Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

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Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Nosta » Mon Apr 29, 2013 9:20 pm

Sometimes, on certain sutras, the text begins by saying that the assembly is composed of monks, bodhisattvas, etc but also by devas, asuras, dragons, etc...
I know that sometimes there are metaphors on sutras, sometimes things are just a way of meaning things, but starting a text like that sems that indeed there were devas, etc listening the Buddha.

How do you see these sentences? As real?

If sutras reflect the trustful word of Buddha and if such ideas are not real, how can we accept as real and not a lie, the rest of the sutra?

Just see the example of Pratyutpanna Sutra:
Thus I have heard:
At one time the Bhagavān was in the Karaṇḍa Bamboo Garden of the city of Rājagṛha, together with an innumerable multitude of great Bodhisattvas, bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās, as well as gods, dragons, asuras, yakṣas, garuḍas, kiṁnaras, and mahoragas. All were seated in the huge assembly.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Apr 29, 2013 9:29 pm

Nosta wrote:Sometimes, on certain sutras, the text begins by saying that the assembly is composed of monks, bodhisattvas, etc but also by devas, asuras, dragons, etc...
I know that sometimes there are metaphors on sutras, sometimes things are just a way of meaning things, but starting a text like that sems that indeed there were devas, etc listening the Buddha.

How do you see these sentences? As real?

If sutras reflect the trustful word of Buddha and if such ideas are not real, how can we accept as real and not a lie, the rest of the sutra?

Just see the example of Pratyutpanna Sutra:
Thus I have heard:
At one time the Bhagavān was in the Karaṇḍa Bamboo Garden of the city of Rājagṛha, together with an innumerable multitude of great Bodhisattvas, bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās, as well as gods, dragons, asuras, yakṣas, garuḍas, kiṁnaras, and mahoragas. All were seated in the huge assembly.


Instead of asking myself whether this or that specific being has some kind of ontoglical reality, usually when I read something like this I think of the comparative rarity of human life to the other forms we are aware of, and then also the fact that there are likely all kinds of forms of life that we aren't directly aware of. Really the rest is just words, and can be explained however you want. While the forms and and explanations may seem fanciful, I don't find the idea that there are forms of life around us that conventional society is unaware of strange at all. At one time conventional knowledge held things like bacteria to be questionable.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Seishin » Mon Apr 29, 2013 9:38 pm

For me, a bit of both.

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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Nosta » Mon Apr 29, 2013 11:09 pm

In my personal view is a bit of both too. Probably, these devas and spirits are around us, lets say (as ridicule it may sound) on parallel dimensions.

While reading part of the biography of Acarya Mun, a higly developed monk, I found that he used to contact often with devas that would get to him to learn Dharma! Real or not? Since it was a buddhist master, a high respected one, I will not doubt of him. Life teached me that there are lots of crazy things outthere.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby dude » Tue Apr 30, 2013 12:24 am

I think of it as both metaphor and reality. I have never seen a god or a devil face to face, but experience in practice has led me to believe with conviction that I have been protected in ways that seem to be "coincidences," but some of them so improbable that I at least can't say for sure that this protection is not real. I don't claim any mystic power to know such a thing for sure, but such events always seems proportionally in keeping with the current level of my faith and practice.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Apr 30, 2013 1:40 am

Nosta wrote:Sometimes, on certain sutras, the text begins by saying that the assembly is composed of monks, bodhisattvas, etc but also by devas, asuras, dragons, etc... How do you see these sentences? As real?


Real, as compared to what?

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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 30, 2013 3:25 am

Nosta wrote:I know that sometimes there are metaphors on sutras, sometimes things are just a way of meaning things, but starting a text like that sems that indeed there were devas, etc listening the Buddha.


Historically it was believed that all manner of non-corporeal beings could and did attend such teachings.

They still do. Many are benevolent and thus offerings are made in gratitude for their protection of the sangha. That bodhisattva icons are often flanked by guardians is an indication that even in the celestial realms there are hostile forces at work against the sangha and Buddhadharma.

Some scriptures even summon gods with the intent of protecting the country or summoning rain.

Sūtra on Golden Light Brilliance 金光明經 (Skt. Suvarṇa Prabhāsōttama Sūtra):

    World Honored One! If someone should bring this sūtra to the lands possessed by a king, this king should go to this man and hear so profound a scripture as this. Having heard it there will be rejoicing. Further, he should care for and venerate this man. World Honored One! We Four Kings [deva kings] should also diligently guard this king and the peoples of his country, to prevent calamities and ensure peace.



The Mahāmegha Sūtra 大雲輪請雨經 has dhāraṇīs taught to the nāgas:

    In future worlds should there be a time of drought it can make rain fall. If a time when bogged in rains, it can also halt it. It can also eliminate famine and disease. Announce it widely to the nāgas and have them know it. It will further make the devas leap and dance in joy. It can crush māras and set at ease all beings.


Also consider the following from the Benevolent King's Sūtra:

    Great King! Twice a day recite this sūtra and in your country there will be a hundred divisions of spirits, each of these divisions also possessing a hundred divisions, who will delight in hearing this sūtra. These spirits will protect your country.


For some further examples see my blog post:

http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2013/02/ ... -east.html

Buddhism was from the start basically rooted in an Indo-European polytheist culture. This is why even later developments could be called "pagan". Early secondary literature even shows a distinct concern for the gods and their activities. Yes, the Buddha is the teacher of gods and men, but the gods are still your neighbours and not all of them are benign. For instance, the Abhidharma Mahāvibhāṣā Śāstra

    Question – Why only speak of thirty-three devas? Answer – The devas frequently gather to discuss good deeds and misdeeds. Hence the partial discussion of them. The devas during the waxing and waning moons on every eighth, fourteenth and fifteenth always gather in the hall of saddharma to weigh the amount of good deeds and misdeeds in the world. Furthermore, the thirty-three devas always together inspect the creators of good deeds and misdeeds. Seeing one who has created good deeds, they then protect them. Seeing one who has created misdeeds, they then together resent and ruin them.


http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2012/10/ ... pagan.html

Also in the Pali canon we see the Atanatiya Sutta:

    "Bhante, may the Blessed One learn the Atanata protection so that the displeased Yakkhas may be pleased, so that the monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen, may be at ease, guarded, protected and unharmed."

    The Blessed One gave consent by his silence. Then the great King Vessavana, knowing that the Blessed One had consented, recited the Atanatiya protection: ...


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .piya.html


How do you see these sentences? As real?


Yes, gods and all manner of non-corporeal beings exist. For twenty-five centuries in every Buddhist culture these beings were recognized. All around the world in most cultures up until the disenchantment of modernity we see the existence of gods, spirits, devas, kami, ghosts and so on. People around the world still encounter such beings under various circumstances. The greater thinkers of western civilization in Greece and Rome likewise generally believed in the existence of gods.

If sutras reflect the trustful word of Buddha and if such ideas are not real, how can we accept as real and not a lie, the rest of the sutra?


The Buddha was quite clear that devas, asuras and other such beings exist.

This isn't a popular view to hold in a secularized materialist society, but nevertheless for most of human history most people have acknowledged the existence of non-corporeal beings. It is only in our present day that we think we've come to know better.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby LionelChen » Tue Apr 30, 2013 5:38 am

Nosta wrote:Sometimes, on certain sutras, the text begins by saying that the assembly is composed of monks, bodhisattvas, etc but also by devas, asuras, dragons, etc...
I know that sometimes there are metaphors on sutras, sometimes things are just a way of meaning things, but starting a text like that sems that indeed there were devas, etc listening the Buddha.

How do you see these sentences? As real?


This old chestnut.

I feel I must echo what has been said on this thread already. Had we been living a century or two in the past, this wouldn't even be a question for most traditions.

However, I also feel the need to point out that for many folks who are interested in the Dharma (however so conceived), "swallowing" this idea might be considered a gigantic impediment due to a current prevalent cultural predisposition against the idea that such beings could in fact "exist."

This seems to be the standpoint for the crowd who seek to renovate the Buddhist tradition in light of a materialist philosophy that has come to dominate Western thought. It is also the source of some rather heavy acrimony between traditions along with the varying beliefs about rebirth and karma.

Ultimately, its a topic that the practitioner must decide for himself or herself.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby plwk » Tue Apr 30, 2013 5:54 am

Ya know nosta, I sometimes think what if people like Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris or those prominent Kerala atheists like Sahodaran Ayyappan V. S. Achuthanandan, A.K. Antony, Sreeni Pattathanam, Abu Abraham, A. K. Gopalan, Mookencheril Cherian Joseph, Joseph Edamaruku, Sanal Edamaruku, and Abraham Kovoor and Johnson Eyeroor turns up for the teaching assembly? Would there still be any devas, nagas, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kinnaras, and mahoragas left? :mrgreen:
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Anders » Tue Apr 30, 2013 8:47 am

A bit of both for me, at least when it comes to the Mahayana sutras. As I see it, most of those were 'composed' from the samboghakaya realm - so whatever retinues and environment might be described would also have symbolic and instructive part to play.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Nikolay » Tue Apr 30, 2013 11:04 am

I am with Anders on this one. On one hand, metaphysically I accept that such beings can exist (though emotionally my modern Western mind is not quite convinced). On the other hand, the enormous scale of events, with millions of beings attending and such, clearly refers to the sambhogakaya realm - or maybe to the fact that Buddha is giving this teaching in countless worlds (and times?) simultaneously? This includes not only gods and spirits, but humans too - as I remember, sutras like to give unrealistically huge numbers of people attending Buddha's teachings.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Nosta » Tue Apr 30, 2013 12:25 pm

Indrajala, thank you for your complete answer.

I think that the western world with the Scientific tought is taking out from us another (corret) vision of reality. Science does not accept the existence of ufos, sasquatch/yetis, etc, but the fact is that many,many people give strong reports showing the existence of such realitys.

On the other hand, that same Science want us to believe (and I do) on crazy things like things on 2 places at same time (quantic theory) or bending the same and travel to the future (theory of relativity).

Of course that we should face things with some healthy skepticism. I will not believe on everything i see or read.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Simon E. » Tue Apr 30, 2013 1:01 pm

Nosta wrote:Sometimes, on certain sutras, the text begins by saying that the assembly is composed of monks, bodhisattvas, etc but also by devas, asuras, dragons, etc...
I know that sometimes there are metaphors on sutras, sometimes things are just a way of meaning things, but starting a text like that sems that indeed there were devas, etc listening the Buddha.

How do you see these sentences? As real?

If sutras reflect the trustful word of Buddha and if such ideas are not real, how can we accept as real and not a lie, the rest of the sutra?

Just see the example of Pratyutpanna Sutra:
Thus I have heard:
At one time the Bhagavān was in the Karaṇḍa Bamboo Garden of the city of Rājagṛha, together with an innumerable multitude of great Bodhisattvas, bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, and upāsikās, as well as gods, dragons, asuras, yakṣas, garuḍas, kiṁnaras, and mahoragas. All were seated in the huge assembly.

See..I dont positively disbelieve in such beings..and here's the 'but',.. but apparently these beings ( 'gods ' etc ) also attended the pre-Buddhist Vedic teachers when THEY taught.
The gods, dragons, asuras, yaksas et al also attended the teachings of Mahavira the founder of Jainism.
They turned up too to listen to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in 17th century Orissa
So,what do we conclude ?
Do we conclude that the gods, dragons, asuras et al are not fussy, that they turn up fairly promiscously to disparate teachings ?
Or that all accounts of their appearances, apart from those in the Suttas , are bogus..even those which pre-date Shakyamuni ? That somehow the authors of the Vedas knew what was going to happen when the Buddha taught...even though what he was teaching contradicted them ?
Or do we perhaps come to the conclusion that there are a common stock of walk-on parts in accounts of spiritual teachers who emerged from the culture of the Indian subcontinent..and that the list of characters are there to lend gravitas rather than as depictions of historical events...
You are assuming Nosta that these accounts are either lies OR historical.
There are several other alternatives.
Last edited by Simon E. on Tue Apr 30, 2013 1:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby oushi » Tue Apr 30, 2013 1:03 pm

I think it just sounds better with all those "extras". It is suppose to make Sutras more reliable, as they were composed through centuries, by many different people (even if we accept the teachings as pure words of Buddha).
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 30, 2013 1:34 pm

Nosta wrote:I think that the western world with the Scientific tought is taking out from us another (corret) vision of reality. Science does not accept the existence of ufos, sasquatch/yetis, etc, but the fact is that many,many people give strong reports showing the existence of such realitys.


This is a frequent remark made by materialists.

Of course, the non-existence of aliens in flying saucers monitoring our species does not preclude the existence of spirits and so forth.

To suggest so is a logical fallacy.

The other issue with UFOs is that it is a modern phenomenon, whereas spirits and so forth go back as far as recorded history and beyond. It also isn't limited to a single culture.

America is big on UFO culture, or at least it was (X-Files?).

I don't think the Chinese or Indians care much.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Nosta » Tue Apr 30, 2013 2:03 pm

Simon, you pointed some good questions.

Oushi, indeed the "extras" make the sutra look better. Maybe its kind of an aesthetic problem so to say. Never tought on that.

Indrajala, the ufo reference was just a way to exemplify things. Of course that the existence of ufo proves the existence of spirits and vice versa :). The reference to ufos was just to show the strangeness surrounding us.

As a quick offtopic, ufos reality are probably more ancient than we think and many old legends and myths may be built upon the contact of ET and humans. This is a controversial topic of course and for another thread perhaps.
I believe in ufos. In Portugal we have some interesting cases with lots testemonies.

Anyway, coming back on topic, if gods, asuras, spirits, etc are real*, how could we be aware of their presence or contact with them? Would be any way to prove they are real?


*Padmavonsamba, I forgot to answer you about "real as what?". Real here means reality in a more mundane view. I mean, real is something like clouds, you, me, USA, Obama, a plane, etc. Not real are things like dreams, the boogeyman etc. I am not taking the discussion about the ultimate level of reality, saying that nothing is real, everything is an illusion, etc.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:11 pm

Actually, along those lines - The UFO abduction myth is strikingly similar to the mythology of fairies, to the point where you wonder if there is in fact some reality to the stories, they are not accounts of the same experience. For me it makes me think that either 1) many, many people are crazy in the same way, with the same fantasy, for thousands and thousands of years, or 2) maybe there is some reality to these things, even though we lack a good understanding of exactly how they exist.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby LionelChen » Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:26 pm

Nosta wrote:Indrajala, thank you for your complete answer.

I think that the western world with the Scientific tought is taking out from us another (corret) vision of reality.


I think Nosta, it might be helpful to be a bit more exact regarding the terminology your using - so as to prevent unnecessary confusion.

The division that needs to be made is between science and the materialist philosophy that has come to dominate western thought since the end of the 19th century.

Science ultimately is a methodology, a very good methodology I might, that allows us to verify our assumptions through a rigorous method of experimentation. Of course there is variability depending on the field of study undertaken, but barring those type of questions (which of course are the ones people are most interested about - evolution, cosmology/cosmogony, etc) - the scientific method is a very good way for us to verify and standardize results and outcomes.

ie: its a good way of eliminating incorrect assumptions/hypothesis.

However, its ability to eliminate false premises does not carry over all the time to affirming the truth about a hypothesis. I guess the current example everyone reading might be familiar with is the paradigm shifts that occurred in physics.

ie: Newton stipulated a number of a priori assumptions in building his physics. When results from experimentation seem to confirm these assumptions, they were taken as Truth....until further observation/experimentation showed that those assumptions did not always hold in every circumstance.

In other words, Science can only speak of a probabilistic truth for things we cannot observe directly.

That's a little bit different from the philosophical disposition prevalent in the Western world which accepts a materialistic understanding of the universe.

Materialism =/= Science. However it is a philosophy quite consistent with the results that science produces.

One is essentially a type of dogma, the other is a method of understanding dependent upon the evidence presented to it.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby Nosta » Tue Apr 30, 2013 6:54 pm

Lionel, thanks for clarifying that! Materialistic view was what I wanted to say.
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Re: Devas, gods, dragons on Sutras

Postby black_tea » Tue Apr 30, 2013 9:22 pm

Personally, I believe that there is much more to this world than just the things we can see and touch and that science can measure--I've had a few odd experiences in my life that have served to strengthened this opinion. That said, when it comes to specifics, I don't know what all is out there -- where do other entities come from? What form do they take? What are they exactly? So looking at the sutras, it's not out of the realm of possibility that at least some of these beings exist in some form or another. However, I also assume that some of the descriptions are more figurative and are there to make a point. So I guess it's as mix for me -- not all literal but not purely figurative either.
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