The Ripening

3: Nanda

3.1 (21) Kamma (Kamma Sutta)

Thus has it been made known. At one time the Blessed One was residing near Sāvatthī, at the Jeta Grove in Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. It occurred that a certain monk was seated nearby the Blessed One in a cross-legged posture, his body being stiff and erect whilst enduring tremendous-pounding pains, extremely piercing and severe that were the direct results of old kamma; throughout the endeavor he remained mindful and alert, regardless of suffering.

Meanwhile, the Blessed One, observing the monk being so-seated uttered the following verse:

For the monk who has left behind all former-kamma
Shaking-off the dust of prior-actions,
Standing steadfast and unpossessive,
Such a resilient-one has no need to communicate with others.

Buddhism has a term for the situation mentioned above: Vipāka, or the ripening of past karma. The monk was mindful that the [memory] of pain he was enduring in the midst of meditation, was the result of prior-actions. Thus, as an arahant, he has left-behind (shaken-off) that past memory and in doing so has abandoned all actions likeable to cause future rebirth. Masefield in his commentary says, “For sekas and puthujjanas are said to run on in samsara by way of falling and relinking on account of their not having abandoned the defilements and accumulations, whereas the arahant is spoken of as ‘steadfast’ due to the absence thereof.” The arahant is also thus self-sufficient with no need to have others share in his transcendence of pain.

3:2 (22) Nanda (Nanda Sutta)

Thus has it been made known. At one time the Blessed One was residing near Sāvatthī, at the Jeta Grove in Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. It was during that time that the Lord’s half-brother, Nanda, who was the son of the Blessed One’s maternal aunt, addressed a number of monks: “Brethren, I am not happy enduring the spiritual life. I can no longer live according to its precepts. Therefore, I’m letting-go of this way of existence and returning to the common-path.”

One of the monks informed the Blessed One of Nanda’s intentions. The Dharma-Lord thus instructed the monk to invite Nanda to come and join him. Later, having accepted the offer, Nanda arrived and after reverencing the Blessed One sat down beside him. While he was sitting there the Dharma-Lord addressed him, “Is it true, Nanda, that you’re contemplating leaving the sangha and the spiritual life and returning to the state of a lay-person?”

“Yes, O’ Lord.”

“But why is this, Nanda? Have you lost heart in living pertaining to your vows? What’s happened to cause you to come to this decision?”

“One day when I was out walking, a young and beautiful Sakyan girl, with her hair half-combed, looked upon me and said, ‘I hope you return again soon, master.’ And so, recollecting my unhappiness with leading the spiritual life, I am resolved to leave and soon return to the common life.”

Then the Blessed One immediately grabbed Nanda by the arm—just as a strong-armed man would flex himself—and miraculously disappeared from the Jeta Grove and suddenly reappeared amongst the Tāvatiṁsa devas. It was during this junction that five hundred pink-footed nymphs had come to attend to Sakka, the ruler of the devas. The Blessed One pointed to them and said to Nanda, “Do you see these five hundred pink-footed nymphs?”

“Yes, O’ Lord.”

“Now then, let me ask you,” intoned the Dharma-Lord, “which appears more beautiful—that common Sakyan girl, or these five hundred pink-footed nymphs?”

“My goodness, O’ Lord,” responded Nanda, “why compared to these irresistible looking nymphs that poor lowly Sakyan girl, although once beautiful to my eye, can only be described now as a mutilated she-monkey with its nose cut off! In truth, there can be no comparison, the nymphs are indeed more charming.”

“Then rejoice,” intoned the Blessed one, “again I say rejoice! For one day these five-hundred pink-footed nymphs shall be yours!”

“Well if that’s the case,” began Nanda, “then I will most certainly continue to live the spiritual life since these lovely creatures are guaranteed to me.”

Then, once again grabbing Nanda by the arm in strongman fashion, they vanished from that celestial realm and reappeared once again in the Jeta Grove.

The monks began to whisper amongst themselves, “It’s been said that Nanda will continue to live the spiritual life since the Blessed One has guaranteed to him one day obtaining five hundred pink-footed nymphs.”

Then the monks began to gang-up on Nanda shouting insults, “You are a hireling only out for yourself and your mad desires! You are living the spiritual life only for selfishly one day gaining five hundred pink-footed nymphs!”

Upon hearing himself being belittled and ridiculed, Nanda soon became despondent. He was alone now and isolated. But through that seclusion a newfound inner-freedom was won! He soon learned to see life through that inner-spirit and wisdom and became resolute to live the spiritual way which is apart from his former mad desire to return to the lesser-way of the homestead. Henceforth, he knew and said to himself, “Life and death, samsara, is now ended. The spiritual-way has won out and therefore, I have done what needed to be done.” And thus the newly sanctified Nanda became another one of the Arahants.

Later, in the darkest dark of the night, a certain devatā arrived and, through her extreme radiance, lit-up the totality of the Jeta Grove and also approached the Blessed One. She spoke to him thusly, “Lord, the newly won Venerable Nanda, your half-brother by way of your maternal aunt, has now gained awareness-release of his former mind vexations and through Right Discernment, has entered fully into Wisdom-Deliverance.”

Within the depths of the Blessed One, the sudden-realization was birthed, “Nanda, through the destruction of the vexations, presently without vexations, is freed in mind and spirit and now through Wisdom Deliverance, has himself won the Noble Way of Nibbāna in this very life.”

When the night had subsided, Venerable Nanda after reverencing the Dharma Lord, calmly sat down by his side. “O’ Lord, from that former guarantee of receiving those five-hundred pink-footed nymphs, I hereby release you from that promise.”

“Don’t Worry, Nanda,” began the Blessed One, “my Mind is one with your Mind and hence I have come to know of the self-deliverance from your former fetters. That joyous occasion was also confirmed to me by a devatā. As soon as that mighty deliverance was won, my former promise became null and void.”

Thereupon realizing this great significance, the Blessed One uttered the following verse:

That blessed Arahant who has crossed-over the mire,
Who has crushed the thorn of sensuous desire,
And thus all former delusions destroyed,
Within that one neither pain nor pleasure is stirred.

trāyastriṃśa. (P. tāvatiṃsa; T. sum cu rtsa gsum pa; C. sanshisan tian/ daoli tian; J. sanjūsanten/ tōriten; K. samsipsam ch’ŏn/ tori ch’ŏn 三 十 三 天/ 忉 利 天). In Sanskrit, lit. “thirty-three”; the heaven of the thirty-three, the second lowest of the six heavens of the sensuous realm (KĀMADHĀTU), just above the heaven of the four heavenly kings (CĀTURMAHĀRĀJAKĀYIKA) and below the YĀMA heaven. Like all Buddhist heavens, it is a place of rebirth and not a permanent post-mortem abode. The heaven is situated on the flat summit of Mount SUMERU and is inhabited by thirty-three male divinities and their attendants, presided over by the divinity ŚAKRA, the king of the gods (ŚAKRO DEVĀNĀM INDRAḤ). The divinities live in palaces of gold among beautiful parks and have life spans of thirty million years. The heaven is commonly mentioned in Buddhist texts. In the seventh year after his enlightenment, after performing the ŚRĀVASTĪ MIRACLES, the Buddha magically traveled to the heaven of the thirty-three, where he spent the three months of the rains retreat (VARṢĀ) teaching the ABHIDHARMA to his mother MĀYĀ. (She had descended to meet him there from her abode in the TUṢITA heaven, where she had been reborn as a male deity after her death as Queen Māyā.) At the conclusion of his teaching, the Buddha made his celebrated return to earth from the heaven on a bejeweled ladder provided by Śakra, descending at the city of SĀṂKĀŚYA. MAHĀMAUDGALYĀYANA also made numerous visits to the heaven to learn from its inhabitants about the virtuous deeds they performed in the past that resulted in their rebirth there. It was said that when a human performed a particularly virtuous deed, a mansion for that person would appear in trāyastriṃśa for that person to inhabit upon being reborn there. When Prince SIDDHĀRTHA renounced the world, he cut off his hair with his sword and cast it into the sky; the hair was caught by Śakra in trāyastriṃśa, who enshrined it in a CAITYA that is worshipped by the gods. Scholars have noted the correspondence between the number of divinities in this heaven and the traditional number of thirty-three gods of the Ṛgveda, suggesting that this heaven represents an attempt by Buddhists to absorb the pre-Buddhistic Indian pantheon.

Buswell Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 69468-69488). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Nanda: (T. Dga’ bo; C. Nantuo; J. Nanda; K. Nanda 難 陀). In Sanskrit and Pāli, “Joyful”; an ARHAT declared by the Buddha to be foremost among his monk disciples in self-control. Nanda was the son of ŚUDDHODANA and MAHĀPRĀJĀPATĪ and half brother of the Buddha. He was a few days younger than the Buddha, and Mahāprajāpatī handed him over to a wet nurse so that she could raise the bodhisattva as her own son when the latter’s mother, MAHĀMĀYĀ, died. Nanda was extremely handsome (he is also known as Sundara Nanda, or “Handsome Nanda”) and was said to have been vain about his looks.

During the Buddha’s sojourn at the ŚĀKYA capital of KAPILAVASTU after his enlightenment, he visited Nanda on the day his half-brother was to be married to a beautiful maiden named JANAPADAKALYĀṆĪ NANDĀ (also called Sundarī Nandā). Having wished his half brother well, the Buddha handed him his alms bowl (PĀTRA) to carry back to the monastery; the scene of Nanda holding the bowl, standing between the departing Buddha and his beckoning bride-to-be, is often depicted in Buddhist art. Once Nanda arrived at the monastery with the alms bowl, the Buddha asked Nanda to join the order, and only reluctantly, and out of deference to the Buddha, did he agree. But he longed for his fiancée and soon fell ill from his loneliness and depression, drawing pictures of her on rocks. Knowing Nanda’s mind, the Buddha then flew with him to the TRĀYASTRIṂŚA heaven. Enroute, he pointed out an injured female monkey and asked Nanda whether Janapadakalyāṇī Nandā was more beautiful than the monkey; Nanda replied that she was. When they arrived in the heaven, the Buddha showed Nanda the celestial maidens attending the gods. Nanda was entranced with their loveliness, which far exceeded the beauty of Janapadakalyāṇī, saying that, compared to the celestial maidens, the beauty of his bride-to-be was like that of the monkey. The Buddha promised him one of these maidens as his consort in his next lifetime if he would only practice the religious life earnestly. Nanda enthusiastically agreed. Upon returning to the human world at JETAVANA grove, Nanda was criticized by ĀNANDA for his base motivation for remaining a monk. Feeling great shame at his lust, he resolved to overcome this weakness, practiced assiduously, and in due course became an ARHAT. In another version of the story, Nanda only overcomes his lust after a second journey: after going to heaven, the Buddha takes Nanda on a journey to hell, where he shows him the empty cauldron that awaits him after his lifetime in heaven. After his enlightenment, Nanda came to the Buddha to inform him of his achievement and to release the Buddha from his promise of celestial maidens. It was because of his great will to control his passions that Nanda was deemed foremost in self-control. Due to his previous attachment to women, however, it is said that even after he became an arhat, Nanda would stare at the beautiful women who attended the Buddha’s discourses. The story of Nanda appears in a number of versions, including the poem SAUNDARANANDA by AŚVAGHOṢA.

Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 43109-43118). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

As we can see from the above, the story of Nanda has assorted variations. Staying within the parameters of the Udana-story, I have to admit being struck by the Buddha’s promise of these “heavenly nymphs”; it almost sounds like a Muslim-redaction concerning martyr’s being promised those numerous virgins upon death (yet, interestingly in some Muslim circles, that was a mistranslation. It was not virgins, but raisins). At any rate, the story serves as a trope—a device in which to portray that incessant tension between sensuous temptations and the ascetic lifestyle. The Buddha’s “promise” of the pink-footed nymphs was an expedient means to curtail a most expedient situation—to prevent the loss and ruin of an aspiring adept. What I like most about the tale is the positive-role that members of the sangha take-on concerning one of their members. Firstly, they alert the Buddha to Nanda’s predicament, and then later “rebuke” Nanda when he relies on “cheap-grace” (the promise of the nymphs) in his decision to remain. They shocked-him into realizing his fault and thus induced within him the right course of action. This is later confirmed with Nanda’s firm “Buddhist” admonition to “do what needed to be done.”

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