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Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
Belief in Deities (Devas)
Devas are more fortunate than human beings as far as sensual pleasures are concerned. They also possess certain powers which human beings usually lack. However, the powers of these deities are limited because they are also transitory beings. They exist in happy abodes and enjoy their life for a longer period than human beings do. When they have exhausted all the good kamma, that they have gathered during previous birth, these deities pass away and are reborn somewhere else according to their good and bad kamma. According to the Buddha, human beings have more opportunities to accrue merits to be born in a better condition, and the deities have less chances in this respect.
Buddhist do not attribute any specific importance to such gods. They do not regard the deities as a support for the moral development or as a support for the attainment of salvation of Nibbana. Whether they are great or small, both human beings and deities are perishable and subject to rebirth.
It is a common belief amongst the Buddhist public that such deities can be influenced to grant their favours by transferring merits to them whenever meritorious deeds are performed. This belief is based on the Buddha's injunction to the deities to protect those human beings who lead a religious way of life. This is the reason why Buddhists transfer the merits to such deities or remember them whenever they do some meritorious deeds. However, making of offerings to and worshipping such deities are not encouraged, although some Buddhist customs center around such activities. When people are in great difficulties, they naturally turn to the deities to express their grievances in a place of worship. By doing this, they gain some relief and consolation; in their hearts, they feel much better. However, to an intellectual who has strong will power, sound education and understanding, such beliefs and actions need not be resorted to. There is definitely no Teaching in Buddhism to the effect that Buddhists can attain Nibbana by praying to any deity. Buddhists believe that 'purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one from outside can purify another.' (Dhammapada 165)
Buddhahood and Nibbanacan be attained without any help from an external source. Therefore, Buddhists can practise their religion with or without the deities.
Source: Buddhist Study and Practice Group, http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/
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