Deva consciousness is another form of sentient existence governed by the laws of kamma.
Mae Chee Kaew’s samādhi meditation introduced her to a rich spectrum of otherworldly experience.
Sometimes her consciousness separated from her body and wandered to explore the heavenly realms or the different levels of the brahma world.
She visited the various types of subtly formed beings, called devas, who exist in a divine hierarchy of increasing subtlety and refinement — beings who have arrived at a fortunate and happy condition as a result of their good kamma.
She met terrestrial devas — luminous deities dwelling in forests, groves and trees — who are born there because of their strong natural affinity to the earthly plane. Although their visible presence existed beyond the range of human senses, they were clearly visible to Mae Chee Kaew’s divine eye. She viewed them as beings of contentment whose blissful lives were often preoccupied by sensory pleasures.
These enjoyments were the rightful rewards of accumulated virtue. As human beings, they had amassed a store of merit by practicing generous giving, moral restraint and meditation. It propelled them to rebirth in a spiritual heaven, where they lived a blissful existence, enjoying a variety of pleasurable sensory experiences.
Despite the devas’ virtue, their passive nature gave little chance to actively generate additional good kamma to extend their celestial stay. Therefore, once the devas exhausted their virtuous capital, they could expect to be reborn into the human world, where hopefully their virtuous tendencies would allow them to replenish their supply of merit.
In contrast to the ghostly spirits, who are trapped in a cycle of evil and wretched rewards, the devas enjoyed an upswing in their karmic fortunes.
However, the devas do share one thing in common with all sentient beings: the burden of emotional attachments that cause them to be reborn over and over again — without any end in sight.
It’s important to understand that these realms exist as dimensions of consciousness and not as physical planes.
By characterizing the celestial realms as being progressively “higher” and more refined levels of existence, and the ghostly realms as being correspondingly “lower,” the purely spiritual nature of consciousness is erroneously given a material standard. The terms “going up” and “going down” are conventional figures of speech, referring to the movement of physical bodies.
These terms have very little in common with the flow of consciousness, whose subtle motion is beyond temporal comparisons. Physically moving up and down requires a deliberate exertion of effort. But when the mind gravitates to higher or lower realms of consciousness, direction is merely a metaphor and involves no effort.
When saying that the heavens and the brahma worlds are arranged vertically in a series of realms, this should not be understood in the literal sense — such as, a house with many stories. These realms exist as dimensions of consciousness, and ascent is accomplished spiritually, by attuning the mind’s conscious flow to a subtler vibration of consciousness.
They are ascended in the figurative sense by a spiritual means: that is, by the heart which has developed this sort of capability through the practices of generosity, moral virtue and meditation. By saying that hell is “down below,” one does not mean going down, physically, into an abyss. Rather, it refers to descent by spiritual means to a spiritual destination.
And those who are able to observe the heavens and the realms of hell do so by virtue of their own internal spiritual faculties.
This reflection by Ajahn Dick Sīlaratano about Mae Chee Kaew is from the book, Mae Chee Kaew, “Ghosts of the Mountain,” (pdf) pp. 112-114, compiled from Thai sources & written by Bhikkhu Dick Sīlaratano.