Valāhakā Devā, who are deities of the weather controlling the clouds can be considered as sky gods of EBTs (Valāhaka Saṃyutta).
Mendicant, there are what are called gods of the cool clouds. Sometimes they think: ‘Why don’t we revel in our own kind of enjoyment?’ Then, in accordance with their wish, it becomes cool. This is the cause, this is the reason why sometimes it becomes cool (SN 32.53)
Mendicant, there are what are called gods of the storm clouds. Sometimes they think: ‘Why don’t we revel in our own kind of enjoyment?’ Then, in accordance with their wish, it becomes stormy. This is the cause, this is the reason why sometimes it becomes stormy (SN 32.55).
This is one of those concepts of Buddhism criticized mostly. This appears to be a vulnerable point because it shares smilarity with other religions. The concept of sky gods who controls weather is shared by most of the cultures developed arround the world. Both monotheistic and polytheistic religions have the concept.
The gods of sky and weather were named Theoi Ouranioi or Theoi Meteoroi by the Greeks (sky gods of greek).
Horus or Her, Heru, Hor in Ancient Egyptian, is one of the most significant ancient Egyptian deities who served many functions, most notably god of kingship and the sky (Horus)
In the Vedas, Indra is the king of Svarga (Heaven) and the Devas. He is the god of the heavens, lightning, thunder, storms, rains, river flows, and war. Indra is the most referred to deity in the Rigveda (Indra)
There are three possibilities I can come up with,
Suttas about this particular concept absorbed from other religions after the buddha.
There really are Valāhakā Devā who control the clouds for a certain extent other than the natural phenomena.
Natural phenomena related to the weather depends upon the thoughts of the deities.
I think your point one is the most probable. It could also be a hybrid between the teaching and prevalent concepts in society at the time. If we look at the discourses in the previous Vagga (SN 31 - Gandhabba) - we find a clear attempt to connect actions with results which is the key concept of the teaching. It would have made sense for the later compilers to come up with such hybrid discourses.
Meteorology adequately explains the weather. The valāhakā devā reflect Ancient Indian knowledge/philosophy of the natural world. Because current knowledge of the natural world is vastly superior, the valāhakā devā explanation does not deserve to be on an equal epistemological footing as meteorology.
At least to me it seems like the Buddha just gave an answer using a culturally appropriate answer instead of explaining something as finicky as the weather.
For example in SN 32.54
“Sir, what is the cause, what is the reason why sometimes it becomes warm?”
“ko nu kho, bhante, hetu, ko paccayo, yenekadā uṇhaṃ hotī”ti?
Mendicant, there are what are called gods of the warm clouds.
“Santi, bhikkhu, uṇhavalāhakā nāma devā.
Sometimes they think:Tesaṃ yadā evaṃ hoti:‘Why don’t we revel in our own kind of enjoyment?’ Then, in accordance with their wish, it becomes warm.
‘yannūna mayaṃ sakāya ratiyā vaseyyāmā’ti, tesaṃ taṃ cetopaṇidhimanvāya uṇhaṃ hoti.
This is the cause, this is the reason why sometimes it becomes warm.”
Ayaṃ kho, bhikkhu, hetu, ayaṃ paccayo, yenekadā uṇhaṃ hotī”ti.
He doesn’t explain anything he just seems to make a simple answer “the gods do it” and then drops it. At least that is how the translation makes it look. Knowing how the weather works won’t help with achieving nibbana after all.
Can we guess the relative age of this sutta, is it very early or later? It only has a parallel in the Chinese Agamas.
The ascetic Gotama has given up talking nonsense. His words are timely, true, and meaningful, in line with the teaching and training. He says things at the right time which are valuable, reasonable, succinct, and beneficial.’
‘Samphappalāpaṃ pahāya samphappalāpā paṭivirato samaṇo gotamo kālavādī bhūtavādī atthavādī dhammavādī vinayavādī, nidhānavatiṃ vācaṃ bhāsitā kālena sāpadesaṃ pariyantavatiṃ atthasaṃhitan’ti (DN 1)
There are the four types of questions
EkamsaVyākarasa – question which are explained
PatipucchaVyākaranīyo – questions which are answered
after a counter-question has been put.
VibhajjaVyākaranīyo – questions which are explained
That’s why I added the edit wondering about Valāhaka Saṃyutta’s age. I don’t see why the Buddha would be interested in answering a question about the way the weather functions and then just give such a simple and unanalytical answer because you as you mention,
Do we know what kind of purpose this type of sutta serves in the commentaries?
Perhaps this would be a good moment to highlight a principle I follow in understanding early Buddhism, that of cultural embeddedness.
Religions are collections of ideas, practices, values, and stories that are all embedded in cultures and not separable from them. Just as religion cannot be understood in isolation from its cultural (including political) contexts, it is impossible to understand culture without considering its religious dimensions. In the same way that race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic class are always factors in cultural interpretation and understanding, so too is religion. Harvard Religious Literacy Project | Four Principles
The Buddha and the Pāli Canon redactors didn’t live in our culture, they lived in that of ancient India. Hence, it would be unfair to judge them for making assertions which fail to gain credibility by modern standards. In an ancient Indian context, it might have been quite uncontroversial and rational to appeal to devas in explaining the weather.
The apparent identity of conditioned phenomena known in aggregate as hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, etc., could be, for conversational expedience be articulated as a named deity. There are, after all, non-percipient beings who simply would be heedless of our concerns.
dn1: There are gods named ‘non-percipient beings’.
I’ve always thanked and bowed to the mountain after climbing. I have also never gotten an answer. Yet to not thank and bow would simply be rude.
Recently we went climbing and were threatened by a thunderstorm. This is life and death in the mountains, but it blew by with no consequence. For that, too, there was gratitude. And no answer.
And all these new Category 5 hurricanes? We have collectively brought them about by not being grateful and by not exercising restraint. And if we plead with them to stop, we will still get…no answer.
Thank you for stating the obvious. Suttas sometimes just reflect the cultural and religious environment. In this particular case the Valāhakā Devā are probably East Indian non-Vedic deities, and they are pretty much irrelevant for liberation.
We can see how the suttas reflect their current understanding of supernatural beings for example with the Gandhabbas. These are Vedic beings who underwent a development - in ancient times it was one supreme being, the one Gandharva (similar to the later Brahman), over time they became many and got demoted to more demonic beings or demigods. And this is how they are referenced in the suttas as well, below the Four Great Kings.
No fancy explanation is needed. Lay people ask about the supernatural beings they heard of, and monastics who were supposed to know about these things answer somehow.
Maybe there was monastic interest too, maybe not. Maybe the Buddha was involved, maybe not.
The Buddha also used the words “person” and “me” etc as a social convention without implying the actual, ontological or metaphysical, existence of such a reified thing. The Buddha was no liar, but he also wasn’t a pedant.
If you go by e.g. Donald Hoffman’s theory of conscious agents (that the underlying reality - the stage on which existence unfolds - is not spacetime & matter but networks of interacting conscious agents), then weather devas could make sense.
That is, the underlying reality is a bunch of conscious agents interacting (the weather devas), but our human perceptual interface simplifies those interactions so we just see it as clouds, wind, rain, etc.
E.g. imagine a frog asking a frog Buddha “why is the climate becoming warmer with more extreme weather upsetting my pond?”
The frog Buddha would perhaps say “the hairless ape gods, sometimes they think ‘why don’t we pump out more oil to grow the economy?’ then, as a consequence of their wish, it becomes warmer with more extreme weather upsetting your pond.”
From the frogs perspective, it’s legitimate to explain climate change as a result of the interactions of conscious agents (humans). Yet the frog, in his pond, would have no way of perceiving these interactions. The frog just experiences more weather shaking up his pond. He has no way to petition the humans, or even perceive them effectively, much less communicate with them and plead his case.
And from the human point of view, sadly, we would not give some frog in a pond somewhere the time of day. What’s does a frog matter against the progress and prosperity of human civilization?
Perhaps we humans are like frogs in this sense? Maybe there are vast networks of beings out there, but since we have limited perception we only see the ripples and waves in our little pond?