Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

30. Description of the World

Chapter 5: Nāgas and Garuḍas

Introduction

1. The Buddha told the monks, “There are four kinds of nāga. What are the four? The first is egg-born, the second is womb-born, the third is born of moisture, and the fourth is born spontaneously. These are the four kinds.

2. “There are four kinds of garuḍas. What are the four? The first is egg-born, the second is womb-born, the third is born of moisture, and the fourth is born spontaneously. These are the four kinds.

The Palaces of Nāgas and Garuḍas

3. “At the bottom of the great ocean, the Nāga King Sāgara has a palace that’s 80,000 yojanas across. That palace has seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees encircling it with decorations made of the seven treasures … and countless birds sing to each other peacefully as before.

4. “Between Sumeru the mountain king and Mount Khadiraka, the nāga kings Nanda and Upananda have their two palaces. Each is 6,000 yojanas across. Those palaces have seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees that encircle them with decorations made of the seven treasures … and countless birds sing to each other peacefully as before.

5. “On the north shore of the great ocean, there’s a great tree called Kūṭaśālmali that’s shared between the nāga kings and garuḍas. The area under the tree is seven yojanas around, and it’s a hundred yojanas tall. It’s leaves and limbs spread out in all four directions to cover fifty yojanas.

6. “To the east of this great tree, there’s an egg-born nāga king’s palace and an egg-born garuḍa’s palace. Each of their palaces are 6,000 yojanas across. Those palaces have seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees that encircle them with decorations made of the seven treasures … and countless birds sing to each other peacefully as before.

7. “To the south of the tree Kūṭaśālmali, there’s a womb-born nāga king’s palace and a womb-born garuḍa’s palace. Each of their palaces is 6,000 yojanas across. Those palaces have seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees that encircle them with decorations made of the seven treasures … and countless birds sing to each other peacefully as before.

8. “To the west of the tree Kūṭaśālmali, there’s an moisture-born nāga king’s palace and an moisture-born garuḍa’s palace. Each of their palaces is 6,000 yojanas across. Those palaces have seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees that encircle them with decorations made of the seven treasures … and countless birds sing to each other peacefully as before.

9. “To the north of that tree Kūṭaśālmali, there’s a spontaneously born nāga king’s palace and a spontaneously born garuḍa’s palace. Each of their palaces is 6,000 yojanas across. Those palaces have seven walls, seven balustrades, seven nettings, and seven rows of trees that encircle them with decorations made of the seven treasures … and countless birds sing to each other peacefully as before.

The Way Garuḍas Hunt Nāgas

10. “If an egg-born garuḍa wants to catch and eat a nāga, it flies down from a eastern limb of the tree Kūṭaśālmali. It hits the ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 200 yojanas. It grabs and eats an egg-born nāga as it likes, but it can’t catch womb-born, moisture-born, or spontaneously born nāgas.

11. “If a womb-born garuḍa wants to catch and eat an egg-born nāga, it flies down from an eastern limb of the tree. It hits the ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 200 yojanas. The garuḍa then grabs and eats an egg-born nāga as it likes.

12. “If a womb-born garuḍa wants to [catch and] eat a womb-born nāga, it flies down from a southern limb of the tree. It hits ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 400 yojanas. It grabs and eats a womb-born nāga as it likes, but it can’t catch moisture-born or spontaneously born nāgas.

13. “If a moisture-born garuḍa wants to [catch and] eat an egg-born nāga, it flies down from an eastern limb of the tree. It hits the ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 200 yojanas. The garuḍa then grabs and eats an egg-born nāga as it likes.

14. “If a moisture-born garuḍa wants to [catch and] eat a womb-born nāga, it flies down from a southern limb of the tree. It hits the ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 400 yojanas. The garuḍa then grabs and eats a womb-born nāga as it likes.

15. “If a moisture-born garuḍa wants to [catch and] eat a moisture-born nāga, it flies down from a western limb of the tree. It hits the ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 800 yojanas. The garuḍa then grabs and eats a womb-born nāga as it likes, but it can’t catch a spontaneously born nāga and eat it.

16. “If a spontaneously born garuḍa wants to [catch and] eat an egg-born nāga, it flies down from an eastern limb of the tree. It hits the ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 200 yojanas. The garuḍa then grabs and eats an egg-born nāga as it likes.

17. “If a spontaneously born garuḍa wants to [catch and] eat a womb-born nāga, it flies down from a southern limb of the tree. It hits the ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 400 yojanas. The garuḍa then grabs and eats a womb-born nāga as it likes.

18. “If a spontaneously born garuḍa wants to [catch and] eat a moisture-born nāga, it flies down from a western limb of the tree. It hits the ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 800 yojanas. The garuḍa then grabs and eats a womb-born nāga [as it likes].

19. “If a spontaneously born garuḍa wants to [catch and] eat a spontaneously born nāga, it flies down from a northern limb of the tree. It hits the ocean’s surface with its wings, and the ocean parts for a distance of 1,600 yojanas. The garuḍa then grabs and eats a spontaneously born nāga [as it likes].

20. “Again, there are great nāgas that garuḍas can’t catch. Which are they? Nāga King Sāgara, Nāga King Nanda, Nāga King Upananda, Nāga King *Airāvaṇa, Nāga King Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Nāga King Sudarśana, Nāga King *Āloka, Nāga King Kakuda, Nāga King *Kapila, Nāga King *Apalāla, Nāga King *Kanu (?), Nāga King *Gokanu (?), Nāga King Anavatapta, Nāga King Supratiṣṭhita, Nāga King *Usamkavata (?), and Nāga King Takṣaka. These great nāga kings can’t be caught and eaten by garuḍas. Nor can garuḍas catch and eat the nāgas who live near them.”

Wrong Views about Rebirth in Heaven

21. The Buddha told the monks, “If sentient beings uphold the nāga precepts, their minds turn to nāgas and perfect the way of nāgas, and then they are born among nāgas. If sentient beings uphold the garuḍa precepts, their minds turn to garuḍas and perfect the way of garuḍas, and then they are born among garuḍas.

22. “Sometimes, sentient beings uphold the precepts of rabbits and owls, and their minds turn to perfect the ways of rabbits and owls. They then fall [to rebirth] among rabbits and owls. Suppose sentient beings uphold the precepts of dogs, the precepts of cattle, the precepts of deer, the precepts of mutes, the precepts of Māṇibhadra, the precepts of fire, the precepts of the moon, precepts of the sun, precepts of water, precepts of giving offerings to fire, or the law of asceticism and defilement and that they think, ‘I’m upholding this … way of mutes … way of Māṇibhadra … way of fire … way of the sun and moon … way of water … way of giving offerings to fire … way of asceticism and defilement … I uphold these virtues in order to be born in heaven.’ These are wrong views.”

23. The Buddha said, “I say people with these wrong views are surely headed for two places. Either they’ll be born in hell or they’ll fall to an animal birth.

Various Wrong Views

24. “Sometimes, ascetics and priests have such theories and views as these: ‘Self and the world are permanent. This is true; anything else is false.’ ‘Self and the world are impermanent. This is true; anything else is false.’ ‘Self and the world are both permanent and impermanent. This is true; anything else is false.’ ‘Self and the world are neither permanent nor impermanent. This is true; anything else is false.’

25. “‘Self and the world are limited. This is true; anything else is false.’ ‘Self and the world are unlimited. This is true; anything else is false.’ ‘Self and the world are both limited and unlimited. This is true; anything else is false.’ ‘Self and the world are neither limited nor unlimited. This is true; anything else is false.’

26. “‘The soul is the body. This is true; anything else is false.’ ‘The soul and the body are different. This is true; anything else is false.’ ‘[The body] neither has a soul nor lacks a soul. This is true; anything else is false.’ ‘There’s no soul and no body. This is true; anything else is false.’

27. “Some people say, ‘There’ll thus be another death [in a future life]. This is true; anything else is false.’ Others say, ‘There won’t be another death. This is true; anything else is false.’ Sometimes, they say, ‘There’ll thus be another death, and there won’t be another death. This is true; anything else is false.’ Some also say, ‘It’s not the case that there’ll be another death or won’t be another death. This is true; anything else is false.’

Views about Permanence and Impermanence

28. “Suppose those ascetics and priests create such a theory and such a view as this: ‘[Self and] the world are permanent. This is true; anything else is false.’ They have a view of self, a view of soul, a view of body, and a view of the world regarding conditioned things. Therefore, they say, ‘Self and the world are permanent.’

29. “There are those who say, ‘[Self and the world are] impermanent. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have a view of self, a view of soul, a view of body, and a view of the world regarding conditioned things. Therefore, they say, ‘Self and the world are impermanent.’

30. “There are those who say, ‘[Self and the world are] permanent and impermanent. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have a view of self, a view of soul, a view of body, and a view of the world regarding conditioned things. Therefore, they say, ‘[Self and] the world are permanent and impermanent.’

31. “There are those who say, ‘[Self and the world are] neither permanent nor impermanent. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have a view of self, a view of soul, a view of body, and a view of the world regarding conditioned things. Therefore, they say, ‘Self and the world are neither permanent nor impermanent.’

Views about Being Limited and Unlimited

32. “There are those who say, ‘Self and the world are limited. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have a view of self, a view of soul, a view of body, and a view of the world regarding conditioned things. They say, ‘The soul is limited, the body is limited, and the world is limited. From its conception in the womb until it reaches the charnel ground, the four elements possessed by the body thus change. After not more than seven births, the body and soul’s actions come to an end, and the self enters the class of purity.’ Therefore, they say, ‘Self [and the world] are limited.’

33. “There are those who say, ‘Self and the world are unlimited. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have a view of self, a view of soul, a view of body, and a view of the world regarding conditioned things. They say, ‘The soul is unlimited, the body is unlimited, and the world is unlimited. From its conception in the womb until it reaches the charnel ground, the four elements possessed by the body thus change. After not more than seven births, the body and soul’s action come to an end, and the self enters the class of purity.’ Therefore, they say, ‘Self and the world are unlimited.’

34. “There are those who say, ‘[Self and] the world are both limited and unlimited. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have a view of self, a view of soul, a view of body, and a view of the world regarding conditioned things. They say, ‘The soul is both limited and unlimited, [the body is both limited and unlimited, and the world is both limited and unlimited]. From its conception in the womb until it reaches the charnel ground, the four elements possessed by the body thus change. After not more than seven births, the body and soul’s action come to an end, and the self enters the class of purity.’ Therefore, they say, ‘Self [and the world] are both limited and unlimited.’

35. “There are those who say, ‘Self and the world are neither limited nor unlimited. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have a view of self, a view of soul, a view of body, and a view of the world regarding conditioned things. They say, ‘The soul, body, [and the world] are neither limited nor unlimited. From its conception in the womb until it reaches the charnel ground, the four elements possessed by the body thus change. After not more than seven births, the body and soul’s action come to an end, and the self enters the class of purity.’ Therefore, they say, ‘Self [and the world] are neither limited nor unlimited.’

Views about the Soul and Body

36. “There are those that say, ‘The soul and the body are the same. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have the view that their own body has a soul and the view that other bodies have souls. Therefore, they say, ‘The soul and the body are the same.’

37. “[There are those] that say, ‘The soul and the body are different. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have the view that their body has a soul and the view that other bodies have no soul. Therefore, they say, ‘The soul and the body are different.’

38. “There are those that say, ‘The body neither has nor lacks the soul. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have the view that this body has no soul and the view that other bodies do have souls. Therefore, they say, ‘[The body] neither has nor lacks [the soul].’

39. “There are those that say, ‘There’s no body or soul. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They have the view that this body has no soul and the view that other bodies have no souls. Therefore, they say, ‘There’s no soul and no body.’

Views about Present and Future Lives

40. “There are those that say, ‘There is thus another death. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ Those people have the view of having a soul in the present and having a body and soul that will wander in the hereafter. Therefore, they say, ‘There is thus another death.’

41. “[There are those that say,] ‘There isn’t thus another death. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They say, ‘There’s a soul in the present life, but there’ll be no soul in a later life.’ Therefore, they say, ‘There isn’t thus another death.’

42. “[There are those that say,] ‘There’s thus another death, and there isn’t thus another death. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They say, ‘There’s a soul in the present life that perishes, but there’ll be a soul that wanders in a later life.’ Therefore, they say, ‘There’s thus another death, and there isn’t thus another death.’

43. “[There are those that say,] ‘There’s neither another death nor no other death. [This is true; anything else is false.]’ They say, ‘The body and soul in the present perish, and the body and soul in the next life perish.’ Therefore, they say, ‘There’s neither another death nor no other death.’”

The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant

44. The Bhagavān then told the monks, “Long ago, there was a king named Ādarśamukha. He gathered a group of men who were born blind and told them, ‘All of you were born blind. Would any of you be familiar with an elephant?’

“They responded, ‘Great King, we are not familiar nor know of elephants.’

45. “The king again asked, ‘Would you like to know their shape?’

“They responded, ‘We would like that.’

46. “The King then ordered his servants to bring an elephant and have that group of blind men touch it with their hands. When one of them felt the elephant’s trunk, the king would say, ‘This is an elephant.’ When one of them felt the elephant’s tusks … felt the elephant’s ears … felt the elephant’s head … felt the elephant’s back … felt the elephant’s belly … felt the elephant’s flanks … felt the elephant’s legs … felt the elephant’s feet … felt the elephant’s tail, the king would say, ‘This is an elephant.’

47. “King Ādarśamukha then had the elephant taken away. He asked the blind men, ‘What was the elephant like?’

48. “Those blind men who found the elephant’s trunk said, ‘The elephant was like a crooked pole.’ Those who found the elephant’s tusks said, ‘The elephant was like a pestle.’ Those that found the elephant’s ears said, ‘The elephant was like a fan.’ Those that found the elephant’s head said, ‘The elephant was like a kettle.’ Those that found the elephant’s back said, ‘The elephant was like a mound.’ Those that found the elephant’s belly said, ‘The elephant was like a wall.’ Those that found the elephant’s flank said, ‘The elephant was like a tree.’ Those that found the elephant’s leg said, ‘The elephant was like a pillar.’ Those that found the elephant’s feet said, ‘The elephant was like a mortar.’ Those that found the elephant’s tail said, ‘The elephant was like a rope.’

49. “Each of them argued with the others, saying that the others were wrong and they were right. But what they said wasn’t the case. They kept repeating themselves until they began fighting. The king watched this with delight and laughed loudly.

50. “King Ādarśamukha then spoke in verse:

51. The Buddha told the monks, “Those of other religions and different trainings are like this. They don’t know the truth of suffering, don’t know the truth of its formation … the truth of its cessation … the truth of the path. They each create different views and contradict each other. They say, ‘I’m right,’ and then start arguments.

52. “If there are ascetics or priests who truly know the noble truth of suffering, noble truth of suffering’s formation, noble truth of suffering’s cessation, and noble truth of suffering’s escape, they’ll contemplate it and unify with each other. They’ll accept the same teaching and the same teacher, becoming one and the same like water and milk. They’ll light the Buddha’s teaching, and its happiness will last a long time.”

53. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:

54. “Therefore, monks, apply yourselves to the methods of contemplating the noble truth of suffering, noble truth of suffering’s formation, noble truth of suffering’s cessation, and noble truth of suffering’s escape.”


Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 9 June 2022