Monday, May 20, 2013

The King of the Nats

Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly (Wikipedia edits, reader's report from Burma)
Sakka (St. Michael) slaying the asura (demon) king or naga (dragon) by Tadolini

Kyauktan Yay-Le Pagoda, Burma
Thagyamin (Burmese, from Sanskrit Śakra), the "King of the Nats," is identified with the Buddhist deva (literally, "shining one") Sakka and the Hindu deity Indra, identified by Wisdom Quarterly as the source of the mythological Christian/Catholic figure Archangel Michael (Sakka, Makha of Macala).

The Nats are pre-Buddhist animistic spirits -- dryads, elemental fairies, earthbound devas -- feared and revered in Burma. As in India they are supplicated, worshipped, and appeased in exchange for "favors" or what European and American Wiccans might call "boons."

Sujata and the nat/"dryad" Siddhartha
Siddhartha was once mistaken for a nat or tree spirit in the flesh (as shown here) and offered a rich meal of milk rice by the maiden Sujata.
This enabled him to gather the strength to pursue the goal of full enlightenment, which is accomplished by a balance of ease-and-effort. He began to care for his body and so was able to use it to reach the highest insight into the cause of suffering and freedom from it. He triumphed over the ultimate foe -- Mara, the personification of the defilements of the heart/mind (greed, hatred, delusion, and fear).
Sakka King of Devas victory over naga (serpent)
He is often portrayed sitting atop a three-headed white elephant, holding a conch shell in one hand, and a yak-tail whisk in the other (traditional signs of royal authority and prestige). In traditional Burmese Buddhist belief, Thagyamin rules Buddhist cosmological nat or deva plane called Trāyastriṃśa (Tavatimsa).
Thagyamin was designated the leader of the official pantheon of nats by the Burmese King Anawrahta in the 11th century in an effort to streamline animist practices among the populace and merge these practices with Theravada Buddhism. He is the only nat in the official pantheon not to have undergone a sudden and violent death.
The Burmese Buddhist/Catholic St. Michael
A_Cute_Blogger (Wisdom Quarterly reader)
Growing up Roman Catholic in Buddhist-majority Burma (called Myanmar by the dictators), identifying as Christian, it is interesting to discern the common themes in Abrahamic and Brahminical/Dharmic studies of angels (devas).

Elsewhere on the Web, I discovered that even Protestant Christian reformers "could not imagine dying without [an] angelic presence." (This is a reference to Catholic funeral rites and other parts of the standard liturgy).
Michael on naga (
One of the Catholic Church's approved Burmese liturgical texts is called St. Michael, Thagyamin, the Burmanized form of Buddhism's Sakka. (Burmese Catholic texts also borrow the word sangha, "clergy/monastics," when referring to the clergy).

On a more personal level, Thagyamin Michael is indeed an efficacious intercessor between me and the Christian/Abrahamic God.
Pope Francis is drawing a sharp contrast between his 2-month-old papacy and those of his predecessors.

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