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 [Dhamma Talk]


On Nāgas

And Other Low-Level Spirits
Such As
Supaṇṇa-Devas, Gandhabbas, Valāha-Devas, 'Allys', Serial Killers, etc.

It is not clear what sort of class of beings is referred to as Nāga.
The Supaṇṇa-Devas are a sort of winged fairy or monster with human head and the body and mentality of a raptor;
The Gandhabbas are beings known in the west as 'fairies', or 'Garden fairies' and which are described as inhabiting aromas of various sorts;
The Valāha-Devas are the beings known in the west as 'fairies' or 'spirits and which are described as inhabiting clouds of various sorts.

The term Nāga is used for large animals such as snakes and elephants and for their mythical equivalents, but also for very large beings of any species. The Buddha is frequently referred to as a Nāga. I suspect the term here is meant to indicate a 'monstrosity' or (more positively) 'giant' of any species and whether applied to the body or to power. In the suttas of the Nāga Saɱyutta it appears what is being referred to is the 'sea-monster' or dragon or large snake of 'myth' who live under the sea in great luxury with many concubines and have many supernormal powers.)



Wrestling with Allies
Sympathy for the Devil

There is another way of seeing this business of Nāgas or other such low-level devas besides that of the knee-jerk dismissal as the product of primitive imagination. Actually the idea applies not only to the lower devas, but to all the gods and for that matter all states of existence.

The idea is neatly described in an episode found in Castaneda's Don Juan series. In this case Castaneda has been projected into another realm by Don Juan. When he emerges from the situation he describes it to Don Juan as appearing in another world, populated by human-like individuals in a very modern-sounding town, but who find him strange and dangerous. Carlos asks Don Juan if he was there with him in the situation and to describe what he saw. Don Juan replies that he was indeed there, but all he saw was energy fields.

You see the idea? We know the world only through the intervention of our mind. Our mind takes the sensory input given to it by the senses and weaves a story around it fitting everything nicely into the world as we expect it to be. No monsters. No Devas. No gods. No magic. Plenty of danger.

Other ages, and other cultures even today, do not see the world in the same way. They see the energy fields that result in rain, move the clouds around, or emit thunder and lightning as human-like super-human beings. We call this way of seeing things 'primitive,' 'uneducated,' 'unscientific.' But all that can be said of that way of seeing things applies just as easily to our own. To live and communicate in a community all we require is that a convincing group of individuals agrees that it sees what the other individuals in that group sees.

The other day I watched half a movie about a real-life story that happened in Australia. I got to see only half the movie because the disk was defective. It was the story of an extraordinarily detached psychopathic serial killer. A super-violent, bloody film I cannot recommend anyone ever watch. It was intensely gripping and horrifying. I couldn't get it out of my mind for days. That was especially the case because where the disk stopped working was at a point where a central individual who had been being chased around the out-back and with whom the viewer was intended to identify had been caught by the bad guy and had just awakened to find himself in this monster's dungeon strapped hands and feet to a chair with zip-ties, surrounded by implements of torture. End of movie.

My thinking went round and round about all the mistakes the victims had made, and what would I do in their place. Many wrong thoughts of means of violent self-defense occurred. But the fact was that this madman was apparently extremely strong and highly skilled in a variety of hand-to-hand martial arts and weapons, alert, intelligent and with his senses finely tuned, could survive in the desert and had an ability to track. Not many scenarios played out to a happy ending. As a predator the guy simply out-classed most human beings. The best one could hope for was to wake up and find it was all just a dream.

Finally of course it occurred to me what was probably the real-life solution used by the young man. Stockholm syndrome. Befriend the monster and run away as soon as some opportunity presented itself ... or maybe not. Maybe just stick around. The guy has plenty of survival skills to teach ... . If it were possible to befriend such a one, or be convincing enough to make him believe the effort. "Jeeze, you know, man, I'm just like you in a way. ... You must be very lonely out here all alone with no friends." Etc. But the problem with this solution is that though it might buy some time here, it would almost certainly require some complicity in one or more brutal acts and while a jury here might find such a one innocent, kamma doesn't work that way. Complicity is complicity. The best one could hope for would be to come to one's end just to wake up to find himself once again in some monster's dungeon strapped hands and feet to a chair with zip-ties surrounded by implements of torture. Wrong answer. Do-over.

Better, I concluded, was to just calm down, project loving kindness onto his energy field and accept whatever death came down the tracks with as much dignity as one could muster. Meanwhile try not to lie or try other deceptions or to act with violence if possible or hate if not possible to try for an extension which could result in one dying with a very bad mental attitude which could result in a worse situation than one was already in.

Here, I say, is a perfect case of an energy field that it is not possible to consider to be human, in human form. A yakka. An Assura. An evil Naga or Garuda. Perhaps with a better sense of vision than that with which I am endowed, I might even be able to make distinctions. Certainly there are enough cases now of psychopath serial killers in today's consensus reality for this group to be classed as a non-human species that most people just see as having human form but which better resembles a grotesque monster, or at least pure malevolent energy.

Turn it around. When those arrogant rational educated scientific-minded thinkers pronounce the impossibility of such things as monsters and gods, perhaps it is not the primitive nature of the believer that should be questioned, but the limited vision of the arrogant rational educated scientific-minded thinker.

That you cannot see this as it really is is a combination of ignorance, conditioning and fear.

The ignorance can be broken by contact with the Dhamma: That is, that this is not some real individual here, some 'I', some 'mine';
that identification with forces of nature comes to be from wanting to identify with them;
that this is essentially a state bound down to pain;
that this pain can be escaped by escaping that wanting;
and that wanting can be escaped by avoiding any behavior that reflects wanting.

Fear can be overcome by the acceptance of death and the assurance that that death will not be followed by a bad outcome that results from knowledge and faith in one's practice of the Dhamma.

The conditioning is a tougher problem. The first thing to recognize is that if the desire to break through this conditioning and fear is genuine. Then of the first importance is securing a refuge in solitude apart from the constant re-enforcement the conditioning receives at the hands of society (i.e. movies, but almost everything we see around us today in this modern world is a programming message).

Following on that, careful examination of things will show the inconsistencies, weaknesses, feebleness of that conditioning and other possible explanations for things.

At a certain point behavior that cannot be called human should break down the perception of a being of such behavior as 'human'. When that perception is no longer acceptable, another perception will become possible or another way of perceiving will emerge. Acceptance of the possibility that things are different than they have always appeared will eventually destroy the illusion. It just takes working at it.

Some things will need to be given up. Movies for example. It doesn't come about by wishing or pretending or reading or experimenting within pre-defined limits to what it is that can be called reality. Your status as a pompous rational educated scientific-minded thinker will not get you one step closer to perception of things the way they are ... rather it will get you one step closer to being one of those non-human monsters that appear in human form here.

How come?

Because your world is made up entirely of your own imaginings; you do not really see things as they are; so they can and will get out of hand, that's how come.




SN 3.29 The Naga Samyutta SN 3.30 Supanna-Samyutta
SN 3.31 Gandhabbakaya-Samyutta
SN 3.32 Valahaka-Samyutta
SN 3.29.1 The Buddha describes the four ways Nagas are born in a scheme ranking them from lowest to highest in order of purity.
AN 6.43] Nāga Suttaɱ, Udayi praises the Buddha.
Drivvle. The sort of flattery that was common in the courts of kings and emperors from the Roman Empire to China. The sutta does have value in that in it The Buddha explains that whereas in the world any great bulky thing is called a Nāga, the great Nāga is one who commits no unskillful deed of body, speech or mind.

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