Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The First Heaven (Eight Precepts)

It may surprise some that Buddhism talks about "heaven" (sagga). The word is a collective designation for many worlds, many heavens. Not all of them are figurative and metaphorical. Six of them in particular are very real and attainable. The Noble Eightfold Path aims for nirvana (attainable in this world, in this lifetime), not a heavenly rebirth. For a heavenly rebirth (or a better human life), there are Eight Precepts.

The wholesome deeds involved along the way to enlightenment and nirvana may certainly come to fruition in finer worlds. For those with a this-world-only disposition, profitable acts also ripen here. No wholesome deed (or even a skillful motive or utterance) is lost. Before discussing the appropriate karma, let us examine the first Buddhist "heaven."

Where is it?
It is divided into four quarters in the visible sky, corresponding to the four directions of the compass.
What is it called?
It is collectively called the Heaven of the Four Great Kings (catu-maha-rajika-deva-loka).
Who lives there?
In addition to the namesake rulers, there are retinues of unseen semi-terrestrial beings:
  • East: musicians under King Dhatarattha
  • South: dwarfs (some sources say hungry ghosts) under King Virulhaka
  • West: reptilians under King Virupakkha
  • North: ogres under King Vessuvana
In addition, there are three groups of nymphs or nature spirits.
  • Earth-bound (bhummattha-deva) dwelling in mountains, rivers, oceans, archways, and homes
  • Tree-bound (rukkhattha-deva) dwelling in trees or in "mansions" above them
  • Space-bound (akasattha-deva) dwelling in the air, in vimanas, or on other planets
There is in addition one other important figure in this "heaven." He is Sakka, king of kings, ruler of the devas. He is a follower of the Buddha and a Stream-Enterer even as he remains involved in earthly affairs, the affairs of the Four Kings, and is supreme in the next heaven up, Tavatimsa. (Source)

Is this a Faerie Kingdom?

That is hard to say. These unseen-beings certainly correspond to fairytale beings in Western lore, where they are called sprites, dryads, sylphs, mermaids, nymphs, elementals, elves, giants, gnomes, serpents, salamanders, and so on. (See: preternatural legendary creatures). They are recognized by all cultures as informal indigenous spiritual beliefs and formal religious figures (the snake in the garden, earth-angels, jinn, demons, monsters, ghosts, chimera, and mythological beings of every description.

What are the Eight Precepts?

In brief, the path to these worlds is skillful karma. Temporarily or, if so inclined, permanently adopting the Eight Precepts will create volitions and a basis that karmically ripens in those worlds. For it to ripen there, one will be reborn there. What are the Eight Precepts (attha-sila) taught by the Buddha? They are to willfully, intentionally, and consciously:
  1. Abstain from taking life or causing it to be taken
  2. Abstain from taking what is not given or causing it to be taken
  3. Abstain from taking liberties regarding sex or instigating others
  4. Abstain from taking liberties with the truth or instigating others to lie
  5. Abstain from taking intoxicants that occasion negligence or instigating others
  6. Abstain from eating at improper times (generally defined as after midday)
  7. Abstain from dancing, singing, base entertainments, as well as the use of cosmetics, scents, and vain adornments
  8. Abstain from using high and luxurious seats and beds
These are generally observed in Buddhist countries on full- and new-moon days. (See: Uposatha Days, sikkhāpada). While the list may sound daunting, one understands that ANY skillful deed (any action/intention that curtails greed, hatred, and/or delusion) may ripen in a better world.

  • Simply giving with a thought to benefit the recipient or to be a better person is skillful.
  • Simply choosing to be happy and kinder, more compassionate and forgiving, sympathetic and rejoicing in others' good fortune (the opposite of schadenfreude), or moving in the direction of calm and equanimity.
  • Simply making an effort toward non-delusion, to gain knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and insight.
  • Simply abstaining in skillful adherence to the Five Precepts.