[Buddha-l] angels

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Tue May 24 09:29:37 MDT 2005

On Mon, 2005-05-23 at 21:24 -0700, James Ward wrote:

> On May 23, 2005, at 8:58 PM, Richard schreef:
> > There aren't any. Buddhists don't do angels.
> Dakinis?

A month or so ago there was a seemingly interminable thread on the
Indology list about how to translate the world "elf" into Sanskrit; as I
recall somebody was planning to translate Tolkien into Sanskrit, or
something of the kind. This raises the interesting question in general
of what is involved in translation. 

The position I am inclined to take is that angels belong to one
mythological framework and mahoragas to another. Angels occur in
biblical literature and in the mythic traditions based on the Bible, and
mahoragas and gandharvas and apsarases and Dakinis occur in Indic
literature of a particular period. An angel is no more the equivalent of
a dakini than a dakini is the equivalent of an apsaras. Similarly a
brownie is no more equivalent to a gandharva than a gandharva is to a
dharmapala. This is part of the reason why one rarely finds translations
of mahoraga (big belly-goer? grand snake?), gandharva (odor-eater?) and
apasaras (a term for which even Sanskrit pandits had to invent fanciful

There is no reason why one could not ADD angels to Buddhism. After all,
Indian Mahayana Buddhists added mahoragas and dharmapalas to Buddhist
mythology, and Elizabeth Clare Prophet added Ascended Masters to
Californian Buddhism. But I understood (or perhaps misunderstood) Gary
Gach's question as pertaining to Buddhism before Elizabeth Clare Prophet
added her bevy of imaginary goodbodies to the saddharma. And in Buddhism
before 1973 or so, there were no angels as such. There were other things
that have no equivalent in English. My advice to Gary would be to forget
about angels and write instead about the gaggle of imaginary beings that
populate Buddhists texts. 

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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