Sakka Devaraja Vs the Asuras

Venue: Hokkien Cemetery Pavilion

The monastics depend on the devotees for their requisites – food, clothing, medicine and lodging. In return and as a token of our gratitude, we give Dhamma talks to educate and enlighten the laypeople. In the past, our weekly Dhamma talks have been held after dana at TIMS on Sundays where we usually see the few, familiar faces of our members. In an attempt to widen the circle of people attending these talks, we have decided to switch these talks to Saturday instead, at the Hokkien Cemetery Pavilion after dana. This way, apart from the usual members, we hope to be able to reach out to many more new people.

Sakka Devaraja vs the Asuras

In his previous existence, Sakka Devaraja was a human being called Magha who steadfastly kept his seven aspirations (SN 11.11) and was devoted to generosity (SN 11.12). According to the commentary, he was a good and kind leader who took great effort to advance his people’s life. He also had 32 good friends to help him. When they died, they were all reborn in one heavenly plane. (This level of heaven was later called Tavatimsa which means ‘the Realm of the 33 Deities’.) Sakka and his friends saw a group of devas enjoying themselves and getting drunk in the process. They chased them out and took over the territory to establish as their own. From then on the ousted devas were called asuras. Enmity developed between the two groups and there were frequent fights. (As you can see, Heaven is not always so heavenly!)

Today’s talk is based on the Subhasitajaya Sutta (SN 11.5) in which the Buddha narrated to the monks what happened during one of those fights. Subhasita-jaya means “Victory through Well-spoken Words”.

On one occasion, the asuras and the devas were arrayed for battle. Vepacitti, Lord of the asuras, then suggested that they have a war of words instead of weapons and whosoever shows more wisdom would be the winner. A panel of judges comprising members from both the opposing parties was selected. Vepacitti then invited Sakka Devaraja to launch the first salvo but he declined saying that since Vepacitti was the pubbadeva (former deva), he should rightly start first. The battle of words then began. In the Sutta, the dialogue between the two is recorded in verse, but here I shall just paraphrase in prose.

Vepacitti: “A fool who is not controlled will further misbehave. Hence a wise person should restrain the fool with drastic punishment.”

Upon hearing these words, the asuras applauded with joy while the devas were silent.

Sakka: “The only way to control the fool is to be mindful and calm, knowing that he is angry.”

The devas in turn applauded with joy when they heard these words uttered, but the asuras were silent.

Vepacitti: “I see a fault in patient endurance. The fool, thinking that one is patiently enduring because of fear, will be even bolder in his attack. This is similar to facing an angry bull. If you turn and run, it will chase you.”

Upon hearing these words, the asuras applauded with joy while the devas were silent.

Sakka: “It doesn’t matter whether he thinks I’m afraid of him. Among things that conduce to one’s benefit, there isn’t anything better than patience. When a strong person patiently endures a weakling, that is called supreme patience. But a weakling must always be patient (because he has no other alternative). Foolish strength is no strength at all. No one can reproach a person who is strong because he guards the Dhamma (and therefore is guarded by the Dhamma as well).

“One who reacts angrily at an angry man is worse off because of that. But one who does not do so wins a battle hard to win. Knowing that another is angry, one who remains mindful and patient practises for one’s own welfare and that of the other. When he thus works the cure for both, people who think that he is a fool are those who are not well-versed in the Dhamma.”

In conclusion, the Buddha said, “Monks, when Sakka had said this, the devas applauded with joy but the asuras were silent. Then the deva & asura panel of judges said, ‘The words of Vepacitti the Lord of the asuras are in the sphere of punishment & weapons — thence arguments, quarrels, & strife. But the words of Sakka Devaraja are outside the sphere of punishment & weapons — thence no arguments, no quarrels, and no strife. The victory through what is well spoken goes to Sakka Devaraja.”

It is stated in verse 103 of the Dhammapada:-

Though one may conquer
A thousand times a thousand men in battle,
Yet he indeed is the noblest conqueror
Who conquers himself.

Hatred cannot solve problems. Therefore always face anger with mindfulness and tranquillity. To learn how to conquer anger and maintain tranquillity in the face of adversity, do come and join us in our weekly Saturday night meditation sessions. Those interested can meet us at the Hor Eeah Temple at 7.30pm every Saturday night. Transport up to SBS will be provided.

Hatred never ceases through hatred
Only through love does it cease! (Dhp 5)

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