Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Trip to Paradise: Buddha's brother in space

Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly, Ven. Sudinna Bhikkhuni (Precious Tales, Vol. 1)
Fine (rupa loka) extraterrestrial worlds in Buddhist cosmology are in space
A Trip to Paradise
Nanda, the Buddha's half-brother (
Like Charles Dickens' ghost story, A Christmas Carol, there is a Buddhist tale about the salvation of the protagonist. 

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.
All three events were to take place the following day. He found himself daydreaming. Just then the Buddha together with many monastics, having finished their midday meal (dana) at the palace of King Suddhodana, rose up to go back to the monastery (vihara).

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)
Seeing Nanda through the window among the Buddha's retinue, Janapada Kalyani came out onto the balcony. She was a glistening beauty, her wet hair loose and draped over her shoulders. She was still holding a comb, and she noticed Nanda carrying the Buddha's bowl. So she called out, "Dear Nanda, return to me quickly!"
Nanda was troubled and uneasy, but he could not bring himself to say anything about it to the Buddha. He followed along until they reached the monastery. Just as he was ready to set the bowl down and race back to Janapada Kalyani, the Buddha turned and saw him standing there with the bowl in his hands.
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."
Nanda's hair was shaved. In place of his royal clothing, he was provided ascetic saffron robes. Yet within, his longing for gorgeous Janapada Kalyani and the royal pleasures and comforts he was on the verge of inheriting pricked at him.

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).
So he firmly determined, "I'll leave this monastic life and return to the palace!" When the other monks heard this, they reported it.
The Buddha called for Ven. Nanda and asked, "Nanda, is it true that you want to disrobe?" Nanda answered, "Yes, venerable sir." "Why?" the Buddha asked.

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."
Then out of great compassion the Buddha asked, "Nanda, do you think that Janapada Kalyani is beautiful?"
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.
Nanda held the Buddha's robe, and by use of supernormal powers, immediately traveled over the Earth on the way to a lesser deva (heavenly) plane named The World of the Thirty-Three.
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!" ( Quarterly)
Arriving in Space
When they appeared in the spaceport, The World of the Thirty-Three, Sakka, the chief commander, was seated in a great command station.
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/
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 (
"Did you hear that, venerable sir?" Nanda asked the Buddha. "They say it's for me!"
Then out of great compassion, the Buddha asked: "Nanda, do think these maidens are beautiful?"
Nanda immediately replied, "Yes, venerable sir! Yes! I have been in love with them from the moment I saw them!"
"But what about Janapada Kalyani?" the Buddha asked.
"Venerable sir," Nanda explained, "Janapada Kalyani can't compare to these beauties! She does not possess even a fraction of the beauty they do.

She-monkey (
"Why, compared to these nymphs, Janapada Kalyani seems to me like that burned out she-monkey we passed on our way."
"Well then," the Buddha replied, "if you wish to return to this world and have these nymphs, I can tell you how to inherit them."
"How!?" Nanda exclaimed. "It is by the results of karma in practicing the Dharma and meditating."

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
There they came upon two subterranean monsters who were preparing to boil oil in a large cauldron over an open fire. Terrified, Nanda asked, "Friends, what are you doing?"
"What's it to you!?" one snapped. The other answered, "If you must know, this is for Nanda!"  
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."
"Yes," they laughed, but after that he'll be coming here for all he's done as king, and we'll be waiting."
"Is there any way he can avoid it?" Nanda asked. "What's it to you!?" they snapped.
"What is this place?" Nanda asked the Buddha. "Did you hear what they said?"
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.
The monks soon began teasing him saying, "Nanda is bought with the promise of nymphs! Nanda is bought with a the promise of nymphs!" Nanda had no time to pay attention; he continued to assiduously meditate, wakeful and conscientious, now no longer oppressed by rapacious thoughts of Janapada Kalyani, the sensual delights of the palace, and being a ruler.
Odd how viharas seem to mimic vimanas
But after a time, the gentle ribbing got to him. He eventually saw his motive for meditating as flawed and base. Renouncing sensual desires, he attained enlightenment and the unsurpassable bliss of nirvana, immediately releasing the Buddha from any promise of celestial bliss.
Nanda, having made quick progress, in no long time reaching full enlightenment and thereby freed of all mental defilements, was abashed that the rumors continued. From time to time the monks would come by and ask, "Hey, Nanda, do you want to go back to Janapada Kalyani, or do you prefer your celestial nymphs instead?"
He surprised them one day when he answered, "I'm no longer interested in any maiden, earthly or celestial."
But seeing him continue to meditate day after day, the monks did not understand. They reported the matter to the Buddha, who called for Nanda.
"Nanda, the monks say you were bought with the promise of nymphs." Nanda was uneasy about being asked about his initial motives. He stated that he was no longer interested in any such thing, thereby implying his attainment of full enlightenment (arhatship).
The Buddha said, "Even before you said so, Nanda, it was clear. You have won freedom from all thoughts of lust, greed, and craving. You are now a noble member of the Sangha. The monks were embarrassed and astonished. They were filled with regret that they had not practiced but instead occupied their time teasing Nanda an arhat about the fault they perceived in him, ignoring their own faults and failing to see his great virtue.
Eventually, even Janapada Kalyani joined the Order of Nuns (Bhikkuni Sangha) and became an arhat.
The Buddha's Family
Selfish? (Decano/flickr)
The Buddha's mother, Maha Maya Devi (Queen Maya), passed away seven days after his birth. Siddhartha was adopted and raised by her sister, King Suddhodana's other wife, Maha Pajapati Gotami, who left Nanda and his sister Sundari Nanda in the care of others. Pajapati Gotami went on to receive full ordination and become the first Buddhist nun in history. The Buddha's father, King Suddhodana, gained enlightenment. Meanwhile, Maha Maya was reborn in the World of the Thirty-Three, where the Buddha visited the devas to teach the Abhidharma ("Higher Teaching").
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.

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