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CLopez: Devas, Asuras and Pretas

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.mythology,talk.religion.misc,alt.religion.buddhism,talk.religion.buddhism,alt.hindu,alt.magick,alt.magick.tantra
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: CLopez: Devas, Asuras and Pretas (LONG)
Date: 17 May 1996 00:16:44 -0700

[from soc.religion.eastern: Carlos Lopez ]
[I was clearly off my tree in some of these claims and Mr. Lopez is from the 
 Dept of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard!  more reliable! ::applause::]

In article <4md6do$> you wrote:
: |...characters from Indian mythology ....

: the old religion we call 'mythology' and today's accepted gods we class
:  'theology'.  

I think you better check at least the dictionaries.  Religion is not 
mythology or theology for that matter.  Theology is an enterprise within 
every religious tradition which attempts to explain its dogmas and 
traditions within itself.  In other words, a theologian is one who works 
from inside his/her own tradition not from outside.  Scholars of religion 
are not necessarily theologians although sometimes there is an overlap.

mythology is something quite appart from religion - however, as we all 
know this is a very difficult term to define.  It is, often, 
interconnected with a religious tradition.

the devas and asuras are agents within the pre-Vedic and
:  Buddhist religious cosmology of the Indus Valley region.  thus have I 
:  been instructed by my academic memories  

this is completely incorrect!  Unless, someone has decifered the script 
of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), no one yet knows what the 
'religion' of the IVC was.  Anything that has been said in the literature 
is speculation based on comparisons to Hinduism (modern).

Devas adn Asuras are in fact vedic, well, indo-iranian since we read 
about the daivas and asuras also in the avestan texts.  Also the Mithani 
agreemet of 1900 BC metions the four main vedic gods: Indra, Varuan, 
Mitra adn the Ashvins.

Devas adn asuras both appear in teh Rig Veda and all later Vedic texts.

: (pre-Buddhism) the devas were the gods who bequeathed magic power in return
:  for sacrifices and pious deeds.  one was to enact a rite of transition
:  and ensure one's entry into the deva realm.  I don't remember where the
:  asuras came from, but they were battling the devas in various Indian
:  scriptures and are often compared to Greek 'titans' as regards god/deva

by pre buddhist i assume you mean vedic, which is correct.  HOwever, 
devas received offering in exchange for a return: rain, wealth (cows), 
etc.  No magic at all.  Pious deed: there is no such thing in the Rig 
Veda (RV) not in the moral terms that is implied.  Pious deed (karma) in 
the veda means ritual deeds! 

In fact he asuras, imporperly translated as demons, really are the 
previous generations of gods in the RV.  The devas are really Indra and 
his follwoers.  The split between the two groups only comes about after 
the cosmogonic act of Indra of pushing up the sky.  Varuna is often 
called a mahaasura in the RV which points to his status as an asura.  
Also the standard (although not universally believed) etymology for Ahura 
Mazda is thought by some to be the same as that of Varuna.

: (later) this was also true of Buddhist popular cosmology which included 
:  the realms of gods, demons, and 'petas'/'preta' or 'hungry ghosts', 
:  described by Harvey as:

: 		the 'departed'.  As these are seen as having
: 		bodies made of 'subtle' matter, such a rebirth
: 		does not involve 're-incarnation', that is,
: 		getting a gross physical body again.  *Petas*
: 		are seen as frustrated ghostly beings who
: 		frequent the human world due to their strong
: 		earthly attachments, not unlike the ghosts of
: 		Western literature.  One type of *peta*,
: 		generally known as 'hungry ghost', is portrayed
: 		as having a huge stomach, racked by hunger, and
: 		a tiny neck that allows little sustenance to pass.

: 	_An Introduction to Buddhism_, by Peter Harvey, p. 33; 1990.

this is correct as the buddhist text are working in the sphere of the 
brahmana text where the opposition of the devas and asuras has been 
clearly set.  Preta is another old term which applies to the dead spirit 
which goes to heaven from the sanskrit: pra + ita = one who has gone 
forth/foward (toheaven)

: |how it applies to Buddhism. 

: another quote, this from Shambhala::

: 		Preta...Skt. (Pali, peta), lit. 'departed one';
: 		these so-call hungry ghosts constitute one of
: 		the three negative modes of existence (see *gati*).
: 		*Pretas* are being whose karma is too good for
: 		rebirth in the hells (see *naraka*), but too bad
: 		for rebirth an as *asura*.  Greed, envy and 
: 		jealousy can, according to the traditional view,
: 		lead to rebirth as a *preta*.  *Pretas* suffer 
: 		the torment of hunger, because their bellies are
: 		immense but their mouths only as big as the eye
: 		of a needle.  They are also subject to other
: 		various tortures.

: 	_The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen_, p. 173.

: |So what do you all think of these things? 

: I think that there was at some point in time a valuable teaching
:  which incorporated the notion of a system of karmic rebirth,
:  wherein one's deeds or approach to life determined in some sort
:  of cosmic repercussion-scheme the direction of that rebirth (and
:  the formula was likely socially-derived, which made the forest-
:  dweller schema rather an interesting combination, until Buddhism
:  came along; please correct this student's misconceptions)

this is true but it is not present int he earliest vedic texts like the 
RV but on ecan see it developing slowly based on the system of exchanged 
which is the basis of the ritual from the earliest period.  The moral 
aspects are relatively late but clearly can be seen in such text as the 
Jaimaniya brahmana and Shatapatha brahaman and some upanishads.  But the 
later moral articulation is cleary not old.

: for modern students I doubt that a literal interpretation would
:  be very valuable.  there are psychological explanations, of course,
:  which equate the various cosmologic levels to levels or types of
:  experience.  this may even be carried out into a broader study of
:  Buddhism in that the self (or lack thereof) may also be placed in
:  such terms (segmented and/or post-fabricated using stored images)

: devas and asuras strike me as clear parallels to a great many other
:  parallel races throughout literature (dwaves/goblins, elves/orcs; 
:  gods/titans; angels/devils; alfheim/niflheim; etc.).  the devas at
:  times at least had a ruler, and I think this was also true of the
:  asuras.  every time I've read or heard the stories about them I
:  keep getting the feeling that the devas live 'up there' in the clouds
:  while the asuras live 'down there' in the ground, though this is never
:  remarked upon by the narrator or reader

: |Does anyone in Zen follow this or is that more an Indian thing?

: Zen seems less focussed upon the before-birth/after-death scenarios,
:  since these are extreme teachings generally not presumed to have
:  come from Gautama Buddha in any case (he apparently determined that
:  it was not his dharma to instruct concerning the time between lives, 
:  should there be any.  as he was silent on it many Zen Masters do not 
:  appear to have much to do with the subject either  

: there is an ephemeral quality about such stories.  they remind me of
:  dreams more than the world to which I have become used.  so either
:  the other realms *are indeed separate alien spheres* into which I
:  may be born (can we sneak in?) or it is a metaphor for something
:  potent to the subconscious mind (buddhist magicians would force
:  their way into the Happy Realms and then into Nirvana :>)

: note tha the asuras are often depicted as feral, horned and tusked
:  beings, while the devas are usually warrior-types with powerful
:  weapons and lofty reputations (there is an hierarchy of buddha-
:  beings in some cosmologies, Zen Buddhists appear to place less 
:  emphasis on this aspect in favor of zazen, or sitting practice)

: this has Id/Ego/Superego possibilities, or conscious/unconscious
:  applications, should one desire the fusion of mythic and psychic
:  analysis

ye paakazaMsaM viharanta evair ye vaa bhadraM duuSayanti svadhabhiH
ahaye vaa taan pradadaatu soma aa vaa dadhaatu nirRter upasthe (RV 7.104.9)

Those who keep apart the man who praises sincerely or those who willingly 
cause the fortunate man to become corrupt 
let Soma place them before Ahi or place (them) in the lap of annihilation
Carlos Lopez
Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies       Harvard University

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