Resources concerning the Nāga

If you're new to the forum or new to Buddhism, this is the best place for your questions. Responses require moderator approval before they are visible.
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 1295
Joined: Thu Jun 02, 2016 11:35 pm
Location: Whitby, Ontario

Resources concerning the Nāga

Post by Coëmgenu » Mon Jan 09, 2017 10:56 pm

Does anyone have any good resources concerning traditional Buddhist narratives of exactly what a Nāga is supposed to be?

I realize they are sort-of "divine snake-like beings", but I am wondering if anyone knows a good, in-depth, article, document, or informed discussion about traditional Buddhist narratives regarding them.
並畢竟空。並如來藏。並實相。非三 而三三而不三。非合非散而合而散。非非合非非散。不可一異而一異。
All three truths are ultimately empty, all are tathāgatagarbha, all are true aspect. Not three, they are three; three, they are not three. Neither combined nor separated, neither uncombined nor unseparated. Neither same nor different, yet in a sense same, and in a sense different.

夫三諦者。 天然之性徳也。 中諦者。 統一切法。 眞諦者。 泯一切法。 俗諦者。 立一切法。
The three truths. Heaven-sent natural characteristics. The middle truth unifies all dharmāḥ. The ultimate truth demolishes all dharmāḥ. The conventional truth establishes all dharmāḥ.

摩訶止観始終心要Móhēzhǐguān, Shǐzhōngxīnyào.

Posts: 406
Joined: Wed Aug 26, 2015 2:22 pm

Re: Resources concerning the Nāga

Post by crazy-man » Tue Jan 10, 2017 1:52 am

1. a snake; a supematural serpent (usually living in water or under the earth), one of a race of mythical snakes (the enemies of the garuḷas)
2. an elephant
3. the best or most excellent of its kind; a mighty being
Cobra, Hindi nag, large snakes of the family Elapidae which are capable of flattening the long ribs in their necks into a hood when threatened. There are three species of cobra found in northern India. When referring to the cobra the common words for snakes, āsīvisa Ja.ii.274, sappa and nāga are used together with the comment that it has a hood, suggesting that the cobra was also known as “the hooded snake”. Snake charmers were a feature of street life in cities and towns Ja.iii.198 and they usually used cobras because of their impressive appearance, their ability to stand erect and their tendency to follow and therefore appear to dance to the moving flute played by the charmer. These charmers were believed to use special herbs and magic spells to mesmerize cobras in order to attract and then catch them. They would approach the snake, seize it by the tail, drag it backwards so that it would be stretched out full length and then use what was called a “goat’s foot stick” to pin its head down. Seizing it by the head and applying pressure to the sides would force the cobra’s mouth open so the charmer could spit the juice of certain herbs into it which would, it was believed, break its fangs. Over the next few days the cobra would be subjected to a series of procedures meant to pacify it and get it used to being handled. These procedures were called cuṇṇamāna, tantamajjita and dussapoṭhima and seem to have involved wrapping the cobra in cloth and then stretching, squeezing, massaging and striking it. After this the cobra was ready to be used Ja.iv.457. During their performances, charmers would make cobras dance and drape them around their necks Ja.i.370. They would feed them with frogs they had killed The species of cobra favored by charmers has always been the nocturnal Indian Cobra, Naja naja, because daylight hampers its ability to strike. See Kaṇhasappa and Sappa.

A class of beings classed with Garuḷas and Supaṇṇas and playing a prominent part in Buddhist folk lore. They are gifted with miraculous powers and great strength. Generally speaking, they are confused with snakes, chiefly the hooded Cobra, and their bodies are described as being those of snakes, though they can assume human form at will. The Vinaya Vin.ii.109 contains a list of four royal families of Nāgas (Ahirājakulāni): Virūpakkha, Erāpatha, Chabyāputta and Kaṇhāgotamaka. The enmity between the Nāgas and the Garulas is proverbial. DN.ii.258 In the Aṭāṇātiya Sutta, DN.iii.198f. speaking of dwellers of the Cātummahārajika world, the Nāgas are mentioned as occupying the Western Quarter, with Virūpakkha as their king.
The word Nāga is often used as an epithet of the Buddha and the Arahants.
In the accounts given of the Nāgas, there is undoubtedly great confusion between the Nāgas as supernatural beings, as snakes, elephants, and as the name of certain non Aryan tribes, but the confusion is too difficult to unravel.

a serpent or Nāga demon, playing a prominent part in Buddh. fairy-tales, gifted with miraculous powers & great strength. They often act as fairies are classed with other divinities (see devatā), with whom they are sometimes friendly, sometimes at enmity (as with the Garuḷas) DN.i.54; SN.iii.240 sq. SN.v.47, SN.v.63; Bu. SN.i.30 (dīghāyukā mahiddhikā); Mil.23 Often with supaṇṇā (Garuḷas); Ja.i.64; Dhp-a.ii.4; Pv-a.272. Descriptions e.g. at Dhp-a.iii.231, Dhp-a.iii.242 sq.; see also compounds
an elephant, esp. a strong, stately animal (thus in combination hatthi-nāga characterising “a Nāga elephant”) & freq. as symbol of strength & endurance (“heroic”). Thus Ep. of the Buddha & of Arahants Popular etymologies of n. are based on the excellency of this animal (āguṃ na karoti = he is faultless, etc.): see Mnd.201 = Cnd.337; Thag.693; Pv-a.57
the animal DN.i.49; SN.i.16; SN.ii.217, SN.ii.222; SN.iii.85; SN.v.351; AN.ii.116; AN.iii.156 sq.; Snp.543; Vv.5#5 (= hatthināga Vv-a.37); Pv.i.11#3. mahā˚ AN.iv.107, AN.iv.110
fig. hero or saint: SN.ii.277; SN.iii.83; MN.i.151, MN.i.386; Dhp.320; Snp.29, Snp.53, Snp.166, Snp.421, Snp.518. Of the Buddha: Snp.522, Snp.845 Snp.1058, Snp.1101; Mil.346 (Buddha˚).
The Nāga-tree (now called “iron-wood tree,” the P. meaning “fairy tree”), noted for its hard wood & great masses of red flowers (= Sk. nāgakesara, mesua ferrea Lin.): see cpds ˚rukkha, ˚puppha, ˚latā.

-āpalokita “elephant-look” (turning the whole body) a mark of the Buddhas MN.i.337; cp. BSk. nāgâvalokita Divy.208; -danta an ivory peg or pin, also used as a hook on a wall Vin.ii.117 (˚ka Vin.ii.114, Vin.ii.152); -nāṭaka snakes as actors Dhp-a.iv.130; -nāsūru (f. (woman) having thighs like an elephant’s trunk Ja.v.297 -puppha iron-wood flower Mil.283; -bala the strength of an elephant Ja.i.265; Ja.ii.158; -bhavana the world of snakes Mnd.448; Ja.iii.275; Dhp-a.iv.14; -māṇavaka a young serpent Ja.iii.276; f. ˚ikā ib. 275; Dhp-a.iii.232 -rājā king of the Nāgas, i.e. serpents Ja.ii.111; Ja.iii.275; Snp.379 (Erāvaṇa, see detail Snp-a.368); Dhp-a.i.359 Dhp-a.iii.231, Dhp-a.iii.242 sq. (Ahicchatta); Dhp-a.iv.129 sq. (Paṇṇaka) -rukkha the iron-wood tree Ja.i.35 (cp. Mhvs.ii.249) -latā = rukkha Ja.i.80 (the Buddha’s toothpick made of its wood), Ja.i.232; Dhp-a.ii.211 (˚dantakaṭṭha toothpick) -vatta habits of serpents Mnd.92, also adj. ˚ika ibid. Mnd.89 -vana elephant-grove Dhp.324; Dhp-a.iv.15; -vanika el hunter MN.i.175; MN.iii.132; -hata one who strikes the el (viz. the Buddha) Vin.ii.195 ... /nagas.htm ... iles15.htm ... 20Naga.htm

Posts: 11
Joined: Fri Jun 10, 2016 3:51 pm

Re: Resources concerning the Nāga

Post by analogmentality » Mon Jan 16, 2017 1:17 am

The Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra includes animals, and nagas and all beings that can transform between human and animal, to the bodhisattva path:

"Disciples of the Buddha, listen attentively! Whoever can understand and accept a Dharma Master's words of transmission can receive the Bodhisattva precepts and be called foremost in purity. This is true whether that person is a king, a prince, an official, a monk, a nun, or a god of the eighteen Brahma Heavens, a god of the six Desire Heavens, or a human, a eunuch, a libertine, a [sex-working person], a slave, or a member of the Eight Divisions of Divinities, a Vajra spirit, an animal, or even a transformation-being."

This list is of beings that can't be monastics, except people that can't walk or physically feed themselves, and the deformed/disfigured, which are implicitly included ("whoever can understand and accept").

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 9 guests