|Fine (rupa loka) extraterrestrial worlds in Buddhist cosmology are in space|
A Trip to Paradise
|Nanda, the Buddha's half-brother (eNash.com)|
Prince Nanda, son of King Suddhodana, was the Buddha's half-brother [whose mothers were sisters both married to the king]. He was overjoyed.
He was to be crowned king of Kapilavastu, capital of the Shakyas' country. Moroever, he was to be married to his childhood sweetheart, Janapada Kalyani [the undisputed "belle of the land"], and they would be moving into a new palace together.
|Greco-Buddhist bas relief of Nanda leaving his bride-to-be, Janapada Kalyani, and the throne to follow the Buddha and become a monastic (British Museum).|
Nanda, groom and heir to the throne, had much work to do. However, just as he got up to pay his respects, the Buddha handed him his bowl.
Nanda felt very proud and honored to carry the Buddha's bowl, thinking he would simply walk with him to the door.
The Buddha reached the top of the stairs, and there Nanda expected him to take back his bowl. But he did not. So Nanda walked on respectfully behind, and the other monastics followed. The Buddha came to the bottom of the stairs. Nanda thought, now, certainly, the Buddha will take back his bowl. But he did not.
They continued through the courtyard toward the outer gate. Still Nanda followed silently with his head bowed.
|Kalyani, child's drawing (Precious Tales)|
So he gently asked: "Nanda, would you like to be ordained as a monk?"
Although Janapada Kalyani's words were ringing in his ears, he could not bring himself to refuse the Buddha's kind offer. To his own surprise he found himself answering, "Yes, venerable sir."
Although he tried to behave like a proper recluse, he failed. He could neither meditate (cultivate singleminded absorption) nor concentrate on learning the Dharma (the Buddha's doctrine and discipline).
|The memory of Janapada Kalyani persisted in Nanda's mind (Precious Tales)|
"Venerable sir," Nanda explained, "I accepted these robes of renunciation because you asked me. Out of respect for you, I could not refuse them. But Janapada Kalyani's beauty as she came out onto the balcony combing her wet hair and her beckoning words, 'Dear Nanda, return to me quickly!' are things I cannot get out of my mind. So I am returning to her, the palace, and the throne to rule the land as king."
Nanda immediately replied, "Yes, venerable sir! Yes! I have been in love with her my whole life!"
"Then you may be interested in seeing this," the Buddha suggested as he invited Nanda on a journey into space.
Along the way, they passed a burned out field. There a lonesome female monkey sat on a charred tree stump with a burned nose, ears, and tail.
|"My nose, my beautiful nose!" (motifake.com/Wisdom Quarterly)|
Arriving in Space
Impossibly beautiful maidens (heavenly nymphs known as devis, apsaras, and gandharvis) were busily preparing and polishing a glimmering white "mansion" (platform, spacecraft).
|The marvelous World of the Thirty-Three, Tavatimsa, in space (Padhitya/flickr.com)|
In all his life Nanda had never seen or imagined such beauty. He was beside himself staring. He finally managed to speak, asking the maidens the name of the owner of the platform they were preparing. "Nanda!" they answered.
"But Nanda lives on Earth," Nanda replied in astonishment. "Yes," the maidens smiled, "but after that he will come [be reborn] here."
|Heavenly scene (truthnet.org)|
Nanda was eager to return to Earth to undertake meditation and strive in earnest. He agreed to the bargain.
He took hold of the Buddha's robe, and they descended past the burned out field then into the bowels of the Earth.
|Samsara cycles and cycles without end|
Nanda trembled as he meekly said, "But Nanda lives on Earth, and afterward he is to be reborn in the celestial World of the Thirty-Three."
The Buddha gently replied, "Come, Nanda."
As soon as they got back to the monastery, Nanda applied himself with great diligence, meditating and studying the Dharma. His fellow monks noticed the sudden change. They asked him what had happened. He began to tell them of his otherworldly visions in space and the nymphs he was promised he could win.
|Odd how viharas seem to mimic vimanas|
He surprised them one day when he answered, "I'm no longer interested in any maiden, earthly or celestial."
Siddhartha's wife, Bimba (Yasodhara, Bimbadevi, Rahulamata, Bhaddakacca), went on to become one of the earliest Buddhist nuns and a powerful debater in sexist India. Their son, Rahula, became a monk and a great disciple "foremost in doing quiet good." If readers were generally aware of these facts, it might go a long way to prevent criticism that the Buddha "selfishly" abandoned his family to pursue spirituality.