The Five Marks of Decay of the Gods


If we do many good things while we are turning on the wheel of rebirth, and generate enough wholesome merit and virtue, then we can be reborn in the heavens where we will enjoy the many delightful blessings of the divine realm. The beings in the heavens don't have any afflictions at all. The gods take Dhyana bliss as their food and are filled with the joy of Dharma. They remain in the heavens until their heavenly blessings are exhausted. But once their blessings have all been used up, they must fall back into the other five realms. While in the heavens they only need to think of whatever they want and that item immediately materializes. They have all the clothing they need and no moreónot too little and not too much. This all comes about quite naturally. The same is true of food. However much they need to eat is the exact amount that will manifest before them. Moreover, once they have eaten their fill, there are no leftovers. When they think of clothes, the clothes appear; when they think of food, the food arrives. The situation is very different from that in the human realm where we have to concern ourselves with these matters.

However, once their heavenly blessings have been spent, the five marks of decay begin to manifest. The onset of the five marks of decay is the sign that the god's life is coming to an end. The five signs of decay are:

  1. Their floral garlands wilt. The gods are naturally adorned and regal, always crowned with extremely beautiful floral garlands. But when the life of a god is about to end, the flowers on his crown wilt and fall.
  2. Their clothes become soiled. The gods don't usually need soap to wash their clothes because their clothes never collect even a speck of dust. But when the ends of their lives roll around, their clothes become soiled.
  3. They begin to perspire. The gods, unlike people, never perspire until the five marks of decay begin to appear. Then their armpits begin to sweat.
  4. Their bodies begin to stink. Why do the gods usually give off a pleasant fragrance? Because when they were people, they held the Precepts purely and so they exude the "fragrance of the Precepts." But when their lives draw to a close, their bodies begin to stink.
  5. They become restless. When the gods sit in Dhyana, they never stir and wiggle about. Their bodies don't engage in involuntary Tai Ji Chywan. Why? It is because they cultivate samadhi. They are always "thus, thus unmoving; clear-headed and eternally bright." But when the five signs of decay manifest they lose control and can't sit or stand still. Their heads get dizzy and their eyes get blurry and in a flash their lives come to an end.


When a god dies, he retrogresses. At that time, he must undergo the retribution from the karma created in his former lives, before he was a god. When that karma comes to maturity, he flounders in the paths of rebirth as appropriate retribution. If he created the karma that deserves the retribution of being a hungry ghost, when that karma matures, he will have to be a hungry ghost. If he created the karma deserving retribution as an animal, he will enter the path of animals when that karma matures. If he created the karma that leads to being an asura, he will turn into an asura. If he created the karma which merits retribution in the hells, he will enter a hell. If he created the karma which merits a human rebirth, he will become a person.

And within each of these paths are thousands upon thousands of variations. To speak of the human path alone, we have kings, princes, and high officials all the way down to orphans and beggars. All these different kinds of destinies exist in the human realm, ranging from wealth and honor down to poverty and destitution. How does this all come about? It is due to the causes of the past coming to fruition. Cause and effect is the principle underlying all events.