The Four Great Kings

Venue: SBS

Special occasion: Consecration Ceremony of the Four Great Kings

This special talk is given in conjunction with the consecration ceremony of the Four Great Kings Shrine.

Who are the Four Great kings?

The Four Great Kings are commonly associated with Taoism and are better known as guardian deities of Chinese Buddhist temples. They are also found in the Tipitaka and referred to as Cattaro Maharaja (Four Great Kings). They are not given emphasis in the Theravada traditions of Sri Lanka, Thai and Myanmar.

They take their place in Theravada cosmology as kings who rule the four quarters of the lowest (sixth) deva realm (there are 6 deva realms altogether) namely:

North: King Vessavana who holds an umbrella and controls the yakkhas (fierce devas).

East: King Dhatarattha who holds a mandolin and controls the gandhabbas (celestial deva musicians).

South: King Virulhaka who holds a sword and controls the kumbhandas (potbelly devas).

West: King Virupakkha who holds a snake and controls the nagas (serpentine devas).

They are also known as the Guardian Kings because they undertook to protect the Buddha at the moment of conception in his mother’s womb.

In the Catumaharaja Sutta (AN III.37), we are told that the Four Kings, their sons and ministers survey the world on certain fixed days of each month to see whether human beings observe the following:

pay respect to parents, monks, Brahmins and family elders

8 precepts on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month

perform meritorious deeds

The Four Kings will then announce their findings to the Tavatimsa devas (the devas of the fifth deva realm).

What is the connection between the Atanatiya Sutta and the Four Great Kings?

According to the Atanatiya Sutta, the Kings approached the Lord Buddha when he was staying in Vulture’s Peak near Rajagaha. King Vessavana, the spokesman, told him that the majority of yakkhas neither respected nor had faith in him, as they did not observe the five precepts .

In order to instil faith in such yakkhas, the Kings offered the Atanatiya Sutta to the Buddha to be used by bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, as well as lay disciples for their protection and comfortable living in respect of malicious spirits. King Vessavana said that any evil spirit who disturbed a bhikkhu, bhikkhuni or lay disciple who had mastered the paritta verses of the Atanatiya Sutta would be denied privileges and be punished.

The Atanatiya Paritta forms only part of the Atanatiya Sutta and comprises 51 verses. These verses revere the seven Buddhas, and describe each of the Great Kings, their kingdoms and their subjects’ reverence for the Lord Gotama Buddha. The complete Atanatiya Sutta comprises these 51 verses as well as an invocation to the yakkha generals to punish any evil spirit who stubbornly continues to harass a Buddhist.

To free a Buddhist from an evil spirit, the Atanatiya Sutta should only be recited as a last resort after trying to do so through the recitation of the Metta Sutta, the Dhajagga Sutta and the Ratana Sutta—and even then only by knowledgeable members of the Sangha. Special preparations have to be made before the Atanatiya Sutta is recited. These are detailed in the booklet, Discourse on Atanatiya Protection, which is published by us for free distribution. In it, only the 51 verses comprising the paritta chanting are given in Pali.

Today, as part of the consecration ceremony, the members of the Sangha will recite practically the whole Atanatiya Sutta in Pali. When a brass gong is sounded, all devotees present are encouraged to join in the recitation of the Atanatiya Paritta.

All Buddhists can freely recite the Atanatiya Paritta at any time for their protection from evil spirits. May interested Buddhists learn and master the Atanatiya Paritta for their protection, freedom from harm as well as comfortable living with respect to evil spirits.

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