Devas (Divine Beings)

From the Autobiography of Ajahn Mun (1870 – 1949)

Devas are Divine Beings from Heaven in the Buddhist tradition. In this story from the Autobiography of Ajahn Mun, the Devas reveal somethings about themselves to Ajahn Mun and when asked, also discussed their views about humanity.

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Another mysterious incident happened when a gathering of devas visited Ãcariya Mun. Their leader began a conversation with him, saying to Ãcariya Mun, “Your stay here has caused much delight in all the devas. We all enjoy an extraordinary sense of happiness due to your all-embracing aura of compassionate love that permeates through the heavens and spreads across the earth. This aura that radiates from you is indescribable and wonderful beyond compare. Because of it, we always know where you are. This aura of Dhamma (Spiritual Truths) emanates from you and streams out in all directions. When you are teaching Dhamma to the monks, novices and lay people, even the sound of your voice resonates unbounded through the higher and lower realms. Wherever devas live they hear your voice – only the dead are deaf to it.”

Ãcariya Mun took up the conversation with this question, “If my voice really resonates as you say, why don’t human beings hear it as well?”

The leader of the devas replied, “What would humans know about moral virtue? They couldn’t care less. They use their six senses to make evil kamma and create the conditions for hell within themselves all the time. They do this from the day they are born until the day they die. They are not nearly as concerned about moral issues as they ought to be, given their status as human beings. There are very few indeed who are interested in using their senses in any morally beneficial way. The amount of moral virtue in their lives is really quite limited”.

“By way of comparison: in the time that it takes one human being to die and be reborn, repeatedly ten or even one hundred times, the average deva has yet to pass away even once—not to mention the brahma devas who have exceptionally long lives. The population of humankind is vast, and this in turn means a vast amount of negligence, for those who are heedful are few and far between. Mankind is supposed to safeguard the sãsana (Buddhist teachings), and yet people themselves know precious little about the sãsana or moral excellence”.

“Bad people know only evil. Their sole claim to being human comes from the fact that they are breathing. As soon as their breathing stops, they are immediately buried under the weight of their own wickedness. The devas know about this. Why shouldn’t they? It’s no secret. When a person dies, monks are invited to chant auspicious verses of Dhamma  for the deceased. Why would an evil person listen then? From the initial moment of death, his consciousness is completely bound up by his evil kamma. So what chance would he have to come and listen to Dhamma? Even while alive he wasn’t interested. Only the living can hear Dhamma – if they have the interest and desire. But it’s obvious that they’re not really interested. Haven’t you noticed them? When have they ever shown an interest when the monks chant Dhamma verses? Because they show no interest, it’s obvious that the sãsana is not truly embedded in their hearts”.

“The things that they’re most infatuated with are sordid and disliked even by some animals. These are just the kinds of things that immoral people have always enjoyed more than anything else; and they never ever grow tired of them. Even when they are near death they still hanker after such things. We devas know much more about humans than humans know about devas”.

“You, venerable sir, are a very special monk. You are quite familiar with humans, devas, creatures of hell, and beings of all sorts. That is why devas everywhere pay homage to you.”

When the deva had finished speaking, Ãcariya Mun asked him for Clarification, “Devas possess divine sight and divine hearing, enabling them to see and hear over great distances. They know about the good and bad of human affairs better than do humans themselves. Couldn’t you find a way to make humans more aware of right and wrong? I feel that you are more capable of it than we human teachers are. Is there any way you could do this?”

The deva replied, “We devas have seen many humans, but we have never seen one as impeccable as you, sir. You have always extended loving kindness to devas and humans alike while acquainting them simultaneously with the great variety of beings in existence, from the grossest to the most refined. You have tried to teach them to accept the fact that devas, and countless other spheres of existence really do exist in this world. But still, generation after generation, from birth to death, people have never actually seen these beings. So what interest would they have in devas? At most, they may catch a glimpse of something strange, and, without considering the matter carefully, claim they have seen a ghost. How could they possibly hope to receive any advice about matters of good and bad from us devas? Although devas are constantly aware of them, humans aren’t the least interested in knowing anything about us. By what means would you have us teach people? It’s really a hopeless situation. We just have to let kamma and its results take their course”.

“Even the devas themselves constantly receive the results of their kamma. Were we free from it, we would all attain Nibbãna (enlightenment). Then we wouldn’t have to remain in this difficult situation so long.”

Ãcariya Mun asked, “You say that one may attain Nibbãna when one’s kamma is exhausted. Do devas know about Nibbãna? Do they experience pain and suffering like other beings?”

“Why shouldn’t we, venerable sir? All the Buddhas who have come to teach the world have taught without exception that we should transcend dukkha (suffering). They never instructed us to remain mired in suffering. But worldly beings are far more interested in their favourite playthings than they are in Nibbãna. Consequently, not one of them ever considers attaining Nibbãna. All devas remember and are very impressed by the concept of Nibbãna as it was taught by each and every Buddha to living beings everywhere. But devas still have a dense web of kamma to work through before they can move clear of their celestial existence and go the way of Nibbãna. Only then will all problems cease and this oppressive, repetitive cycle of birth, death and rebirth finally come to a halt. But as long as some kamma remains in an individual – be it good kamma or bad kamma – regardless of his realm of existence dukkha will be present as well.”

Ãcariya Mun asked, “Are many monks able to communicate with devas?”

“There are a few but not many. Mostly, they are monks who like to practice living in the forests and mountains as you do”

“Are there any lay people with this ability?”

“There are some, but very few. They must be people who desire the way of Dhamma and who have practiced the way until their hearts are bright and clear. Only then can they have knowledge of us. The bodily form of celestial beings appears relatively gross to those beings themselves, but is far too subtle for the average human being to perceive. So only people whose hearts are bright and clear can perceive devas without difficulty.”

Ãcariya Mun said, “In the scriptures it says that devas do not like to be near humans because of their repugnant smell. What is this repugnant odour? If there is such an odour, why do you all come to visit me so often?”

The Deva replied, “Human beings who have a high standard of morality are not repugnant to us. Such people have a fragrance which inspires us to venerate them; so we never tire of coming to hear you discourse on Dhamma. Those, exuding a repulsive odour, are people whose morality stinks, for they have developed an aversion to moral virtue even though it is considered to be something exceptionally good throughout the three worlds. Instead, they prefer things that are repugnant to everyone with high moral standards. We have no desire to approach such people. They are really offensive and their stench spreads far and wide. It’s not that devas dislike humans; but this is what devas encounter and have always experienced with humans.”

When Ãcariya Mun told stories about devas and other kinds of spirits, the monks were mesmerized. They forgot all about themselves, the passing time, and their feelings of fatigue. They wished that, someday, they also would come to know about such things; and this hope made them happy to practice.

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