Form, sound, and taste and touch
And smell’s arisings are only
Like a castle of the gandharvas
Like dream or like illusion
Like an illusory person
And like a mere reflection
Pleasant and unpleasant
Even if they arise,
Where and what are they?
“What does it mean to know and experience my own ‘nothingness.’?
It is not enough to turn away in disgust from my illusions and faults
and mistakes, to separate myself from them as if they were not, and as
if I were someone other than myself. This kind of self-annihilation is
only a worse illusion, it is a pretended humility which, by saying ‘I am
nothing’ I mean in effect ‘I wish I were not what I am.'”
Those who see me as form
Those who know me as words
Are dwelling on wrong paths.
These persons have not seen me.
What is meant by the buddhas
Is the view of dharmata.
The leaders are dharmakaya.
Dharmata is not a knowable,
So consciousness cannot know it.
–The Diamond Sutra
A Gandharva (Sanskrit) or Gandhabba (Pāli) is one of the lowest-ranking devas in Buddhist theology. They are classed among the Cāturmahārājikakāyika devas, and are subject to the Great King Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Guardian of the East. Beings are reborn among the Gandharvas as a consequence of having practiced the most basic form of ethics (Janavasabha-sutta, DN.18). It was considered embarrassing for a monk to be born in no better birth than that of a gandharva.
Gandharvas can fly through the air, and are known for their skill as musicians. They are connected with trees and flowers, and are described as dwelling in the scents of bark, sap, and blossom. They are among the beings of the wilderness that might disturb a monk meditating alone.
The terms gandharva and yakṣa are sometimes used for the same person; yakṣa in these cases is the more general term, including a variety of lower deities.
Among the notable gandharvas are mentioned (in DN.20 and DN.32) Panāda, Opamañña, Naḷa, Cittasena, Rājā. Janesabha is probably the same as Janavasabha, a rebirth of King Bimbisāra of Magadha. Mātali the Gandharva is the charioteer for Śakra.
Timbarū was a chieftain of the gandharvas. There is a romantic story told about the love between his daughter Bhaddā Suriyavaccasā (Sanskrit: Bhadrā Sūryavarcasā) and another gandharva, Pañcasikha (Sanskrit: Pañcaśikha). Pañcasikha fell in love with Suriyavaccasā when he saw her dancing before Śakra, but she was then in love with Sikhandī (or Sikhaddi), son of Mātali the charioteer. Pañcasikha then went to Timbarū’s home and played a melody on his lute of beluva-wood, on which he had great skill, and sang a love-song in which he interwove themes about the Buddha and his Arhats.
Later, Śakra prevailed upon Pañcasikha to intercede with the Buddha so that Śakra might have an audience with him. As a reward for Pañcasikha’s services, Śakra was able to get Suriyavaccasā, already pleased with Pañcasikha’s display of skill and devotion, to agree to marry Pañcasikha.
Gandharva or gandhabba is also used in a completely different sense, referring to a being (or, strictly speaking, part of the causal continuum of consciousness) in a liminal state between birth and death.