Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Numerical Discourses

Chapter 8: Asura

1. Asura

1. Thus I have heard: One time, the Buddha was staying at Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Jeta’s Grove of Śrāvastī.

2. It was then that the Bhagavān addressed the monks, “Of those who get forms that are large, none surpass the asura king. Monks, you should know, that asura’s form is 84,000 yojanas long, with a mouth that’s a thousand yojanas across.[1] Monks, you should know that there are times when the asura king wants to encroach on the sun. He doubles his body to 168,000 yojanas and moves in front of the sun and moon.

3. “When they see him, the kings of the sun and moon both feel frightened and insecure in their own places. For what reason? Because the asura king has a terrible form, the kings of the sun and moon stop shining out of fear.

4. “But the asura king doesn’t dare grab the sun or moon. Why is that? The sun and moon are majestic, possess great miraculous powers, have very long life spans, are handsome in appearance, and enjoy pleasures without end. For those who want to know the length of their life spans: They live for one eon. Again, sentient beings who create good fortunes here become the kings of the sun and moon. They cannot be attacked by that asura, but the asura does make them feel distressed at that point, and then they disappear.

5. “In this way, monks, that deceitful Māra the Wicked One is forever after you, searching for a way to destroy your roots of goodness. The Wicked One conjures things with marvelous and unusual sights, sounds, odors, flavors, and touches, wanting to confuse the thinking of monks. The Wicked One thinks, ‘I’ll confront him and get an advantage over that monk’s eyes … get an advantage over that monk’s ears … nose … tongue … body … mind.’

6. “Although a monk sees these marvelous things of the six senses, his mind isn’t defiled by them. Deceitful Māra the Wicked One then feels distressed, retreats, and goes away. What’s the reason? It’s the work of the Tathāgata’s, the Arhat’s, majestic power. And why? Monks won’t go near sights, sounds, odors, flavors, and touches.

7. “Monks then who always perform this training when accepting people’s faithful gifts are extraordinarily rare. Those who cannot digest their alms[2] will fall to the five destinations and won’t attain the unsurpassed and true awakening. It’s imperative that they focus on obtaining what they’ve yet to obtain, attaining what they’ve yet to attain, crossing over what they’ve yet to cross, and accomplishing realization of those teachings that they’ve yet to realize.

8. “Therefore, monks, a monk shouldn’t think about alms before they get the gifts of the faithful. Then, when they do get the faithful’s gifts, a monk can digest them without becoming defiled. Thus, monks, you should train yourselves.”

9. When the monks heard what the Buddha taught, they rejoiced and approved.


  1. yojana. C. 由延 (MC. yiəu-yiɛn) or 由旬 (MC. yiəu-yiuĕn) = G. yoyan[a] = S/P. yojana. This was an Indian unit of distance equal to between five and nine miles. The ocean was assumed to be 84,000 yojanas deep and that Mount Sumeru rose another 84,000 yojanas above its surface. So, this asura king grew to the height of Indra’s palace at Sumeru’s summit while standing in the deepest part of the ocean. The sun and moon were considered to circle Sumeru at half the altitude of its summit, so he would have towered over them. Presumably, this was an ancient explanation for solar and lunar eclipses. [back]
  2. digest. C. 消化. While the C. here doesn’t specify the gifts are food, this verb is used throughout EĀ to mean digestion of food. It could also mean to extinguish a fire, and digestion was thought to occur as a result of an inner fire in other passages (e.g., EĀ 28.4 at T125.2.652a24). So, there may be a double-meaning here between digestion and nirvāṇa, as they both involve meanings of extinguishment (one physical and one spiritual). [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 7 February 2023