Almost always spoken of as chief of the devas. The Saṃyutta Nikāya SN.i.229 contains a list of his names.
- Maghavā, because as a human being, in a former birth, he was a brahmin named Magha.
- Purindada (generous giver in former births or giver in towns) because, as Māgha, he bestowed gifts from time to time. (Cf. Indra’s epithet Purandara, destroyer of cities)
- Sakka, because he gives generously and thoroughly (sakkaccaṃ). Sakra occurs many times in the Vedas as an adjective, qualifying gods (chiefly Indra), and is explained as meaning “able, capable.” It is, however, not found as a name in pre Buddhist times.
- Vāsava, SN.i.221 SN.i.223 SN.i.229–230 SN.i.234–2237 DN.ii.260 DN.ii.274 Snp.384 which is explained in the Saṃyutta Nikāya SN.i.229 by saying that when he was a human being, in his previous birth, he gave dwelling places. According to the Dīgha Nikāya, DN.ii.260 however, he is Vāsava because he is chief of the Vasū.
- Sahassakkha or Sahassanetta (Thousand-eyed) because in one moment he can think of one thousand matters.
- Sujampati, because he married the Asura maiden Sujā
Elsewhere DN.ii.270 MN.i.252 Sakka is addressed as Kosiya.
He is also spoken of as Yakkha. MN.i.252 SN.i.206 ; at S.i.47 Māghadevaputta is called Vatrabhū, slayer of Vṛṭra.
Sakka rules over Tāvatiṃsā, the lowest heaven. His palace is Vejayanta and his chariot bears the same name. Though king of the Tāvatiṃsā devas, he is no absolute monarch. He is imagined rather in the likeness of a chieftain of a Kosala clan. The devas meet and deliberate in the Sudhamma sabhā and Sakka consults with them rather than issues them commands. On such occasions, the Four Regent Devas are present in the assembly with their followers of the Cātummahārājika world.DN.ii.207f. DN.ii.220f. Among the Tāvatiṃsā devas, Sakka surpasses his companions in ten things: length of life, beauty, happiness, renown, power; and in the degree of his five sense experiences: sight, hearing, smelling, taste and touch. AN.iv.242
In the Saṃyutta Nikāya SN.i.228 SN.i.229 SN.i.231 the Buddha gives seven rules of conduct, which rules Sakka carried out as a human being, thus attaining to his celestial sovereignty. When the devas fight the Asuras they do so under the banner and orders of Sakka.
In the Saṃyutta Nikāya a whole Saṃyutta—one of the shortest, consisting of twenty five short suttas—is devoted to Sakka.
Sakka was considered by the early Buddhists as a god of high character, kindly and just, but not perfect, and not very intelligent. His imperfections are numerous: in spite of his very great age, he is still subject to death and rebirth AN.i.144 ; as an example of this, it is mentioned that Sunetta had thirty five times been reborn as Sakka, AN.iv.105 a statement confirmed by the Buddha. AN.iv.89
In the Sakkapañha Sutta, Sakka is said to have visited the Buddha at Vediyagiri in Ambasaṇḍā and to have asked him a series of questions. He sends Pañcasikha with his vinā to play and sing to the Buddha and to obtain permission for him to visit him and question him.
The Buddha says to himself that Sakka, for a long time past, has led a pure life, and gives him permission to question him on any subject. It is stated in the course of the sutta DN.ii.270 that it was not the first time that Sakka had approached the Buddha for the same purpose. He had gone to him at the Salaghara in Sāvatthī, but found him in meditation, with Bhuñjatī, wife of Vessavaṇa, waiting on him. He therefore left with a request to Bhuñjatī to greet the Buddha in his name. He also declares DN.ii.286 that he has become a sotāpanna and has earned for himself the right to be reborn eventually in the Akaniṭṭhā world, whence he will pass entirely away. Sakka admits DN.ii.284 that he visited other brahmins and recluses as well. They were pleased to see him, and boasted that they had nothing to teach him; but he had to teach them what he knew.
An account of another interview which Sakka had with the Buddha is given in the Cūḷataṇhāsaṅkhaya Sutta. There the question arises regarding the extirpation of cravings. Sakka accepts the Buddha’s answer and leaves him. Anxious to discover whether Sakka has understood the Buddha’s teaching, Moggallāna visits Sakka and questions him. Sakka evades the questions and shows Moggallāna the glories of his Vejayanta palace. Moggallāna then frightens him by a display of iddhi-power, and Sakka repeats to him, word for word, the Buddha’s answer. Moggallāna departs satisfied, and Sakka tells his handmaidens that Moggallāna is a “fellow of his” in the higher life, meaning, probably, that he himself is a sotāpanna and therefore a kinsman of the arahant.
In a passage in the Saṃyutta. SN.i.201 Sakka is represented as descending from heaven to make an enquiry about Nibbāna, and in another SN.iv.269f. as listening, in heaven, to Moggallāna’s exposition of the simplest duties of a good layman. On another occasion, at Vessavaṇa’s suggestion, Sakka visited Uttara Thera on the Sankheyyaka Mountain and listened to a sermon by him. AN.iv.163f.