Posted by Savaka (188.8.131.52) on November 09, 2000 at 21:06:13:
From what I've read in the scriptures, nagas are deities dwelling in the Catummaharajika (spelling not correct) Heavens or the Realm of the Four Great Kings.
However, the nagas do not dwell in the heavenly planes. They dwell in the subterranean darkness (sorta like a heavenly place beneath the Earth).
They look like serpents, giant snakes. And the more powerful ones can transmute into human form, though every full moon, they will naturally resume their serpentine bodies so that they may shed their skins.
The commentaries of the suttas describe nagas as fierce, incorruptible and powerful deities, commonly engaged by Sakka, King of Gods, to guard treasures and sacred places.
In Theravadin tradition, the foundation of Sima Halls (sacred chapterhouses) are linked to the Naga world. Nagas-in-charge become aware of every being who steps into every Sima Hall in the world.
Nagas are also perennial enemies of the garudas. Garuda deities take the form of birds...phoenixes if you like. Garudas and nagas, on seeing each other, attack without fail.
According to the Vinaya, there was once a naga that yearned to be a monk. So it took the form of a youth and sought renunciation from the monks. None knew the youth was a serpent-god. Until on one full moon night, it naturally assumed its original form while asleep. The monks, on seeing a giant coiled serpent asleep in the dormitory, raised hell and heaven. In came the Buddha who declared the naga's monkhood void. The Buddha was quoted as saying that enlightenment is not possible for nagas because they do not naturally possess human form and also because they cannot hear. They perceive sounds in a different ways compared to human-like beings.
It is also written that the King of Nagas has four very precious bowls in his possession: the alms bowls of the four previous Buddhas (including Gotama Buddha).
The story goes that on the evening before each of these four Buddhas attain full enlightenment, they had each placed their bowls afloat on a certain river and asked that if they would attain full enlightenment, may their bowls float upstream. The bowls did. It floated upstream until a point where the King of Nagas waited. He has collected all four.
It seems that the King of Nagas is now waiting for Metteya Buddha to set his bowl afloat too.
This is what I can recall of the nagas off hand. I hope Susan and Judith would find it interesting.
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