References to a rebirth in the heavenly realms seems to be viewed in a positive light in Buddhism. It's easy to see why it would be considered more favorable than a rebirth in the hell realms of course. But my understanding is that beings in heaven don't practice the dhamma as there is no suffering to create conditions for them to seek the cessation of suffering, so they will not become enlightened there. Is there something positive that comes of a rebirth in the heavens other than a temporary respite from suffering? I realize we don't get to choose our rebirths, but I would like to know if heaven is considered to be a truly beneficial place and if so, why? Thank you.
There is suffering in heaven. They still have to eat to maintain their bodies. They feel frightened when they get to know that their lives are running out. I've heard that there's a divine tree with flowers in the palaces of the Devas. When an year of their world comes to completion, a flower will wither and fall down. That is how they know that they are ageing. When they see this, they get upset and worried. Then they come to human world to acquire fresh merits. Also, their radiance diminishes as they age. When they are about to die, the flower garlands around their necks wither and they start to sweat as well. It is also said that they can perish if they get angry or forget to eat because they are too caught up with other pleasures.
Yes, there are greater distractions to the path in heavens due to the extreme sensual pleasures, but there are Devas and Brahmas who spend their time meditating. Especially the ones who have attained Magga Phala. Also, in the suttas we hear about many Devas and Brahmas attaining enlightenment after listening to the Buddha's sermons. Ex: Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, Anatta Lakkhana Sutta etc.
Here are some of the advantages of being a Deva or a Brahma with regards to practicing the Dhamma
They are born in full form with palaces and all the other requirements. They are not clumsy like humans at birth. So they don't need to spend a childhood orienting themselves to the world, studying and acquiring skills to make money just to get food, clothes and lodging. That saves a lot of time.
They don't get sick. It can be difficult to meditate if you get sick often.
They don't have bodily discomfort. So they can sit in one position for a long time. This is actually more useful if you do Samatha first and then turn it to Vipassana.
- They don't have to take bath or cleanup as divine food has no excrements. So while meditations like Patikulamanasikara won't work in heavens, it saves time for other meditations.
- Their life spans are huge. So once they learn a meditation technique, they can keep practicing it without having to learn it all over again.
They don't get angry easily, so they can possibly attain concentration faster, if they seclude themselves (helpful for samatha pubbangama vipassana).
They possibly get to meet other Devas and Brahmas who have directly heard the Dhamma from the Buddha. The Abhidhamma was fully preached at Tavatimsa heaven. So there are Devas and Brahmas who have heard the comprehensive version. We humans only have the summarized version.
The higher chance of meeting enlightened beings in heaven compared to human world nowadays.
- The ability to read the minds can help them recognize enlightened beings easily. The divine eyes and the divine ears can be used to listen to all the sermons of the Buddha even from the palace.
- The chance to hear the Dhamma from several Buddhas
Also, bear in mind that suffering in the first noble truth doesn't just mean pain. A pleasurable experience is also an instance of suffering as it is subjected to change and death.