The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Asura (Sanskrit, Pāli: असुर; Tibetan: Lha-ma-yin; Japanese: 阿修羅 Ashura; Korean: 아수라; Chinese: 阿修罗; pinyin: Āxiūluō, Vietnamese: A tu la) in Buddhism is the name of the lowest ranks of the deities or demigods of the Kāmadhātu. They are described as having three heads with three faces and four to six arms. Ashura in Sanskrit, Asura in Pali. It is a peculiar path in the Six Paths. They are the enemies of the devas, and are the mightest of all demons. In terms of material enjoyment and psychic power, it is similar to Deva. However, in some aspects, it is even worse than the Human Path. The male Asura is extremely ugly and furious, and always fight with each other. The female Asura is as beautiful as an angel. They are proud of themselves, thus reluctant to learn and practice Buddhism.
- A type of demon in Indian mythology. Contentious and belligerent, asuras fight continually with the gods. Buddhist scriptures often regard asuras as enemies of the gods, especially of Shakra, or Indra. Asuras are one of the eight kinds of nonhuman beings. The world of asuras is counted as one of the six paths, or the six lower states of existence among the Ten Worlds.
See also; Ten Worlds.
Origins and etymology
Because of their passions, rebirth as an Asura is considered to be one of the four unhappy births (together with rebirth as an animal, a preta, or a being in Naraka). The state of an Asura reflects the mental state of a human being obsessed with force and violence, always looking for an excuse to get into a fight, angry with everyone and unable to maintain calm or solve problems peacefully.
On the popular cosmic picture of the Bhavacakra, the Asuras are sometimes shown as a sixth stage of existence, and sometimes grouped together with the devas. The five-stage version was the original, and the addition of the Asuras as the sixth was done in Tibet on the authority of Je Tsongkhapa.
The leaders of the Asuras are called Asurendra (Pāli: Asurinda) "Asura-lord". There are several of these, as the Asuras are broken into different tribes or factions. Among them are the bow-wielding Dānaveghasa Asuras, and the terrible-faced Kālakañjakas. The principal leaders are Vemacitrin (Pāli: Vepacitti), Rāhu (also called Veroca or Verocana), and Pahārāda.
The Asuras formerly lived in the Trāyastriṃśa world, on the peak of Mount Sumeru, with the other gods of that world. When Śakra became the ruler of that world, the Asuras celebrated by drinking a lot of Gandapāna wine, a liquor so strong that Śakra forbade the other gods to drink it. Weakened by their drunkenness, the Asuras could not resist when Śakra had the whole lot of them thrown over the edge of Trāyastriṃśa into what would become the Asura-world at the base of Sumeru. A tree grows there called Cittapātali; when the Asuras saw it blossom, they saw that it was different from the Pāricchattaka (Sanskrit: Pāriyātra) tree which had grown in their old home, and they knew that they were dispossessed.
They now meditated on war. In armor and weapons, they climbed up the steep slopes of Sumeru "like ants". Śakra set out to meet them, but was forced to retreat because of their numbers. Passing through the forest where the garuḍas live on his flying chariot, Śakra saw that his passage was destroying the nests of the garuḍas and ordered his charioteer Mātali to turn back. When the pursuing Asuras saw Śakra turn about, they felt certain that he must be coming back with an even larger army, and they fled, ceding all the ground they had gained.
Despite their many wars, there was eventually a partial concord between the Trāyastriṃśa gods and the Asuras. This came about because Śakra fell in love with Sujā, daughter of the Asura chief Vemacitrin. Vemacitrin had given Sujā the right to choose her own husband at an assembly of the Asuras, and she chose Śakra, who had attended disguised as an aged Asura. Vemacitrin thus became Śakra's father-in-law.