I’m the one who asked Brahmā
in the Hall of Justice before the assembly:
‘Friend, do you still have the same view
that you had in the past?
Or do you see the radiance
transcending the Brahmā realm?’
[to be continued…]
– Mahā-Moggallāna Thera: a chief disciple of the Buddha
(Māratajjanīya Sutta: Majjhima Nikāya, No. 50)
In the Pāṭika Sutta, Śākyamuni Buddha spoke, of how he once asked some who believed that all beings (and things) were created by a creator, on how this belief was created in the first place. As they could not answer, they asked him in return for the answer, to whom he again spoke, on the fifth misguided view, that he already taught to others in the Brahmajāla Sutta.
Although some learning to have faith in the existence of a creator are taught to not question the very existence of this supposedly ‘uncreated creator’, the Buddha personally exemplified intelligent doubt, so as to urge questioning and reflecting, for understanding the truth. His reply is below, as summarised from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation, with explanatory notes…
After a long period, when this world contracts (i.e. disintegrates, perhaps by a Big Crunch or the equivalent), most beings are karmically reborn in the Ābhassara Brahmā world (of streaming radiance), which is the highest of the second jhānic heavens in the sphere of (fine) form. There, they dwell for a long period, feed upon meditative bliss, move through the air and abide in luminous glory.
When this world expands again (perhaps by a Big Bang or the equivalent), an empty Brahmā palace appears, and a certain being, due to the exhaustion of his lifespan and/or merits, passes away from the Ābhassara plane, to be reborn in that Mahā (i.e. Great) Brahmā plane, which is the highest of the first jhānic heavens, where he too dwells for a long period, feeds upon (lower) meditative bliss…
He then gives rise to dissatisfaction and agitation, yearning for other beings to join him. Just at that moment, as a karmic ‘coincidence’, due to exhaustion of their lifespans and/or merits, certain other beings pass away from the Ābhassara plane, to also be reborn there, thus becoming his ‘ministers’ and ‘retinue’, where they too dwell for a long period, feed upon (even lower) meditative bliss…
Thus, the one who first re-arose thought, ‘I am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Vanquisher, the Unvanquished, the Universal Seer, the Wielder of Power, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, the Supreme Being, the Ordainer, the Almighty, the Father of all that are and are to be. And these beings have been created by me…’
The beings who re-arose after him also thought likewise, ‘This must be Brahmā, the Great Brahmā… And we have been created by him… [b]ecause we see that he was here first, and we appeared here after him.’ Due to being more meritorious, the so-called ‘Great Brahmā’ who re-arose first has longer life, greater beauty and authority than those who re-arose after.
Later, when one of them passes away and is reborn in this world, he renounces the household life, and with diligent yet still limited effort, shortsightedly recollects only his immediate preceding life, and none before it. He thus says that, ‘We [i.e. with other beings] were created by him, by… the Great Brahmā… He is permanent… [b]ut we, who have been created by him… are impermanent…’
The above is a microcosmic view of how some heavenly and human beings can karmically undergo oscillating cycles of saṃsāric change. As above, if still trapped in rebirth, being born in the heaven is not necessarily good, with most still subject to the three poisons – e.g. with attachment (that craves company), aversion (from existential agitation) and delusion (about one’s imperfect state).
The Buddha, being a supreme ‘Teacher Of Humans And Gods’ (人天教主) with his complete enlightenment, full liberation and perfect skilful means, thus explained how (belief in) a creator was ‘created’ – via natural and mutual-misunderstanding of the parties involved. Interestingly, this cycle of large-scale misunderstanding can recur when karmic conditions are similar. Such is the cyclic nature of Saṃsāra.
When the sphere of desire where humans dwell is destroyed by fire, it will spread up. also through Mahā (Baka) Brahmā’s plane to the Ābhassara plane. (This is while destruction by water can reach the Subhakiṇṇa plane, the highest third jhānic heaven, and when by wind, to the Vehapphala plane, the lowest fourth jhānic heaven. Thus, according to the Buddha, while Buddhas with immeasurable life in lasting Pure Lands beckon to us to join them, there is no eternal creator with any eternal heaven for stable refuge.
Mahā Brahmā himself fell from the Subhakiṇṇa and Vehapphala planes previously, to reach the Ābhassara plane, which he too forgot, just as he did not recall falling from the Ābhassara plane to his present plane. All other unmentioned heavenly planes do not promise liberation, due to spiritual stagnation, or potential danger of falling from there – except the five highest fourth jhānic heavens, which are the indestructible Pure Abodes (Suddhāvāsa). However, they are reachable only by (at least) Non-returners (Anāgāmis), who are on their way to liberation from there. As recommended by all Buddhas, the easiest and swiftest path out of Saṃsāra, thus being the most skilful, is via reach of Sukhāvatī – Amitābha Buddha’s Western Pure Land Of Ultimate Bliss.
[… as continued]
And I’m the one to whom Brahmā
truthfully admitted his progress:
‘Friend, I don’t have that view
that I had in the past.
I see the radiance
transcending the Brahmā realm.
So how could I say today
that I am permanent and eternal?’
– Mahā-Moggallāna Thera
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The Buddha’s Victory Over A Deity & Demon
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Can Faith In Any Deity Help The Dying?
How Do Pure Land & Deity-Centric Teachings Differ?