[Buddha-l] Tusita Heavens Questions

Piya Tan dharmafarer at gmail.com
Wed Apr 8 19:32:20 MDT 2009


On Thu, Apr 9, 2009 at 8:21 AM, Katherine Masis <twin_oceans at yahoo.com>wrote:

> Dear List,
> I have a few doctrinal questions regarding the Tusita heavens.
> Supposedly, the  Buddhas who still have to be born on Earth one more time
> in order to burn off their very last residual karma dwell in the Tusita
> heavens.  So then:

(a) Are the Tusita-dwellers Buddhas in the full sense of the word, or
> Buddhas-to-be?  From a Mahayana perspective they wouldn’t be Bodhisattvas,
> because supposedly Bodhisattvas have already burned off their karma and
> return voluntarily and altruistically until all sentient beings are
> saved—right?

Maitreya (Pali Metteyya) in Tusita is apparenrly a late story. Metteyya is
only mentioned in the Pali Canon in the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta.

There are at least two penultimate "last lives" of our Buddha Gautama: one
as Vessantara and the other as Santusita deva in Tusita. It is possible that
he was Vessantara before becoming Santusita. That is, if we take all Jatakas
as actually historical past lives of the Buddha, and not sijmply as didactic
folk stories adopted by the Buddhists and Buddhified. The last ten life are
great literary works of Buddhist masters.

This same pattern is used to fit Metteyya. So it is best to take this as a
post-Buddha story invented in the Maha Vihara in Sri Lanka maybe.

Anyway, Metteyya in Tusita is still a Bodhisatta, not a Buddha yet.

> (b) Would the Tusita heavens be Maitreya’s residence as well?  This would
> mean that Maitreya is burning off his/her last karma in preparation for
> birth as a Buddha.

We could say that. But this sounds deterministic and Mahayanist, that is, a
docetic sort of Buddha, a nirmanakaya, for example.

I would prefer to think of the Buddha as the most highly evolved being
during a certain historical time period. So whether he is reborn in one of
the heavens is immaterial, or at best mythical (in the mythology sense).

People love stories, so stories are told (neyy'attha approach).

> (c) If the Pure Lotus Land is the celestial realm of the Buddhas and
> Bodhisattvas, how do the Tusita heavens fit in with this?

As far as I understand the available sutras, Sukhavati is not a historical
dimension. In fact, one of the earliest Amitabha Sutras teaches the 4
smrtyupasthana. See

*Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra by Lokaksema and Paul Harrison, Tr. (with
Surangama Samadhi Sutra by Kumarajiva and John Mc Rae, Tr.) Numata Center
for Buddhist Translation and Research, Hardcover, 94 pages*]

Harrison has also written an excellent journal article on this.

Sukhavati I think serves:
(1) as a palpable symbolic or mythical description of what nirvana can be in
our perceivable and linguistic terms.
(2) it serves as a Buddha mandala for an elaborate inspiring (pasadiniya
nimitta) meditation, which can serve as a basis for other meditation as
taught in the Satipatthana Sutta or Smrtyupasthana Sutra.

What Sukhavati evolved into in due course in another story.

> (d) The Deva realm in the Wheel of Life houses happy, carefree Devas taking
> it easy on long vacations.  Once their good karma runs out, plop!  Down they
> go to another realm.  Where do the Tusita heavens fit in with the six realms
> in the wheel of life and with Buddhist cosmology in general?

The Tusita heaven in still within the sense-world, just "above" Tavatimsa,
which is just "above" the Four Great Kings' realm, which is the lowest of
the sense-world heavens.

For details, see Rupert Gethin, "The Foundation of Buddhism," 1998: 116 f.

There are of course other opinions, too.

With metta,

Piya Tan

> Many thanks,
> Katherine Masis
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