At various times in my teaching life, when I want to explore a topic I feel is central to Buddhist thought, I go to the discourses and read, and then think some version of, “Wait—nobody told me this!” This happens mainly around teachings that were part of earlier traditions but that didn’t make it into the set of useful teachings emphasized by Western teachers or Asian teachers speaking to a Western audience. The teaching on “heavens” is one of these.
It sounds (because it is) metaphysical and mythical and religious, all of which are reasons it hasn’t had much traction in the scientific-materialist West, but the implications of a rejection of the teachings on heavens are problematic, specifically in how they flirt with a rejection of personal kamma. The teaching on heavens is really a teaching on kamma and how actions always bear fruit. It’s the seed of the later teaching on Dependent Origination and liberation from saṃsāra, and as such rejecting it outright flirts with a distinct form of wrong view, namely nihilism. I gave this talk on my birthday.
Heavens, Christian trauma, and exploring the fruits of wholesome action.