Heavenly beings and deities

Buddhism encompasses a host of heavenly beings and deities, yet they are insignificant in the Buddhist doctrine of salvation. In Buddhism, there are no allpowerful gods who created the world, or who direct events and determine the fate of humankind. Such deities (Skt. devas) are part of the Buddhist cosmology, and inhabit the heavenly realm of existence or live on earth as nature spirits within trees or bodies of water. Like all other beings, however, they are subject to the eternal cycle of rebirth. In Buddhist tradition, they usually appear as servants or devotees of the Buddha. An exception to this is the deity Mara, who on several occasions sought to prevent the Buddha’s awakening.

A number of gods of Brahmanism also appear in Buddhist mythology, among them Indra, the king of the gods, who in numerous Buddhist reliefs attends the birth of the Buddha.

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, there evolved a large group of meditation and supporting deities who are seen as embodiments of particular aspects of the highest truth, and portrayals of them serve as aids in spiritual practice.