This is just me goofing off for a bit. I have enjoyed (and hopefully will soon again enjoy) playing Pathfinder, which is an improved version of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. Pathfinder has come out with an East Asian setting but has so far not come out with a South Asian setting. I hope that will change someday. In the meantime I began wondering what I would do if I wanted to do a scenario using traditional Buddhist cosmology. Does Pathfinder have analogues for the eight kinds of supernatural beings who appear in the sūtras as well as other types of creatures? I know that in Gene Reeves translation of the Lotus Sūtra he decided to translate the names of some of these creatures by delving into a shared etymology with creatures who appear in Greek mythology (that old Indo-European linguistic connection) but I never really liked that as I think that even though there may be a shared etymology the creatures developed in different ways and have different roles. Still it got me to thinking that I could probably find creatures in the (as of this time) four Pathfinder Bestiaries. So as a kind of thought experiment here’s how I would deal with the eight kinds of supernatural beings in Pathfinder.
First of all, I don’t think I would treat each of the eight kinds as individual creatures but more as a class encompassing several different creatures or beings of varying CRs (Challenge Ratings). In fact, in Buddhism each of the kinds of supernatural beings is understood to be a general classification with many different kinds of creatures in each class and of course different countries also understood them differently. For instance, nagas in India are like serpents or humanoid snake like beings but in China they are more like dragons (Asian dragons not Western dragons).
So what are these supernatural beings and what would they be in Pathfinder?
The first are the devas or “radiant ones” who are the gods like Indra and Brahma and their cohorts. On Nichiren’s mandala he includes Indra, Brahma, and the gods of the sun, moon, and stars. In Pathfinder the gods are not listed in the bestiaries as they are effectively untouchable in-game (though they can interact with PCs or player characters but usually they do so only indirectly or through intermediaries). Celestials like agathions, angels, azatas, and archons would fit the bill however. In fact, three types of angel are specifically called devas: the Astral Deva (CR 14), the Monadic Deva (CR 12), and the Movanic Deva (CR 10). Anyone who wanted to play a deva as character would have to opt for an Aasimar (CR 1/2) meaning a person who had a deva for an ancestor.
Next are the nagas or “dragons.” Pathfinder actually has a whole group of creatures who are called nagas. There are dark nagas (CR 8) who are lawful evil, guardian nagas (CR 10) who are lawful good and who would fit the role of nagas who protect the Dharma and transmit secret teachings to high level clerics or oracles when the time is right, lunar nagas (CR 6) who are chaotic neutral and really into astrology, royal nagas (CR 11) who are lawful neutral and who are described like the many headed naga who supposedly covered the Buddha during a monsoon, spirit nagas (CR 9) who are chaotic evil, and water nagas (CR 7) who are neutral and seem more like the classical nagas who are associated with oceans and rivers. The Imperial Dragons modeled on Chinese dragons that appear in Bestiary 3 would also fit the bill as nagas, but most particularly the Sea Dragon (CR 4-20). Those who might want to play a naga can play a nagaji (CR 1/2), who are a race of serpent like humanoids originally created by nagas to be their servants.
Next are the yakshas who are a kind of nature spirit. There are no creatures called yakshas in Pathfinder. The descriptions of yakshas are pretty vague and they are not always benevolent. In fact, this class seems to overlap somewhat with the rakshasas who are fierce and malevolent spirits. Rakshasas (CR 5-20) are actually in Pathfinder already by name. In Japan the yakshas were associated with the birdlike humanoids called tengu (CR 1/2) which is a playable race in Pathfinder. Also in Japan the rakshasas were associated with a kind of Japanese ogre called oni of which there are several in Pathfinder the most typical being the so-called ogre mage (CR 8) though there is also an ogre that takes the form of a tengu called the yamabushi tengu (CR 5). I think it would also be appropriate to associate the yakshas with benevolent or at least neutral fey spirits generally such as dryads (CR 3), nymphs (CR 7), satyrs (CR 4), and many others including genies. Frankly yakshas and rakshasas seem to be rather large catchall categories. I would even say that yakshas encompass elves and dwarves while rakshasas would encompass orcs, and duergar.
Gandharvas are male celestial musicians who are part bird or part horse while apsaras are their wives. These beings also do no appear as such in Pathfinder. It is said that the words gandharva and centaur are related and centaurs (CR 3) are in Pathfinder. I think that the azatas called lillend (CR 7) would also be good candidates for gandharvas or apsaras for they are said to be able to fly. Again, aasimars related to gandharvas would be the only playable variety.
Asuras, the fighting demons, should, I think, be related to the titans and there are both good (CR 21) and evil (CR 22) titans in Pathfinder. Pathfinder also has a variety of beings of the type called asuras (CR 2-20) of which the upasundas (CR 9) seem most like the ones in traditional Buddhist cosmology. Those wanting to play an asura would have to settle for tieflings (CR 1/2).
Garudas (CR 9), the birdlike enemies of the nagas, actually are in Pathfinder. Again assimars would be the only playable type.
Kimnaras are another type of celestial musician said to either be humanoids with horses heads or birds with human heads. These sounds like a type of agathion, perhaps avorals (CR 9). Once again aasimars would be the only playable type.
Finally there are the mahoragas that are large serpents who live within the earth. Not sure what to make of these. Perhaps they are the more malevolent of the naga types listed above. Perhaps they are neothelids (CR 15) or serpentfolk (CR 4).