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Deva (Buddhism)

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A deva (देव Sanskrit and Pāli) in Buddhism is one of many different types of non-human beings who share the characteristics of being more powerful, longer-lived, and, in general, living more contentedly than the average human being.

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Synonyms in other languages include Khmer tep (ទេព), or preah (ព្រះ), Myanmar language nat, Tibetan lha, Mongolian tenger (тэнгэр), Chinese tiān (), Korean cheon, Japanese ten, Vietnamese thiên, Thai Thevada .The concept of devas was adopted in Japan partly because of the similarity to the Shinto's concept of kami.

Other words used in Buddhist texts to refer to similar supernatural beings are devatā "deity" and devaputra (Pāli: devaputta) "son of the gods". It is unclear what the distinction between these terms is.

Powers of the devas

From a human perspective, devas share the characteristic of being invisible to the physical human eye. The presence of a deva can be detected by those humans who have opened the divyacakṣus (Pāli: dibbacakkhu), an extrasensory power by which one can see beings from other planes. Their voices can also be heard by those who have cultivated divyaśrotra, a similar power of the ear.

Most devas are also capable of constructing illusory forms by which they can manifest themselves to the beings of lower worlds; higher and lower devas even have to do this between each other.

Devas do not require the same kind of sustenance as humans do, although the lower kinds do eat and drink. The higher sorts of deva shine with their own intrinsic luminosity.

Devas are also capable of moving great distances speedily and of flying through the air, although the lower devas sometimes accomplish this through magical aids such as a flying chariot.

Types of deva

The term deva does not refer to a natural class of beings, but is defined anthropocentrically to include all those beings more powerful or more blissful than humans. It includes some very different types of being; these types can be ranked hierarchically. The lowest classes of these beings are closer in their nature to human beings than to the higher classes of deva.

The devas fall into three classes depending upon which of the three dhātus, or "realms" of the universe they are born in.

The devas of the Ārūpyadhātu have no physical form or location, and they dwell in meditation on formless subjects. They achieve this by attaining advanced meditational levels in another life. They do not interact with the rest of the universe.

The devas of the Rūpadhātu have physical forms, but are sexless and passionless. They live in a large number of "heavens" or deva-worlds that rise, layer on layer, above the earth. These can be divided into five main groups:

Each of these groups of deva-worlds contains different grades of devas, but all of those within a single group are able to interact and communicate with each other. On the other hand, the lower groups have no direct knowledge of even the existence of the higher types of deva at all. For this reason, some of the Brahmās have become proud, imagining themselves as the creators of their own worlds and of all the worlds below them (because they came into existence before those worlds began to exist).

The devas of the Kāmadhātu have physical forms similar to, but larger than, those of humans. They lead the same sort of lives that humans do, though they are longer-lived and generally more content; indeed sometimes they are immersed in pleasures. This is the realm that Māra has greatest influence over.

The higher devas of the Kāmadhātu live in four heavens that float in the air, leaving them free from contact with the strife of the lower world. They are:

The lower devas of the Kāmadhātu live on different parts of the mountain at the center of the world, Sumeru. They are even more passionate than the higher devas, and do not simply enjoy themselves but also engage in strife and fighting. They are:

"Furthermore, you should recollect the devas: 'There are the devas of the Four Great Kings, the devas of the Thirty-three,..." [196. Dh.] "Feeders of joy we shall be like the radiant gods (devas)."

Sometimes included among the devas, and sometimes placed in a different category, are the Asuras, the opponents of the preceding two groups of devas, whose nature is to be continually engaged in war.

Humans are said to have originally had many of the powers of the devas: not requiring food, the ability to fly through the air, and shining by their own light. Over time they began to eat solid foods, their bodies became coarser and their powers disappeared.

There is also a humanistic definition of 'deva' [[[Wikipedia:male|male]]] and 'devi' [[[Wikipedia:female|female]]] ascribed to Gotama Buddha: a god is a moral person. This is comparable to another definition, i.e. that 'hell' is a name for painful emotions.

Devas vs. gods

Although the word deva is generally translated "god" (or, very occasionally, "angel") in English, Buddhist devas differ from the "gods" and "angels" of most religions past and present in many important ways.

  • Buddhist devas are not immortal. They live for very long but finite periods of time, ranging from thousands to (at least) billions of years. When they pass away, they are reborn as some other sort of being, perhaps a different type of deva, perhaps a human or something beyond comprehension.
  • Buddhist devas are not omnipotent. Their powers tend to be limited to their own worlds, and they rarely intervene in human affairs. When they do, it is generally by way of quiet advice rather than by physical intervention.

Confused with devas

Mahayana and Vajrayana meditation and practice includes several types of being that are often called "gods", but are distinct from the devas.


Wikipedia:Deva (Buddhism)