Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Thor: Dark World" (Sakka, King of the Devas)

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson,  CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly; Wikipedia edit of Sakra
(MMDE) Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Zachary Levi, Anthony Hopkins, Jaimie Alexander, directed by Alan Taylor (Marvel, Nordic mythology), 2013.
The Buddha surrounded by space beings from akasha deva loka, Wat Bua Kwan, Thailand (WQ)
Sakka ousts Vepacitti told as Michael and titan/drag
Sakka (Śakra, शक्र) is the ruler of The World of the Thirty-Three according to Buddhist cosmology. His full title is Śakro devānām indraḥ (शक्रो देवानं इन्द्रः; Sakko devānaṃ indo), "Śakra, Lord of the Devas." 
In Buddhist texts, Sakka is the proper name, not an epithet of this shining one; conversely, Indra in Sanskrit and Inda in Pali are sometimes used as an epithet for Sakka as "lord (of lords)" or "king (of kings)," or "ruler (raja)." Nevertheless, his position as ruler is considered a station; therefore, there are many "Sakkas," at least one in each world-system, which may refer to a solar system, galaxy, or bubble-like cluster of space.
In East Asian traditions, Sakka is known as Dìshìtiān (帝釋天) or Shìtí Huányīn (釋提桓因) in Chinese and as Taishakuten (帝釈天) in Japan. In China, Sakka is sometimes compared to or conflated with Taoism's Jade Emperor (Yùhuáng Dàdì, 玉皇大帝 often simplified in Yùhuáng, 玉皇). Both share a birthday on the ninth day of the first lunar month of the Chinese calendar (usually in February).
What is a "Sakka"?
Deva, "shining one," like Sakka
The Sanskrit sakra, "powerful," as an epithet of Indra, is found in several Vedic verses from the ancient sacred Indian text, the Rigveda. Sakka seems to be the root source for the Nordic myth of the Nordic space alien (and Marvel Comic hero) "Thor" casting out his evil brother (Loki) and St. Michael casting out that infamous rebellious "being of light" Lucifer (later conflated with the devil, Satan, Belzebub, etc.)
In Buddhist lore, Sakka "cast out" one of the titan (asuras) chiefs, Vepacitti (which some might conflate with Mara Devaputra or as someone under Mara's control). There is in the story the additional complication of Sakka being married to Vepacitti's daughter, the titan princess Sujā.

Karma works (itself out) in mysterious ways.
Such are the startling entanglements of karma, because it is not that "God works in mysterious ways" so much as "karma works itself out in mysteriously incomprehensible ways." Both expressions are saying the exact same thing, the former with a personified character of all-encompassing "law" or regularity in the universe, the latter free of a personal agent controlling a natural and predictable (albeit bafflingly complex) pattern.

These parallel "myths" -- actual events attested to by the ancients -- are no coincidence, but are either remembrances colored by cultures of actual events or stories deriving from the wisdom of the East -- ancient Vedic and Buddhist cosmologies, particularly as inherited by ancient Greece when the great empire extended into ancient Northwest India (Bactria, Sogdiana, and the various Alexandrias like Kandahar, Afghanistan).
In Buddhist texts, Sakka's myth and character are different from those of the Vedic Indra. According to G.P. Malalasekara (Dictionary of Pali Proper Names), "Sakka and Indra are independent conceptions. None of the personal characteristics of Sakka resemble those of Indra. Some epithets are identical but are evidently borrowed, though they are differently explained."

Great Brahma/Odin creating the world
The World of the Thirty-Three that Sakka rules is located on the top of Mt. Sumeru (cf. Meru, a kind of Mt. Olympus, abode of the Greek gods), imagined to be the polar axis of the physical world extending through space, around which the Sun and Moon revolve. 

The World of the Thirty-Three is the highest of the celestial planes in direct contact with Earth. Like the other devas of this world, Sakka is long-lived but mortal. When one Sakka dies, the position or station is taken by another deva who becomes the new Sakka. It is a position in addition to being that being's name, as is the case with many Buddhist figures including the Buddha, with it cyclical conception of history and staggering view of time.
Buddhist stories about Sakka (past and present, in the past having been named Maghavā from Macala, an echo of "Michael") are found in the "Birth Tales" (Jātakas) as well as in sutras, particularly those preserved as part of the collection known as the Connected Discourses (Saṃyutta Nikāya or "Kindred Sayings").
If the glorious devas or "shining ones" were so different from the angry asuras or "titans" (often referred to as "demons" for their warlike ways), how is it that Sakka could be married to Suja, the daughter of his chief rival, Vepacitti (Sanskrit, Vemacitrin), one of the titan kings? 
Many long-lived "gods" have come down from space to be worshipped by mortals (Hilti)
The strange workings of karma, which connects beings as much by attraction as aversion -- love like hate being very sticky -- seems to be the ironic explanation.
But despite this intimate relationship, a state of war generally exists between the many inhabitants of the World of the Thirty-Three [lords or ruling devas] under Sakka and the titans, who formerly peacefully co-inhabited this celestial plane. Sakka, newly reborn into the position of "lord of the 33 lords" and "king of kings" (ruler of the immediately subordinate sky/space world of the Four Great Kings (Catu Maha Rajikas), ousted by Vepacitti and the titans after getting them drunk on "heavenly" beer or brew (sura). 

This is the legend of how they came to be called a-suras. They were cast onto Earth and, realizing that they had been duped, swore off drinking beer. Sakka thereby managed this ousting feat and has resolved subsequent "wars in heaven" with minimal violence and no loss of life. For Sakka is reputedly and unambiguously the world-system's most famous stream-enterers, having gained the first stage of enlightenment by hearing the Dharma from the Buddha.

Sakka is thus doubly splendid in being partly enlightened and ruling, partying (at the many balls, cotillions, feasts, and get togethers among the devas of the Sensual Sphere or kama loka, a sphere which includes our human plane, as exemplified by a sutra that recounts a visit to such a party in a large mansion/vimana/ship by Ven. Maha Moggallana, who shook it with his toe by a magical feat to bring the devas out of their careless diversions and sensual distractions). 
How could Sakka be in any way "enlightened" in the lineage of the "noble ones" (ariya)? Liberating insight that uproots some defilements and weakens others makes it so, even if one does not then immediately start behaving like a stereotypical "saint" or in anyway seem different to the casual observer. This is evident from verses in praise of stream entry in the "Jewel Sutra" or "Gem Discourse" (Ratana Sutta). The Three Jewels, or "Triple Gem," are the Buddha, Dharma, and enlightened Sangha -- the Teacher, the Teaching, and the successfully Taught.

Those who clearly comprehend the Noble Truths
Well taught by him of wisdom deep
Although they may be very neglectful,
They can never undergo an eighth birth.
Truly, in the [Noble] Sangha is found this precious jewel.
By this truth, may there be happiness.

For one after the acquisition of insight
Three things are immediately abandoned:
Self-illusion, doubt [about the Path or the Buddha], 
And clinging to useless rites and rituals
[as a means of gaining enlightenment]
Whatever they may be.
From the four states of [subhuman] misery,
One is absolutely freed
And is now incapable of committing six heinous deeds.
Truly, in the [Noble Community] is found this precious jewel.
By this truth, may there be happiness.

Whatever unskillful actions one does --
Whether by body, speech, or mind,
One is incapable of hiding it.
For it has been said that such an act [of concealment] is
Impossible for one who has seen the Path.
Truly, in the [Noble Community] is found this precious jewel.
By this truth, may there be happiness.
The Buddha in space visiting his former mother reborn in the World of the Thirty-Three
In fact, regardless of how one behaves after partly awakening to the Truth, however negligent, one has delimited rebirth to no more than seven more lives and can never be reborn onto any plane lower than the worlds comprising the "human plane" (manussa). Sakka accomplished this breakthrough while he was a deva king with great longevity and many sensual distractions, yet we often find ourselves to distracted with sensual pursuits and worries.

Sakka at one time frequently interacted with the Earth, visiting and questioning the Buddha, and is said to still protect and keep an eye on the progress in virtue of the Earth's inhabitants through his regents, the Four Great Kings.
Enlightened and humble (CB)
Sakka is mentioned in many Buddhist discourses. He is often shown consulting with the Buddha on questions of proper conduct, virtue, ethics, and morality (sila) -- behavior that leads beings to fortunate rebirths on Earth and in superior celestial worlds like his and higher. (The Bodhisatta, who eventually became the Buddha, was many times reborn as a Sakka).
An entire discourse explains what karma led to Sakka's very fortunate rebirth, and we are all capable of it, given our "divine nature," given our ability to be reborn as a deva (called a devaputra, "son of god," when deva is loosely translated as "god" in the ancient Greek, Roman, and Indian sense of the word).  Together with Brahmā -- a mythical god like Thor's father, Odin, or Cronus (father of the "king of the gods" Zeus)  -- Sakka is considered a Dharmapala or protector of the Buddhist Dharma. More

King Nemi-raja, ruler of Mithila, would make merit and teach Dharma to his subjects so that whenever one of them passed away, they would go onto a better rebirth. His reputation spread across the three spheres, and when it reached the devas, they were keen to meet him. Sakka got his vimana-charioteer, Matali, to take his ship to pick up the king. In Sakka's mansion, the king was invited to live there but declined and returned to the human world to do more good (Nemiraja Jataka, watnavaram.org).

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