Friday, October 15, 2010

Canto 5: Nanda Is Caused to Go Forth

Then the Shakyas, each clothed in accordance
with his wealth and accomplishments,

Got down from their horses, chariots, and elephants,

And the traders turned away
from their great places of trade:

By dint of their devotion,
they bowed down before the great Sage.

Some bowed and then followed for a while;

Some bowed and then went away,
being compelled to work;

Some stood still at their own dwelling-places,

Their hands joined
and eyes observing him in the distance.

The Buddha then, and there, on the royal road,

Struggled on

Into the gushing throng of the greatly devoted

As if entering the torrent of a river in the rains.

And so,
with the great and the good
rapidly converging on the road

To honour the Tathagata,

Nanda was unable to make a bow;

But still he could delight in the Guru's greatness.

Wishing to give free rein to his own following,
who were on the road,

While tending the devotion of people
who were differently minded,

And wishing to nab hold of Nanda,
who was turning for home,

The One Gone Well then took a different path.

He of the solitary mind, a knower of the true path,

Took a solitary path;

And Nanda whose name was Joy, going out in front, bowed to him,

The One who, gone beyond joy, was furthest out in front.

Walking forward meekly, with respectful seriousness,

With cloak over one shoulder, body half-stooped,

Hands held down and eyes raised up,

He stuttered these words:

"I learned while in the palace penthouse, Glorious One,

That you had entered inside for our benefit;

And so I have come in a hurry,

with the many members of the palace household.

Therefore, rightly, O favourer of the righteous,
and as a favour to me,

Be there, O supreme seeker of alms,
at the time for eating alms,

For the sun is about to reach the middle of the sky

As if to remind us of the time."

Thus addressed by the bowing Nanda,

Whose expectant eyes looked up with tender affection,

The One Gone Well made a sign

Such that Nanda knew he would not be taking a meal.

Then, having bowed to the Sage,

He made up his mind to head home;

But as a favour the One Gone Well,

With lotus petal eyes, handed him his bowl.

The vessel of the Incomparable Vessel,

Who was offering it to reap a fruit in the human world,

Nanda then held, outstretched,

With lotus-like hands suited to the holding of a bow.

But as soon as he sensed
that the mind of the One Gone Well had gone elsewhere,

And was not on him, Nanda backtracked;

Wanting to go home even with the bowl in his hands,

He sidled away from the path --
while keeping his eye on the Sage.

Then, at the moment that he in his yearning for his wife,

Despite holding the bowl, was about to head for home,

Just then the Sage bamboozled him

By blocking his entrance to the highway.

For he saw that in Nanda the seed of liberation,

Which is wisdom, was tenuous;
While the fog of the afflictions was terribly thick;

And since he was susceptible to the afflictions
and sensual by nature,

Therefore the Sage reined him in.

The afflictions are understood to be dual;

Likewise, in clearing them away,
there are two modes of action:

When one's primary motivation is strong,
one is self-reliant;

Assigning importance to conditions,
one is outer-dependent.

One who is self-motivated is freed without ado,

At the slightest prompting;

But one whose mind is led by circumstances

Struggles, while being dependent on others,
to find freedom.

And Nanda, his consciousness led by circumstances,

Got absorbed into the fabric of whomever he was with;

The Sage, therefore, made this effort in his case,

Wishing to lift him out of the mire of love.

But Nanda, squirming with discomfort,

Followed the Guru meekly and helplessly,

Thinking of his wife's face,
her eyes looking out restlessly,

And the painted marks still moist.

Then the Sage led him,
lover of garlands of pearls and flowers,

Whom the month of Spring, Love's friend,
had appropriated,

To a playground
where women were a broken amusement --

To the vihara,
beloved as a pleasure-ground of learning.

Then the greatly compassionate one,

Watching him in his moment of misery and pitying him,

Put a hand, with wheel-marked palm, on his head

And spoke to him thus:

"While murderous Time has yet to come calling,

Set your mind, my friend, in the direction of extinction.

Operating in all situations in this world,

Using all manner of attacks, Death kills.

Restrain the restless mind from sensual pleasures,

Which are common, dream-like, insubstantial;

For no more than a wind-fanned fire is sated by offerings

Are men satisfied by pleasures.

Most excellent among gifts is the gift of confidence;

Most satisfying of tastes is the taste of real wisdom;

Foremost among comforts
is being comfortable in oneself --

And fondness for philosophizing
is the sorriest of delights.

The kindest-hearted friend
is he who tells one what is truly salutary;

The most meritorious effort
is to exhaust oneself in pursuit of the truth;

Supreme among labours
is to work towards true understanding --

Why enter into service of the senses?

Select then that which is conclusive,
which is beyond fear, fatigue and sorrow,

And which is neither dependent on others
nor removable by others:

Select the lasting and benign happiness of extinction.

What is gained by wasting oneself
on objects of the senses?

Nothing takes away people's beauty like aging,

There is no misfortune in the world like sickness,

And no terror on earth like death.

Yet these three, inevitably, shall be obeyed.

There is no fetter like love,

No torrent that carries one away like thirst,

And likewise no fire like the fire of passion.

If not for these three, happiness would be yours.

Separation from loved ones is inevitable

On which account grief is bound to be experienced.

And it is through grief that other seers who were princes

Have gone mad and fallen helplessly apart.

So bind on the armour whose fabric is wisdom,

For the arrows of grief are as naught
to one steeped in patience;

And kindle the fire of your own energy
to burn up the great tangled web of becoming,

Just as you would kindle a small fire
to burn up undergrowth collected into a great heap.

Just as a man of science, herbs in hand,

Is not bitten by any snake,

So a careless man,
having overcome the folly of the world,

Is not bitten by the snake of grief.

Staying with practice and fully committed to reality,

At the hour of death he is not afraid --

Like a warrior-hero standing in battle, clad in armour,

With good bow, skill in archery, and the will to win."

Addressed thus by the One Thus Come,

In his compassion for all living beings,

Nanda while sinking inside said boldly

To the One Well Gone: "So be it!"

And so wishing to lift him up out of thoughtlessness,

And considering him to be a vessel
worthy of the living tradition,

The Great Seer, with kindness in his heart, said:

"Ananda! Let Nanda go forth towards tranquillity."

Then the sage of Videha said to Nanda,

Who was weeping inside: "Come!"

At this Nanda approached him meekly

And said "I won't go forth."

On hearing Nanda's idea,

The Videha sage related it to the Buddha;

And so,
after hearing from him also as to Nanda's actual state,

The Great Sage spoke to Nanda again:

"O you who have yet to conquer yourself!
Given that I, your elder brother, have gone forth,

And your cousins have gone forth after me,

And seeing that our relatives who remain at home
are committed to practice,

Are you minded to be conscious of consciousness,
or are you not?

Evidently the royal seers are unbeknown to you

Who retreated smiling into the forests;

Having spat out desires,
they were desirous of tranquillity

And thus not stuck in desires of a lower order.

you have experienced the drawbacks of family life,

You have observed the relief to be had from leaving it,

And yet you,
like a man resigned to his death in a disaster area,

Have no intention
of giving up and leaving house and home.

How can you be so devoted to the wasteland of samsara

And so devoid of desire to take the auspicious path

When you have been set on that very path?

You are like a desert trader straying from his caravan.

One who in a house burning on all sides

Instead of getting out of there,
would lie down in his folly to sleep,

Only he,
in a world burning in the fire of Time,
with its flames of sickness and aging,

Might be found frolicking heedlessly about.

And like the condemned man being led,

Drunkenly laughing and babbling, to the stake,

Equally lamentable is one who frolics perversely

While Death stands by, with noose in hand.

When kings and humble householders,

Leaving relations and possessions behind,

Have gone, will go, and even now are going forth,

Why pander to fleeting fondnesses?

I do not see any pleasure which might not,

By turning into something else, become pain.

Therefore no attachment bears scrutiny --

Unless the grief is bearable
that arises from the absence of its object.

So, my friend, knowing the human world to be fickle,

A net of Indra, a web of fictions, like a gaudy magic show,

Abandon the net of delusion you call "my love,"

If you are minded to cut the net of suffering.

Unfancied food that does one good

Is better than tasty food that may do harm:

On that basis I commend you to a course

Which, though unpalatable, is wholesome and honest.

Just as a nurse keeps firm hold of an infant

While taking out soil it has put in its mouth,

So, wishing to draw out the dart of passion,

Have I spoken to you sharply for your own good.

And just as a doctor restrains a patient

Then gives him bitter medicine;

So have I given you, in order to help you,

This disagreeable advice with beneficial effect.

Therefore, while you are meeting the present moment,

While death has yet to come,

So long as you have the energy for practice

Set your heart on higher good."

Addressed thus

By his benevolent and compassionate guide,

Nanda said, "I shall do, Glorious One,

All that you say, just as you teach it."

At this the sage of Videha reclaimed him,

And held him close as he led him off writhing,

And then, while Nanda's eyes welled with tears,
he separated the crowning glory of his hair

From the royal umbrella of his head.

As his hair was thus being banished,

His tearful downcast face

Resembled a rain-sodden lotus in a pond

With its stalk sagging at the top.

Thence, in drab garb
with the dull yellow-red colour of tree bark,

And despondent as a newly-captured elephant,

Nanda resembled a waning full moon at night's end,

Sprinkled by the powdery rays of the early morning sun.

The 5th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "Nanda Is Caused to Go Forth."

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