Nāga – नाग

Excerpted from Wikipedia:

The Nāga (IAST: nāga; Devanāgarī: नाग) or Nagi (f. of nāga; IAST: nāgī; Devanāgarī: नागी) are divine, semi-divine deities, or a semi-divine race of half-human half-serpent beings that reside in the netherworld (Patala) and can occasionally take human form. Rituals devoted to these supernatural beings have been taking place throughout south Asia for at least two thousand years. They are principally depicted in three forms: wholly human with snakes on the heads and necks, common serpents, or as half-human half-snake beings in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. A female naga is a “Nagi”, “Nagin”, or “Nagini”. Nagaraja is seen as the king of nāgas and nāginis. They are common and hold cultural significance in the mythological traditions of many South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures. They are the children of Rishi Kashyapa and Kadru.

Etymology

In Sanskrit, a nāgá (नाग) is a cobra, the Indian cobra (Naja naja). A synonym for nāgá is phaṇin (फणिन्). There are several words for “snake” in general, and one of the very commonly used ones is sarpá (सर्प). Sometimes the word nāgá is also used generically to mean “snake”. The word is cognate with English ‘snake’, Germanic: *snēk-a-, Proto-IE: *(s)nēg-o- (with s-mobile).

Hinduism

The mythological serpent race that took form as cobras can often be found in Hindu iconography. The nāgas are described as the powerful, splendid, wonderful and proud semidivine race that can assume their physical form either as human, partial human-serpent or the whole serpent. Their domain is in the enchanted underworld, the underground realm filled with gems, gold and other earthly treasures called Naga-loka or Patala-loka. They are also often associated with bodies of waters — including rivers, lakes, seas, and wells — and are guardians of treasure. Their power and venom made them potentially dangerous to humans. However, they often took beneficial protagonist role in Hindu mythology; in Samudra manthan folklore, Vasuki, a nāgarāja who abides on Shiva’s neck, became the churning rope for churning of the Ocean of Milk. Their eternal mortal enemies are the Garudas, the legendary semidivine birdlike-deities.

Vishnu is originally portrayed in the form sheltered by Śeṣanāga or reclining on Śeṣa, but the iconography has been extended to other deities as well. The serpent is a common feature in Ganesha iconography and appears in many forms: around the neck, use as a sacred thread (Sanskrit: yajñyopavīta) wrapped around the stomach as a belt, held in a hand, coiled at the ankles, or as a throne. Shiva is often shown garlanded with a snake. Maehle (2006: p. 297) states that “Patanjali is thought to be a manifestation of the serpent of eternity”.

Buddhism

As in Hinduism, the Buddhist nāga generally has sometimes portrayed as a human being with a snake or dragon extending over his head. One nāga, in human form, attempted to become a monk; and when telling it that such ordination was impossible, the Buddha told it how to ensure that it would be reborn a human, and so able to become a monk.

The nāgas are believed to both live on Nagaloka, among the other minor deities, and in various parts of the human-inhabited earth. Some of them are water-dwellers, living in streams or the ocean; others are earth-dwellers, living in caverns.

The nāgas are the followers of Virūpākṣa (Pāli: Virūpakkha), one of the Four Heavenly Kings who guards the western direction. They act as a guard upon Mount Sumeru, protecting the dēvas of Trāyastriṃśa from attack by the asuras.

Among the notable nāgas of Buddhist tradition is Mucalinda, Nāgarāja and protector of the Buddha. In the Vinaya Sutra (I, 3), shortly after his enlightenment, the Buddha is meditating in a forest when a great storm arises, but graciously, King Mucalinda gives shelter to the Buddha from the storm by covering the Buddha’s head with his seven snake heads. Then the king takes the form of a young Brahmin and renders the Buddha homage.

In the Vajrayāna and Mahāsiddha traditions, nāgas in their half-human form are depicted holding a nāgas-jewel, kumbhas of amrita, or a terma that had been elementally encoded by adepts.

The two chief disciples of the Buddha, Sariputta and Moggallāna are both referred to as Mahānāga or “Great nāga”. Some of the most important figures in Buddhist history symbolize nāgas in their names such as Dignāga, Nāgāsēna, and, although other etymons are assigned to his name, Nāgārjuna.

Literature

The Nāga Saṃyutta of the Pali Canon consists of suttas specifically devoted to explaining nature of the nāgas.

In the “Devadatta” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the daughter of the dragon king, an eight year old longnü (龍女, nāgakanyā), after listening to Mañjuśrī preach the Lotus Sutra, transforms into a male Bodhisattva and immediately reaches full enlightenment. Some say this tale appears to reinforce the viewpoint prevalent in Mahayana scriptures that a male body is required for Buddhahood, even if a being is so advanced in realization that they can magically transform their body at will and demonstrate the emptiness of the physical form itself. However many schools of Buddhism and classical, seminal Chinese exegeses interpret the story to repudiate this viewpoint, stating the story demonstrates that women can attain Buddhahood in their current form.

According to tradition, the Prajñapāramita sutras had been given by the Buddha to a great nāga who guarded them in the sea, and were conferred upon Nāgārjuna later.

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I have often pondered on the similarity of nāga with nagal and nagual, East meets West.

Gateway to the Nagual’s world similar to Nagaloka?

Quetzalcoatl

Terma – gter ma – Hidden Treasure

I have been thinking a lot about Guru Rinpoche today, I have received an empowerment from Akong Rinpoche along this line.

This excerpted from Wiki…

Terma (Tibetan: གཏེར་མ་, Wylie: gter ma; “hidden treasure”) are various forms of hidden teachings that are key to Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhist and Bon spiritual traditions. In the Vajrayana Nyingma school tradition, two lineages occur: an oral Kama lineage and a revealed Terma lineage. The Terma teachings were originally esoterically hidden by Vajrayana masters Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal (consorts) during the 8th century, for future discovery at auspicious times by treasure revealers, who are known as tertöns. As such, terma represent a tradition of continuous revelation in Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism. Termas are a part of tantric literature.

Terma tradition:

Tradition holds that terma may be a physical object such as a text or ritual implement that is buried in the ground (or earth), hidden in a rock or crystal, secreted in a herb, or a tree, hidden in a lake (or water), or hidden in the sky (space). Though a literal understanding of terma is “hidden treasure”, and sometimes refers to objects that are hidden away, the teachings associated should be understood as being ‘concealed within the mind of the guru’, that is, the true place of concealment is in the tertön’s nature or essence of mind. If the concealed or encoded teaching or object is a text, it is often written in dakini script, a non-human type of code or writing that only a tertön can decipher.

Fremantle (2001: p. 19) states:

    …termas are not always made public right away. The conditions may not be right; people may not yet be ready for them; and further instructions may need to be revealed to clarify their meaning. Often, the tertön himself has to practice them for many years.

In this way, one may see the tradition of terma and tertön as analogous to that of inspiration and providing a legitimate cultural forum to ensure continuation of tantric tradition, and ensuring Tibetan Buddhism’s and Bön’s continued relevancy in an evolving world.

The terma tradition is particularly prevalent in, and significant to, the Nyingma lineage. Two of the most famous tertön in the 20th century, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje (2nd Dudjom Rinpoche) and Dilgo Khyentse, were Nyingmapa. Tertön are also prevalent in Bön traditions and a few tertön have been Kagyupa.

Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal and principal students secreted away and hid religious texts, ritual objects and relics etc., to be discovered when conditions were ripe for the revelation of their contents. The hidden teachings also secured and protected Buddhism during the time of persecution under Langdarma. Some of these terma have been rediscovered and special terma lineages established throughout Tibet as a result. Out of this activity developed, especially within the Nyingma tradition, two ways of dharma transmission: the so-called “long oral transmission” from teacher to student in unbroken disciplic lineages, and the “short transmission” of terma. The foremost revealers of these terma were the Five Terton Kings and the Eight Lingpas. In the 19th century, some of the most famous were the Khenkong Choksum referring to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul and Orgyen Chokgyur Lingpa.

Terma have been relayed by nāga and the dakini – of the underworld and the heavens, respectively – and have also been hidden by teachers such as the great translator Longchenpa. Sometimes terma are discovered by a master and reconcealed for a later tertön to find.

Antecedents and analogies in other traditions:

The central Mahayana figure Nagarjuna rediscovered the last part of the “Prajnaparamita Sutra in one hundred thousand verses” in the realm of nāga, where it had been kept since the time of Gautama Buddha.

The terma tradition of rediscovering hidden teaching is not unique to Tibet. It has antecedents in India and cultural resonances in Hindu Vaishnavism as well. The Vaishnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is said to have rediscovered a fragment of the Brahma Samhita in a trance state of devotional ecstasy.

There is another occasion involving Chaitanya, who deposited his divine love (prema) for great saint Narottama Dasa in the Padma River in Bangladesh. When Narottama Dasa turned twelve years of age, he collected this treasure after a revelation in a dream.

In the Western world a similar tradition is held in Mormonism. Underwood notes, “[Joseph] Smith looks like an American terton-seer translating ancient [terma] texts written in cryptic Reformed Egyptian,” like the dakini script, “by the great prophets of the past, Mormon and Moroni.” Similar to Padmasambhava, the purpose cited by these prophets for hiding the texts for a future time was in “keeping the faith on track by making clear the fundamental ‘plain and precious’ principles of the tradition.” And as mind-terma are “not physically discovered but are revealed through the mind of the terton,” Joseph Smith’s revelations of the prophecies of Enoch and the parchment of John did not have any direct physical source but were revealed through Smith’s mind. Skousen contrasts Smith’s work with the terma tradition, particularly the Book of Mormon, in claiming that Smith did not rely on “mindstream transmission,” but was translating from a text written on gold plates. However, witnesses note that Smith didn’t use what was allegedly the gold plates during the translation, but translated by scrying with a seer stone in a hat, dictating the text as he saw it appear in his mind in a trance-like state of consciousness, suggesting a mystical translation with the text coming from Smith’s mind.

Types of terma

Fremantle (2001: p. 17) affirms that according to tradition:

Termas are of two main kinds: earth treasures and intention, or mind, treasures. A teaching concealed as an intention treasure appears directly within the mind of the tertön in the form of sounds or letters to fulfill the enlightened intention of Padmakara. Earth treasures include not only texts, but also sacred images, ritual instruments, and medicinal substances, and are found in many places: temples, monuments, statues, mountains, rocks, trees, lakes, and even the sky. In the case of texts, they are not, as one might imagine, ordinary books that can be read straightaway. Occasionally, full-length texts are found, but they are usually fragmentary, sometimes consisting of only a word or two, and they are encoded in symbolic script, which may change mysteriously and often disappears completely once it has been transcribed. They are simply the material supports that act as a trigger to help the tertön reach the subtle level of mind where the teaching has really been concealed. It is the tertön who actually composes and writes down the resulting text, and so may be considered its author.

The earth-terma are physical objects — which may be either an actual text, or physical objects that trigger a recollection of the teaching. The mind-terma are constituted by space and are placed via guru-transmission, or realizations achieved in meditation which connect the practitioner directly with the essential content of the teaching in one simultaneous experience. Once this has occurred, the tertön holds the complete teaching in mind and is required by convention to transcribe the terma twice from memory (if of textual nature) in one uninterrupted session. The transcriptions are then compared, and if no discrepancy or inconsistency is evident the terma is sealed as authentic. The tertön is required to realise the essence of the terma prior to formal transmission.

In one sense, all terma may be considered mind-termas, since the teaching associated is always inserted in the essence of the mind of the practitioner; in other words the terma is always a direct transmission from the essence of the mind of the guru towards the essence of the mind of the tertön. The terma may also be held in the mind of the tertön and realised in a future incarnation at a beneficent time. A vision of a syllable or symbol may leaven the realisation of the latent terma in the mind of the tertön. The process of hiding in the mind implies that the practitioner is to gain realisation in that life. At the time of terma concealment, a prophecy is generally made concerning the circumstances in which the teaching will be re-accessed. Especially in the case of an earth-terma, this usually includes a description of locality, and may specify certain ritual tools or objects which are required to be present, and the identities of any assistants and consorts who are required to accompany or assist the tertön.

Though somewhat contentious, the kind of revealed teaching embodied in the terma system is based in solid Mahayana Buddhist traditions. The example of Nagarjuna is often cited; the Prajnaparamita teachings are traditionally said to have been conferred on Nagarjuna by the King of the nāgas, who had been guarding them at the bottom of a lake. Similarly, the Six Treatises of Asanga are considered to have been conferred on him by the Buddha Maitreya, whom he visited in Tushita heaven during a vision.

“Pure visions” are pure teachings received from the vision of deities. These are not necessarily terma, because they do not require mindstream transmission from a guru to the practitioner experiencing the pure vision. The esoteric teachings resulting from pure vision are based on the tantras and are sometimes considered as terma due to their merit.