Sunday, May 20, 2012

Breaking Promises to Nagas

Nagas are temperamental beings typically associated with water, and to a lesser extent, earth, where in the latter case they bear some relationship with trees. Nagas are normally depicted with reptilian characteristics, most commonly those of snakes. 

Some people believe nagas are, in fact, snakes that live in springs, ponds, rivers, swamps, and so forth. From an ordinary-mind perspective, nagas are animals, and you will find people who argue this perspective with special vigor. 

However, from an extraordinary perspective, nagas are one of the eight classes of spirits, having a special connection with weather, wealth, treasure, teachings, and health. In this sense, they are to be regarded as the continuum of primal spirits arising in a prehistoric age: spirits of the environment.

Thus, in an an ancient, environmentally-dependent society, if the nagas are pleased, they send rain to speed the crops. This equates to wealth and health. If they are displeased, they send rains to break down earthen restraints and create floods. This equates to ruin and disease. In between these two extremes there is much to learn.

In ancient Buddhist societies, this fortune comes and goes with the rains. In time, it devolves down to specific days of the lunar month. Just like a farmer with his almanac, the ancient observers came to consider particular days as having certain qualities with respect to interaction between nagas and men. We used to publish those days here at DTBA, until it became tiresome.

The "interaction" of which we speak is wholly dependent upon contracts made long ago between fully realized entities and the nagas, wherein ordinary beings, i.e. mankind, are the beneficiaries. You cannot communicate directly with nagas, nor would you particularly wish to try. Everything that might be said and done with respect to nagas has already, in the fullness of time, been said and done. But, what you can do is generate yourself as a deity, and engage the nagas in the context of those long-ago contracts. You can keep your side of the bargain, so to speak, by reaffirmation of -- or subscribing to -- the ancient promises made by the deity on your behalf.

Because nagas are worldly spirits. They are not transmundance. Among their number are oath-bound spirits, and some yet to be tamed. When you generate yourself as the deity to reaffirm oaths -- making offerings of special incense and so forth -- you are engaged in a symbolic communion with the oath-bound spirits as representatives, or intermediaries to the whole class. Sometimes peaceful offering will not suffice, and outright coercion seems necessary. Maybe that works with baby nagas, but I do not think it will work with developed nagas, unless you are Padmasambhava and know where to find a mongoose mob.

The promises between our transmundane representatives and the naga representatives are not unilateral. These are bilateral promises of certain conduct on both sides. So, it is fundamentally important to realize that this is a two-way street. If the nagas become fractious, and start bending the rules on their side, we can take the moral high ground and shake them up a bit. If, on the other hand, we become sloppy and forgetful...well, in this case you may rest assured that the nagas have their little ways.

Not only do they have their ways, they also have a mind to up the ante, and do not shy away from provocation. They are aggressive beings, who generally do not know how to return kindness for kindness.

These photographs (which are Photoshopped, by the way, just for snakey fun) are of worldly nagas. Nevertheless, polycephalic snakes do occur in nature. If worldly nagas can show such aberration, can you imagine what their spirit brethren can do?

Escalations can take many, many forms -- these are usually forms that we do not immediately associate with reptilian motifs,  although they may evoke prehistory.

I am writing these words because I see that we have so profoundly broken our pact with the nagas as to invite full scale disaster upon ourselves.

We have broken samaya.

The black misery that our greed for power poured into the Gulf of Mexico -- you might say that undersea oil is in some fashion the blood of ancient nagas -- has resonated in the absolutely world-threatening misery from Japan. Just think: one shake of the earth, one wave of the ocean, and the whole of the planet is in mortal danger.

This is the NOAA model of the flow of debris from Japan, following the March 2011 tsunami. Now, since the tsunami struck before the nuclear disaster, government scientists are saying that the tsunami debris is not radioactive.

I have a question.

What will this model look like if the nagas decide to send another message?

Don't you think it is high time we stop breaking promises to nagas?




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3 reader comments:

ToB said...

Thank you for an excellent post! One gets the feeling that the lessons are not being learned quickly enough as far as disastrous environmental contamination is concerned. The Japanese situation has been dragging in an alarming way. I was not aware of the Buddhist view of these examples as broken covenants. It's not encouraging. Today's solar eclipse is strongly associated in other traditions as well with the themes you are talking about here, namely water spirits and powerful backlash.

Mark Tatz said...

To connect the Gulf oil spill to the Japanese earthquake is little different from saying that God sent the earthquake as punishment for our sins.

Cliff said...

Thank you, kind sir. I am grateful that you share your perspectives.