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Nanda sutras part 3: The Arahant and a glimpse of his teaching

The story continues:

This is a translation of EA 16.1, this sutra took place after the event of EA 18.7, that is, after Venerable Nanda has overcome his flaws and attained to the Arahantship. The sutra gives a reminiscence of Nanda’s life before he joined the Sangha. It also features a lengthy conversation and his teaching to King Pasenadi. This is the longest of all Nanda sutras in the Agama (though not the longest in the Chinese Tripitaka) and the only sutra that preserves Nanda’s teaching. It was quite an excellent teaching from one of the most self-indulgence men who had transformed himself to become a bhikkhu that, as the Buddha praised him: “The best in the mastery of the senses.”

So here it is:

Thus have I heard. Once when the Buddha was staying at Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Jeta’s Grove at Śrāvastī.

At that time, Venerable Nanda was residing in Śrāvastī, at the park [named] Elephant Flourishing. Then Venerable Nanda, while staying in a secluded and quiet place, the thoughts occurred to him: “The Tathāgata appears in the world is extremely difficult to meet. It takes hundreds of thousands of years to see his appearance. It truly is impossible to encounter. For such a long time it is for the Tathāgata to arise. It is rare like the blooming of the Udumbara flower. This is also very difficult to see, that is, all formations cease and is at rest, craving ends without remainder, with no more defilements, having reached completion, Nirvāṇa.”

At that moment, the devaputra Māra (Kāmadeva), having perceived the thought of Venerable Nanda, flew to Sundarī, the woman of the Śākya clan, circled in the sky chanting this verse of praise:

“Today, please, you must rejoice,
Make yourself beautiful,
Let the five musics play.
For Nanda has just left the monastic’s robe,
He will come to have fun with you.”

Then Sundarī, the woman of the Śākya clan, having heard this news, could not help but rejoiced uncontrollably. She hastened to wear beautiful clothes, to apply radiant makeup, to luxuriously decorate all the rooms, to arrange fine seating requisites, to bring in good musicians, so that it will be no different than it was when Venerable Nanda was still living at home.

At that time, King Prasenajit, on his way to the conference hall for a meeting, heard that Venerable Nanda had returned his monastic’s robe to resume the householder’s life. Why is that? Because there was a deva who was in the air announcing the news to [Nanda’s] wife. Having heard these words, King Prasenajit was anxious and sad. He got on his white elephant to go to the park. Having arrived, the King went to the “Flourishing Elephant” Pond, from afar he saw Venerable Nanda, and then went before him, paid homage at his feet, and sat down to one side.

At that time, Venerable Nanda asked King Prasenajit: “His Majesty, why has His Majesty come here with such an unusual expression? Besides, what business brought His Majesty here to see me?”

King Prasenajit replied: “On my way to the conference hall for a meeting, I heard that your venerable have given up the monastic’s robe to return to the worldly life. That’s why I came here to see if it’s true.”

Venerable Nanda then smiled and said gently to the King: “Why does His Majesty believe in rumors? Hasn’t His Majesty heard the Tathāgata speak of me? He said that I have eliminated all bondage, that I have no more rebirths, that I have completed the holy life, that I have done what needs to be done, that I will never return to the womb again. He said that I have known the Truth, that I have become an arhat, that my mind is totally free.”

The King replied: “I did not hear the Tathāgata say that Bhikṣu Nanda has no more rebirths, has become an arhat, has his mind totally liberated. On the contrary, I heard that a Deva came to announce to Sundarī, the woman of the Śākya clan, of your return. That is why Lady Sundarī, after hearing these words, had the rooms decorated, had the five types of music played, she dressed in beautiful clothes and arranged the seating mats to welcome you home. It was because I heard this that I came here right away.”

Venerable Nanda said: “His Majesty has not seen with his own eyes, has not heard with his own ears, so why did His Majesty say these words? Ascetics and Brahmins all love the happiness that comes from the joy of detachment, the joy of the fulfilled vows, the joy of the Śramaṇa, the joy of Nirvāṇa; have they not seen the danger of the furnace of sexual desire? Why would they want to go there? It would be illogical! The object of sexual desire is only a hidden skeleton, a mass of flesh, a knife blade covered with honey. Why would they want to fall for a little gain that will bring a great misfortune thereafter? It is like a branch broken by its abundant fruits; it’s like a loan that you have to repay soon; it is like a jungle of swords, it is like poison, or poisonous flowers and poisonous fruits. This is what sexual desire is.”

“Having contemplated sexual desire as such, and one still have the mind clinging to it, this is not possible.”

“And whoever still has sexual passion, who does not consider sexual desire as a furnace or as poisonous fruits, will not be able to cross over neither the stream of passions, nor the stream of becoming, nor the stream of views, nor the stream of ignorance.”

"And he who has not yet crossed over the stream of passions, the stream of becoming, the stream of views, or the stream of ignorance, will never be able to enter Nirvāṇa-without-remainder to reach total Nirvāṇa. Now, His Majesty must know that those ascetics and Brahmins who have understood and seek the joy of detachment, the joy of the vows fulfilled, the joy of Śramaṇa, the joy of Nirvāṇa. They have understood that sexual desire is like a furnace, and that its object is only a hidden skeleton, a mass of flesh, a knife blade covered with honey, a branch broken by its abundant fruits, a loan that must be repaid soon, a jungle of swords, a poison. Having seen this clearly, having fully understood where the fire of sexual desire arises, this is possible, that is, they will be able to cross over the stream of passions, the stream of becoming, the stream of views, the stream of ignorance. This is possible, that they have crossed over the streams. All of this is certain.

And how, His Majesty, having seen what, having realized what, that I said these words? O His Majesty! Know that I have become an arhat, that I have no more births, that I have completed the holy life, that I have done what had to be done, that I will never return to the womb again, that my mind is completely free."

Having heard this, King Prasenajit rejoiced, his heart full of wholesomeness, he said to Venerable Nanda: “I have no more doubts. Everything is clear. I now know that you have become an arhat. Now I must apologize for returning to my country’s many occupations.”

Nanda replied: “His Majesty should do what he thinks fit.”

Then King Prasenajit rose from his seat, bowed down at Nanda’s feet and departed. And then, not too long after the departure of the King, that same Māra came to Venerable Nanda, circled in the sky and addressed him with this verse:

“The face of your adorable bride is like the moon.
Gold, silver, a body covered with jewels.
Her beauty is truly unforgettable.
And always there are the five sensual pleasures to be enjoyed;
The songs, the drums, the dance,
And her soft and harmonious voice,
Have the power to drive away
Sadness and worries,
And bring joy to this forest.”

Then Venerable Nanda, knowing that Māra wanted to disturb him, replied:

“Formerly I had such mind.
Indulging in sexual love,
Without having enough.
I was tied up by my passions,
I ignored old age, illness, and death.
But now, I have crossed over that ocean of craving,
I am pure, I am immune,
I know that prosperity and prestige,
They are all suffering.
Only Dharma is the eternal joy;
I no longer have any bondage,
Nor sexual desire, anger, and ignorance,
I no longer practice the worldly habits;
The small-minded should know that.”

Māra, after hearing these words, was disappointed and disappeared.

When the Bhikṣus reported this story to the Lord, he then said to them:

“Among the Bhikṣus who are graceful no one can surpass Bhikṣu Nanda. With controlled and peaceful senses is also Bhikṣu Nanda. Bhikṣu Nanda is free from desire, hate, and ignorance. Bhikṣu Nanda has become an arhat. Why is that? Because Bhikṣu Nanda is graceful, with his senses controlled and peaceful.”

And then the Lord announced to the Bhikṣus:

“Among all my disciples Bhikṣu Nanda is the most graceful, with his senses controlled and peaceful. Bhikṣu Nanda is the best in the mastery of the senses.”

Then the Bhikṣus after hearing what the Buddha taught, delighted and approved.

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Thank you so much for translating these texts! :pray:

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You’re very welcome. I’m quite a historian in nature, so I’m glad to be of service to have these stories translated and read. Anyway I have found a lot of elucidating materials about those earliest disciples of the Buddha that sadly haven’t yet been translated into English. For example Angulimala, the mystery about his previous life that explains the reason why he killed all of those people were given by the Buddha in the Ekottara Agama 38.6. Or quite an authentic historical accounts of the Sakyan Massacre were given in great detail in EA 34.2, and its authenticitiness could amaze historians and believers alike IMHO. A lot of it have not been saved in the Pali Nikaya, so we’re grateful to have those accounts preserved in the Āgama. And I truly hope that these will soon be translated into English.

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That reminds me: I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind if I hosted your translations from EA on Dharma Pearls or SuttaCentral? I could do the technical work needed to add them to SC since I’m also doing that with my own translations.

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Yes sure, I’m glad to be of some help, you can edit them, make them better or make them suited with your style as much as you would like, with a link to my original post here shoud suffice.

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Very much looking forward to reading these if you decide to translate them. I have really enjoyed the other translations you have posted here so far :slight_smile:

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