centuries. In the West, this discussion often centers around monotheism versus polytheism, such as the Abrahamic God versus the many gods of Greek and Roman pantheons. In ancient Vedic traditions, Brahma was seen as the creator god. However, archaeological evidence from the Indus Valley Civilization, which predates Brahmanical ideologies, shows worship of a Mother Goddess. Similarly, Greek, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian civilizations had numerous gods with distinct characteristics.

In Buddhism, the concept of Deva is different. According to the Devata Samyutta in the Samyutta Nikaya, deities are not dominant entities controlling humans but beings living similar to humans, albeit with more subtle physical characteristics. They experience an Opapatika birth, meaning they are not born from a mother’s womb or egg, but appear spontaneously due to their past karmic actions.

Visibility of Deva Realms

One might wonder why Deva realms or higher beings are not visible to the common eye. An explanation is provided in the Mahasamaya Sutta of the Digha Nikaya. The Buddha mentions that novice monks, through deep meditation, could perceive Deva beings, with some seeing hundreds or thousands of them. Additionally, in the Attakatha (commentaries), there are stories of individuals in deep meditation witnessing beings such as Asuras—deities with violent behavior, akin to humans experiencing hallucinations due to societal disbelief.

The Buddha’s Teachings on Birth in Deva Realms

Devatanussati Meditation

The Buddha’s teachings regarding birth in Deva realms and the practice of Devatanussati (recollection of deities) are illuminating. In the Sankara-uppatti Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya, the Buddha describes a meditation practice where a monk develops a mind inclined towards rebirth in the Deva realms, eventually leading to the attainment of Arahantship. The Buddha explains that a monk endowed with Shraddha, virtue (Sila), learning (Sutha), generosity (Chaga) , and wisdom(Pagngna) can aspire to be reborn in the Deva realms and practice accordingly.
(Pali Text; ‘‘puna caparaṁ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu saddhāya samannāgato hoti, sīlena samannāgato hoti, sutena samannāgato hoti, cāgena samannāgato hoti, paññāya samannāgato hoti. tassa sutaṁ hoti - ‘cātumahārājikā (cātummahārājikā (sī. syā. kaṁ. pī.)) devā dīghāyukā vaṇṇavanto sukhabahulā’ti. tassa evaṁ hoti - ‘aho vatāhaṁ kāyassa bhedā paraṁ maraṇā cātumahārājikānaṁ devānaṁ sahabyataṁ upapajjeyya’nti . so taṁ cittaṁ dahati, taṁ cittaṁ adhiṭṭhāti, taṁ cittaṁ bhāveti. tassa te saṅkhārā ca vihārā ca evaṁ bhāvitā evaṁ bahulīkatā tatrupapattiyā saṁvattanti. ayaṁ, bhikkhave, maggo ayaṁ paṭipadā tatrupapattiyā saṁvattati.)

Practical Application for Lay Disciples

In the Mahanama Agathapada Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha advises lay disciples to practice Devatanussati. By recollecting the virtues of the deities— Shraddha, virtue, learning, generosity, and wisdom—lay disciples can free their minds from lust, hatred, and delusion, thereby progressing on the path to liberation.
(Pali Text; mahānāma, samaye ariyasāvako attano ca tāsañca devatānaṁ saddhañca sīlañca sutañca cāgañca paññañca anussarati nevassa tasmiṁ samaye rāgapariyuṭṭhitaṁ cittaṁ hoti, na dosapariyuṭṭhitaṁ cittaṁ hoti, na mohapariyuṭṭhitaṁ cittaṁ hoti)

The Role of Deva Realms in Buddhist Practice

The question arises: why would the Buddha, who emphasized ending Samsara, encourage meditation on Deva realms? The answer lies in the practical realities of human life. In times of turmoil, such as wars and climate change, dedicating oneself to deep Dhamma practice can be challenging. Deva realms, as described in various sutras, offer environments conducive to hearing and practicing the Dhamma, allowing beings to recall past practices and continue their spiritual journey.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, while the Deva realms are portrayed as places of pleasure that can hinder the realization of Nirvana, they also provide a unique opportunity for spiritual practice. As illustrated in the Sakkapanha Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, even beings born in lower states in the Deva realms, through guidance and effort, can achieve deep meditative states and Nirvana. Thus, while human birth is considered precious for practicing the Dhamma, aspiring to be born in Deva realms is not contradictory to Buddhist practice. It can be a strategic choice in navigating the complexities of Samsara, especially in turbulent times.

Ultimately, as we navigate our spiritual paths, it is crucial to remain flexible and open-minded, understanding that the journey to Nirvana can take many forms and paths. The practice of Devatanussati offers one such path, providing a bridge between human struggles and the serene opportunities presented by the Deva realms.

Paintings from Sambuddha Rajamaligawa, Sri Lanka;


Very wonderful artwork, illustrative writing, as well as great information with regards to the achievement of Nibbana in the Deva Realms. Considering all of the good Buddhist Teachings in the Suttas, even such as the ones where Laymen and even ordinary city folk getting high rebirths in Deva Realms, becoming Devas, for simple service to the Buddhist Sangha, it is clearly shown that birth in a Deva Realms is a Way upwards as opposed to downwards, and how the Buddha, His Dhamma, and the Sangha play a great role in the whole process positively.


This paintings from Sri Sambuddha Raja maligawa from Polgahawela, Sri Lanka.

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I simply love them, that’s as simple as can be

I love my GodMother :pray::wind_face::heart_on_fire::bubbles::hole:


There’s a time for everything. :sweat_smile:. But Devas know great honesty, modesty, and humility too!

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