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The Legends of Naga Part 5 – Experiences of Present Day Monks

The Legends of Naga Part 5 – Experiences of Present Day Monks

There are many accounts of the Buddha and his monks crossing paths with Nagas. The Buddhist Vinaya Piṭaka

scriptures, which describe the code of conduct for monks and nuns (under Mahāvagga
, Mahākhandhako
– Mv.I.), tells the story of one such incident, where the Buddha subdued a ferocious Naga
with ease.

 

Illustration of Nagas

 

Taming The Serpent

The Uruvelapāṭihāriyakathā

(Mv.I.15.1), tells the story of how the Buddha defeated a troublesome Naga. During one of his travels, Buddha arrived at Uruvelā
and requested Uruvela-Kassapa
, an ascetic of a different faith, to let him stay the night in his ashram. The ascetic however, were quick to warn him about the powerful Naga who haunted the lodging.

 

Throughout the night, the Naga brandished heat, fumes and fire against the Buddha. The Buddha however, remained unperturbed, easily outclassing the Naga in both flame and fury. Even after the serpent stood defeated, the Buddha continued to radiate a spectral glow of brilliant blues, reds, crimsons, yellows, and even the luminous brilliance of quartz. He subdued the Naga with ease, trapping him within his alms bowl.

At the end of the story, the Buddha also corrected the beliefs of Uruvela-Kassapa and his followers, who had earlier believed himself to be an Arahant like the Buddha. The Buddha showed them the err of their ways by sharing a sermon centred around fire, and how beings are trapped by their fires of clinging desire, aversion and delusion, leading to sorrow and despair. He explained how one can be released from such sorrow. At the end of the sermon, many of them attained Arahantship.

 

Battle Between Moggallana and A Naga King

Among his disciples with special capacities and qualities (A. I, 13), the Buddha often said that Moggallana

was one of the most powerful.

 

The Vissudhimagga

describes an incident where the Venerable Moggallana subdued Nandopananda
, a Naga king.

 

One day, while Nandopananda was enjoying a banquet surrounded by dancing female Nagas, he saw the Buddha, together with a retinue of monks, passing overhead to Tavatimsa

heaven. The enraged king took this as a sign of disrespect, and decided to teach the monks a lesson. The enormous Naga coiled his body around the Heavens themselves and spread his hood, blocking out the light, making the Heavens invisible.

 

Nandopananda

Several members of the Buddha’s retinue, including Ratthapála

, Bhaddiya
and Ráhula
, stepped forward to answer the challenge, but the Buddha would not agree until Moggallána sought his permission. The Naga king was immensely powerful, and it was possible that none except Moggallana could safely tame him.

 

Moggallana transformed himself into a larger Naga and coiled himself around Nandopananda, squeezing the life from out of the Naga king. In desperation, Nandopananda belched acrid smoke and fire to defend himself. The monk too unleashed his own smoke and fire, much to the Naga’s chagrin. Moggallana further tormented the Naga by shrinking himself and entering the Naga’s ears, nostrils and mouth, and even tickling his belly from the inside.

Enraged, the Naga king waited for Moggallana to exit from his mouth, and blew a tremendous blast of fire, intending to obliterate the monk. Try as he might however, blast after blast did not so much as singe a single hair on the monk’s body. The Naga king admitted defeat, and was brought to the presence of the Buddha, whereupon he sought refuge and tutelage instead.

 

Modern Day Encounters

In more recent times, stories still abound from people claiming to have encountered a Naga. Many of these accounts are from monks seeking spiritual attainment. During their tudong journeys through the wild, traversing mountain, jungles and caves, encounters with these mystical serpents were fairly commonplace. The following are accounts provided by Phra Ajarn Mun Bhuridatta

, a Vipassana meditation master who had many run-ins with Nagas.

 

Phra Ajarn Mun Bhuridatta

 

Nagas are said to enjoy listening to Buddhist sermons. He had preached to Nagas many times, and they often appeared to him in human form, both Male and Female. The serpents were particularly attentive, often asking deep spiritual questions, as they thoroughly invested in the Dhamma as a means of attaining a higher birth for themselves as humans.

This desire was borne of the Buddhist stipulation that only humans are optimized to carry out Dhamma practices and attain nibbana. Animals lack the facilities to achieve this. Even angels and deities cannot enter nibbana. Being reborn a human, is therefore considered the highest merit among Nagas.

At the time, Phra Ajarn Mun Bhuridatta was pursuing ascetic pilgrimage practices in a cave in Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai

Province. Setting up his umbrella near the mouth of the cave, he spied a stone courtyard adjacent to a large rock, and decided to meditate there. Little did he know however, that the cave was inhabited by a fiercely territorial Naga.

 

Naga residing in a cave

 

When the Naga saw Phra Ajarn Mun Bhuridatta settle down in his territory, he began to scoff, and decided to interrupt him. At night, as Phra Ajarn Mun Bhuridatta moved about, the Naga became annoyed by the ruckus, and took every chance he could to lash out at the monk.

The serpent would reproach that the monk was stomping about and creating a huge din. It remarked that the sounds seemed like the running of a racehorse or the sound of sticks drumming upon the rock, vibrating throughout the mountains.

Each action Phra Ajarn Mun made was met with violent protest. Even though he was compassionate to the Naga, his compassion was met with disdain and turmoil.

 

He explained that to continuously find fault with others is to create endless sin for ourselves.

See Also

 

Afraid that this behaviour would accumulate more sin for the poor creature, Phra Ajarn Mun Bhuridatta began to preach the Dhamma to the serpent. The message of the sermon was one of self-reflection, and its importance in the face others’ faults.

Phra Ajarn Mun Bhuridatta explained that the habits of the past would continue to haunt the future, and should the Naga be fortunate enough to gain a human birth in future, he would often find himself in conflict with others due to his lack of forbearance. The slightest provocation or misunderstanding would result in chaos.

He explained that to continuously find fault with others is to create endless sin for ourselves. The Naga felt remorse for his actions, and resolved to mend his ways.

 

Naga sculpture at the entrance of temples

Phra Ajarn Mun Bhuridatta continued his Vipassana meditation in the cave for a while. He noticed that though the serpent had adjusted his habits, however the process appeared torturous to him. Worried that his meditation was imposing upon the Naga, he departed to continue on his journey.

These are just some of the modern-day accounts surrounding the Nagas. Stay tuned to our page for other forthcoming articles.

 

 

Sources of Reference:

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nanamoli/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

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