Where are the "heavens" (sagga)? According to Buddhist cosmology, akasha means space. And this space -- the akasha deva loka or "worlds of shining ones" -- begins in the visible sky in all directions. The celestial spheres (an idealized schematic of the universe imagined as concentric circles, as our graphic shows) spread out above Earth like glass globes in the firmament for a Ptolemaic view of the universe. They sound more like the flight paths of UFOs or safe zones for hovering platforms and enormous ships (flying palaces and "mansions"). But who lives in those worlds, and who lives on this one?
Who's who in the Indian view of space beings
The space beings Indian lore can be sorted into devas from various worlds, demigods (human-deva hybrids, who are often rulers with a kind of "divine right" backstory), lesser messenger "angels" (gandharvas), asuras (rebellious devas, who came to be demonized for their warring and retaliation), rishis (human "seers," who were yogis and mystics of great power), and brahmas (super powerful beings).
The Buddha and Mahavira (the leader of the extremely ascetic Jains, called Niganthas in Buddhism) are more like "saints" than self-proclaimed "gods." But saints is misleading because they did not advocate the worship of any gods. Siddhartha, soon after becoming enlightened, was asked if he was a "god" (deva), an otherworldly being, or what exactly. He answered that he was awake. "Buddha" means "Awakened," for through enlightenment, he had overcome illusion and had directly come to know-and-see this world with all its many hidden inhabitants -- devas, nagas, maras, brahmas.
The hierarchy of space beings starts with human beings. (According to the lore of disparate ancient religions around the world, we are biological modifications bred and reshaped in the image, and with the DNA, of various space beings). One can immediately see the controversial reference to and support for fundamentalist Christian interpretations of the Jewish and Christian Bibles. We may not have been made from scratch, but we have definitely been genetically manipulated and crossbred with more advanced humanoids.
And it is key to understand that all of these beings are humanoid, sharing a great deal of DNA, which makes us space "cousins," like our earthling cousins the bonobos, chimps, other great apes, hobbits, and our newly readmitted family members the neanderthals.
Modern humans absorbed our neanderthal cousins into the gene pool (ALCWI.com)
- Humans and Asian Neanderthals mated (Discovery)
The oldest modern human remains from East Asia have been found; they date to at least 100,000 BC. The findings reveal that modern humans were established in East Asia much earlier than in Europe. The structure of the fossils and age suggest that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals.
In a sense, it is funny to realize that both Darwinists and fundamentalists are right to some extent. Both are wrong in their exaggerated polemics. From our understanding of Buddhist references and stories, it seems that both positions are rooted in some kind of truth. Sadly, what they go on to make of the facts is where they go wrong: When one says, "Because of this, this other thing follows," science and spirituality get driven apart. Yet both, one hopes, are still reaching for the same thing -- an understanding of what is objectively true, however untenable it may seem at the outset.
Humans also live in space. Earth, like other planets, is in space, after all, and there are humans who are not on Earth. Some people from space, to whom we are related, are apparently concerned with Earth. Others wish to conquer and rule it widthout regard to our shared origins, DNA, or other similarities. This gives a whole other meaning to what St. Issa (Jesus) was on about when telling humans that they were also "gods." (This was later made singular as all of Judaism went from a complex polytheism to a stern and contradictory monotheism, contradicted by many Biblical and Koranic passages). What was he saying? Humans are also part deva, watched over from above by brahmas like Mahabrahma and Sahampati brahma, to mention only two Buddhist examples; St. Issa would have learned this in Ladakh, India and Tibet.
So the hierarchy in space begins with earthbound humans, or lesser mortals, are at the bottom. Certainly, the Buddha pointed out that his world was the lowest of the fortunate rebirths.
- The "unfortunate destinations" (apayas) are planes of existence for beings few believe in anymore than they believe in higher order space-descended beings, no matter how tied up in history, lore, legend, and modern sightings they are. These four categories are (1) animals, (2) ghosts (which seems to include hybrids or chimeras), (3) demons (which interestingly includes bad versions of otherwise good beings like some humans, ruling nagas or serpents, asuras or titans, yakkhas or ogres) such as maras (adversaries, obstructors, tempters, detractors, corrupters) and maybe the wardens or jailers in some of the long lasting but transient purgatories, and (4) denizens (narakas) of the great purgatories. Nagas (reptilians) are a special category because they reside in space (possibly as alien greys) as well as under the Earth, ruling this planet, attempting to sack it, possessing human rulers (royal bloodlines in opposition to devas and brahmas they are angry with); they are condemned as sea and sky "serpents" and "transformation beings" by various religions including Christianity (the dragons of Jewish lore).
- Are there real "hells"? Yes. Physically, narakas are a series of cavernous layers (complexes presumably operated by nagas in league with renegade yakkhas) that extend below Jambudvīpa (the ordinary civilized human world at that time). There are several schemes for listing them and their torments. The Abhidharma-kosha ("Treasure House of Higher Knowledge") is the root text that describes the most common scheme of Eight Cold Hells and Eight Hot Hells.
Higher up are the lesser space dwelling beings who frequently come to Earth or have taken up residence here: the gandharvas (fairies, messengers for the devas), kinnaras (avian crossbreeds), vidyadharas (powerful part-human rulers who dwell in the Himalayas), and apsaras (beautiful space nymphs). When we speak of someone's beauty being "heavenly," we are speaking quite literally of space-descended people and the offspring of the humans they mate with. Valkyries, the companions of "heroes" and "men of renown" (demigods), would seem to fit here along with the norns, dísir, seeresses, and shieldmaidens.
Their rulers are the yakshis and yakshas -- fertility goddesses and nature protectors who, when gone rogue or become fierce and uncontrolled, take form as yetis, yeren, Sasquatches (Bigfoot), and Abominable Snowmen reported throughout the Himalayas, Asia, and America.
Salabhanjikas ("breaking a branch of a sala tree") are fertility goddesses often depicted against trees with one leg bent up and one hand holding a branch. They are believed to be virginal, capable of making a tree bear flowers.
The legendary similarities to the Buddha's mother, Queen Maya Devi, are impossible to miss. (A devi is both a female deva and an honorific title of a female ruler, presumed to be by "divine right"). Maya was virginal ("virgin" means chaste not celibate) in the sense of not having violated the Five Precepts since birth, the third precept being to abstain from all sexual misconduct, as well as being pure by bloodline for seven generations on both her father and mother's sides. [Ref: the Buddha described the necessary signs he (as Setaketu, his name in that lifetime) saw looking down at Earth from a space world named Tusita "heaven" before taking his final rebirth, a suitable mother being one of them (Sp.i.161; MA.i.103).] She had descended from space to be reborn on Earth to give birth to the future Buddha and quickly passed away and was reborn in a space world, Tavatimsa "heaven," where the Buddha is said to have visited her to teach her the Abhidharma). She gave birth out of her side while standing holding the branch of a Sala tree while it bloomed, and the baby was washed by attendant devas.
Now either all of this gave rise to details about Salabhanjikas or was taken wholesale from existing Indian lore and applied to the Buddha's marvelous birth to portray him as more deva ("god") than human being who reached the heights of human potential excelling the devas and even the brahmas in ability, wisdom, and freedom.
Nagas have a similar standing on this human and low orbit plane. Reptilians are associated with water, subterranean (Deep Underground Military Bases), and "fertility" (genetic manipulation). They were adopted into Hinduism as emblems of Shiva (perhaps reflecting Shiva's own origins from an earlier nature cult), and were adopted into Buddhism as protectors of the Buddha and later the Dharma in this world.
Above them are the rishis (seers), devas, and hybrid humans (demigods), and so on who are thought of as weather-controlling "gods" and their half-bred offspring (putras or sons, devaputras, "sons of gods").
Finally there are the "super gods" from higher worlds -- that is, farther from Earth -- like Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and to a certain extent the Mother Goddess (any caring brahma, since they are neither male nor female, can be described as a nurturing mother or protective father, both being procreative and attempting to raise up to rebirth in elevated worlds above the human plane).
All space descended beings ("sky gods") have vehicles or vahanas (vimanas, spacecraft, UFOs, flying saucers and space ships of every size and shape) as well as various hybrid creatures like griffins scattered throughout the pantheon (or if fallen, those creatures seem to exist as chimera's in the ghost realm).
Who are the lesser known demigods?
- Vidyadharas: wisdom bearers, seen with a small garland, who fly above the heads of devas. The garland symbolizes the attainment of supreme (spiritual) wisdom. (One sees this symbolism particularly in Mahayana Buddhist iconography).
- Gandharvas: celestial musicians entertaining the devas, messengers, fairies, "fragrances," husbands of the apsaras who mated with human women on Earth.
- Apsaras: celestial dancers entertaining devas, the most famous being Urvashi, the lead dancer in the court of Indra -- in Buddhism called Sakra, the "King of Kings" (of the space world called the Realm of the Four Great Sky Kings) and "Lord of Lords" (of the Heaven of the Thirty-three). It is no coincidence that Christians use these epithets and titles to refer to Jesus: Christianity is a hybrid faith composed of the best elements of religions everywhere (particularly Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and Mahayana Buddhism), where everything boils down to Jesus, in a myopic monotheism taken to literal extremes by compressing all "gods" into one super "God." If people believed that Sakra (Pali, Sakka) was the "king of heaven," and "heaven" was a catchall name for all the heavens, then it had to be Jesus. As Seven Dharmachari points out, if legends told of Sakka expelling "asuras" from Tavatimsa heaven, then that became the lore, except now calling Sakka by his former name, prior to being reborn in that space world, Magha of Macala, to Christians, St. Michael. But when pressed, Christians explain by imposing monotheism on their polytheistic Bible: Who is St. Michael? It must be another name for Jesus, at least one Christian scholar explains. When UFO beings, all mythological, come down to fight off other aliens (nagas or "dragons," shapeshifters, reptilians, possibly greys, asuras, and errant yakshas), then all this "mythology" will suddenly make sense as being a fanciful explanation of real things.
- Garudas: mythical "birds" mentioned with nāgas, who themselves or more likely their flying machines are huge in size, sometimes 100-150 leagues from wing to wing (J.iii.397), so big that a man (e.g., Natakuvera at J.iii.91) could hide in it unnoticed. These wings can raise a storm, known as the garuda-wind (J.v.77), that can wind can plunge an entire city into darkness and collapse houses (J.iii.188). They are the eternal enemies of the nāgas (J.ii.13; iii.103). The greatest happiness of nāgas is to be free from garuda attacks. They can assume human form.
- Kinnaras: celestial musicians who entertain Vaisravana, also known as Kubera, their ruler, who is a yaksha, popularly known as the lord of wealth. They have human heads and the bodies of birds or horses. They were the sons of Kasyapa or derived from Brahma. They are often identified with the Kimpurushas, whose appearance is the exact opposite and who are also followers of Kubera. Some verses in the Bhagavat Gita make reference to them.