So at SN 56.41 we have quite the interesting tale. The relevant section I am referring to is as follows:
‘Sirs, I left Rājagaha, thinking “I’ll speculate about the world.” I went to the Sumāgadhā lotus pond and sat down on the bank speculating about the world. Then I saw an army of four divisions enter a lotus stalk. That’s why I’m mad, that’s why I’ve lost my mind. And that’s what I’ve seen that doesn’t exist in the world.’
‘Well, mister, you’re definitely mad, you’ve definitely lost your mind. And you’re seeing things that don’t exist in the world.’
[The Buddha said:] But what that person saw was in fact real, not unreal. Once upon a time, a battle was fought between the gods and the anti-gods. In that battle the gods won and the anti-gods lost. The defeated and terrified anti-gods entered the citadel of the anti-gods through the lotus stalk only to confuse the gods.
This sutta has a Chinese parallel at SA 407. I ran it through DeepL, and it too has the same story of the man seeing a tiny army enter a plant/pond and the Buddha confirming that this was, in fact, real and happened between the devas and asuras.
A very similar story is told by the famous children’s author Dr. Seuss in his seminal work “Horton Hears A Who”
The elephant Horton notices that there is a whole civilization of people living in what is called Whoville on a speck of dust / lotus-stalk looking plant.
The book’s central theme is "a person’s a person, no matter how small.” Horton defends the rights of another species of sentient being and goes to strenuous lengths to protect them from harm from others who do not value their sentience, lives, or personhood. It’s interesting that this is also within the context of animals: Horton is not a human, but an elephant. So not only is the theme about protecting and valuing the lives of other sentient beings who may be seen as foreign, “unreal,” dubious, small, insignificant, etc., it is also within the larger context of animals being intelligent, sentient, capable of compassion and forming complex opinions, etc.
All that aside: can we talk about this? It just seems interesting that it has rarely been mentioned. @sujato mentioned it in his post on the relativistic physics of the gods, but I have not heard it in any other Buddhist discussions, questions, or posts here. The fact that it has a parallel and occurs in the context of the four noble truths and speculative views give some credence to its authenticity in my opinion.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Anybody able to provide a more reliable translation of SA 407 from Chinese for comparison?
One thing I noticed in the parallel if the translation was not mistaken (?) is that it implies that the world of the asuras is underground or physically lower in some sense. The Pāli kind of captures this but seems to imply that they were hiding or it was some trick that was not permanent. It also seems to be a place where the Buddha categorically states that the asuras are real, not just part of allegorical stories.