Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “balance of power between the devas and the asuras” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Appendix 3 - Balance of power between the Devas and the Asuras

Note: This appendix is extracted from Chapter XLVI part 3.2 (beings to be established in the six perfections):

The power of the asuras is equal to that of the devas. Why? Because sometimes they are vanquished by the devas and sometimes they vanquish the devas. Thus it is said in the sūtras: “Śakra Devendra was vanquished by the asuras and his four armies (caturaṅginī senā) went into the hollows of lotus roots (bisamūla) to hide.” (see Note A)

The asuras who enjoy the five pleasurable objects (pañcakāmaguṇa) are like the devas and were disciples of the Buddha as well. If such is their strength (prabhāva), why would they be included among the pretas? Therefore there must be a sixth destiny (gati) reserved specially for the asuras.

Great gods such as the asuras, kiṃnaras, gandharvas, kumbhāndas, yakṣas, rakṣasas, bhūtas, etc., are asuras, and when their troops increase, those of the devas decrease. (see Note B) Their power (anubhāva) and their transformations (nirmāṇa) were exercised at will.

Note A. War between the Devas and the Asuras:

Victory of the devas and defeat of the asuras: Dīgha, II, p. 285; Majjhima, I, p. 253; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 201; V, p. 447–448; Anguttara, IV, p.433.

Saṃyutta, V, p. 447–448: (cf. Saṃyukta, T 99, no. 407, k. 16, p. 108c–109a; Ekottara, T 125, k. 21, p. 657c26–28:

Bhūtapubbaṃ bhikkhave devāsurasaṃgāmo samupabbūḷho ahosi. tasmiṃ kho pana bhikkhave saṃgāmo devā jiniṃsu asurā parājiniṃsu. parājitā ca kho bhikkhave asurā bhītā bhisamūḷālena asurapuraṃ pavisiṃsu devānaṃ yeva kho mohayamānā. –

“Once, O monks, war broke out between the devas and the asuras. In this battle, the devas vanquished the asuras. Thus vanquished, the frightened asuras went into the lotus roots in the city of the asuras, completely panic-stricken by the devas.”

Victory of the asuras and defeat of the devas: Saṃyutta, I, p. 224; Anguttara, IV, p. 432.

Saṃyutta, I, p. 224:

Bhūtapubbaṃ bhikkhave devāsurasaṅgāmo samupabbūḷho ahosi. tasmiṃ kho pana bhikkhave saṅgāme asurā jiniṃsu devā parājiniṃsu. parājitā kho bhikkhave devā apāyaṃsveva uttarena mukhā abhiyaṃsveva ne asurā. –

“Once, O monks, war broke out between the devas and the asuras. In this battle, the asuras vanquished the devas. Then the vanquished devas fled to the north and the asuras pursued them.”

Note B. Balance between the armies of the Devas and the Asuras

In the words of a sutta from Anguttara (I, p. 142–145) cited in full above (p. 832–835F), Śakra and the Trayastriṃśa gods send their messengers to the world three times per month to inquire about the moral state of mankind and to find out how many men honor their mothers and fathers, the śrāmaṇas and brāhmaṇas, the elders of their clan, the ministers of the Caturmahārāja gods, their sons, and finally these gods themselves lead their inquiries on earth in turn on the 8th, 14th and 15th lunar days. Having gotten their information, they return to the Trayastriṃśa heaven to make their reports.

If the number of good men is too small, the Trayastriṃśas are unhappy and cry:

“To be sure, the troops of the gods will decrease and the troops of the asuras are going to increase ” (dibbā vata bho parihāyissanti, paripūrissanti asurakāyā).

If on the other hand, good men are many, the gods rejoice and say:

“To be sure, the troops of the gods will increase and the troops of the asuras will diminish” (dibbā vata bho kāyā paripūrissanti, parihāyissanti asurakāyā,).

– This saying appears again in Dīgha, II, p. 208, 209, 221, 271, in the form of ‘Dibbā vata bho kāyā paripūrenti, hāyanti asurakāyā’.

– In Mahāvastu, III, p. 200, l. 6–7, there is: Hāyanti āsurāḥ kāyā, divyā kāyā abhivardhanti.

The Traité has used this very ancient legend (cf. Odyssée, XVII, 485–487) in order to prove that the asuras were in a position to rival the devas.,