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nāga (T. klu ཀླུ་; C. long 龍). Powerful long-lived serpent-like beings who inhabit bodies of water and often guard great treasure. Nagas belong half to the animal realm and half to the god realm. They generally live in the form of snakes, but many can change into human form.[1]

Nagas are said to dominate the underworld and water habitats such as seas, rivers and lakes. If offended, they wreak vengeance by provoking infectuous diseases and skin ailments.[1]

The 84000 glossary states:

A class of nonhuman beings who live in subterranean aquatic environments, where they guard wealth and sometimes also teachings. Nāgas are associated with serpents and have a snakelike appearance. In Buddhist art and in written accounts, they are regularly portrayed as half human and half snake, and they are also said to have the ability to change into human form. Some nāgas are Dharma protectors, but they can also bring retribution if they are disturbed. They may likewise fight one another, wage war, and destroy the lands of others by causing lightning, hail, and flooding.[2]

Gyurme Dorje states:

The serpentine water spirits (Skt. nāga/nāginī) who frequent oceans, rivers, lakes and springs, are often regarded in Buddhist literature as custodians or repositories of submerged treasure: whether material or spiritual in content. Foremost among them are the eight great nāga kings, including Takṣaka. It is considered important that their environment should be kept pristine and clean. Otherwise, agitation or pollution of the serpentine water spirits is said to provoke leprosy, consumption and various skin ailments. Various hybrid forms of serpentine spirit are also found... See Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons of Tibet, pp. 290-1.[3]

Peter Alan Roberts states:

In India, this was the cobra deity, which in Tibet was equated with water spirits and in China with dragons, neither country having cobras.[4]

According to tradition, shortly after his enlightenment, the Buddha was meditating in a forest when a great storm arose. At this time, the nāga king Mucalinda sheltered the Buddha from the storm by covering the Buddha's head with his seven snake heads.[5] The nāga king then took the form of a young Brahmin and paid homage the Buddha.[5]

It is said that Nagarjuna retrieved the Prajnaparamita Sutras from the nagas, after it had been entrusted to their care by Buddha Shakyamuni.

The nāgas are said to be under the command of Virupaksha, the guardian king of the West, and to be the guardians of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three (Trāyastriṃśa).[6]

The nagas are one of the eight classes of non-human beings (aṣṭasenā) that attended the Buddha's teachings.[7]

Further Reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg klu, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
  2. 84000.png s.v. "nāga", 84000 Glossary of Terms
  3. Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg Serpentine_Water_Spirits, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
  4. 84000.png Peter Alan Roberts (2022), White Lotus of Good Dharma, g.268, 84000 Reading Room
  5. 5.0 5.1 P. 72 How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings By Richard Francis Gombrich
  6. Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. nāga
  7. Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. aṣṭasenā