Canto 10: svarga-nidarśanaḥ
A Vision of Heaven

Introduction

Svarga means heaven or paradise. Nidarśana is an -na action noun from the root ni-√dṛś, which is used causatively to mean “to cause to see, to indicate, to impart knowledge, to teach.” So nidarśana means pointing to, showing, indicating, or teaching. Nidarśana can also mean an object indicated for the purpose of teaching, i.e. an example, illustration, or proof. Again, nidarśana can mean a vision, as in a dream-vision (svapna-nidarśana). Thus “The Vision of Paradise” (as per EH Johnston) and “A Lesson in Heaven” (as per Linda Covill) are two of several possible translations of the Canto title.

In the Canto, with pragmatic helpfulness reminiscent of the female confidante who comforts Sundarī at the end of Canto 6, the Buddha presents Nanda with a vision of heaven. It is a convenient fiction, a skillful means, whereby the hitherto lack-lustre Nanda is caused to mobilize his energy with his eyes on a prize. Insofar as Nanda understands the prize to be sexual union with celestial nymphs, the goal he sets himself is an illusory one. The Buddha is evidently not worried about this. Rather, as Nanda’s story unfolds we understand that what was important for Nanda initially, by any means, however unconventional, was to shake off downheartedness and somehow to start directing his energy somewhere.

Such is the ostensible gist of the Canto. Below the surface, meanwhile, since the vision of heaven is a fantasy, Aśvaghoṣa is given free rein to conjure apparently far-fetched images which, on closer inspection, have practical hidden meaning. This provides a deeper layer of convenient fiction, like a dream within a dream. The fantastic descriptions of trees and birds in heaven in the first half of the present Canto thus have much in common with the fantastic descriptions of troops in Māra’s army in Canto 13 of Buddha-carita. The fabulous visions turn out on closer investigation to be very much grounded in practical reality. Thus, as a Chinese Zen master observed, “Flowers in space open on the ground.” See Shobogenzo chap. 43, Kuge. 01

 

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śrutvā tataḥ sad-vratam utsisṛkṣuṁ bhāryāṁ didṛkṣuṁ bhavanaṁ vivikṣum /
nandaṁ nirānandam apeta-dhairyam abhyujjihīrṣur munir ājuhāva // 10.1 //

Thus did he hear about Nanda’s desire to abandon sincere practice, to see his wife, and to go home; / And so the Sage summoned the joyless Nir-ānandam describes Nanda as without (nir-) joy (ānanda). Besides the play on the name of Nanda himself, there is a hidden connotation of describing Nanda before the intervention of Ānanda, which will be described in the next Canto. 02 and weak-willed Nanda, wishing to take him up. // 10.1 //

taṁ prāptam aprāpta-vimokṣa-mārgaṁ papraccha citta-skhalitaṁ sucittaḥ /
sa hrīmate hrī-vinato jagāda svaṁ niścayaṁ niścaya-kovidāya // 10.2 //

When [Nanda], having not yet arrived at liberation’s path, arrived, he of the beautiful mind questioned him, whose mind was faltering. / Bowed down by humiliation, [Nanda] confessed to the one who was full of humility; he told his intention to a master intention-knower. // 10.2 //

nandaṁ viditvā sugatas tatas taṁ bhāryābhidhāne tamasi bhramantam /
pāṇau gṛhītvā viyad utpapāta maniṁ jale sādhur ivojjihīrṣuḥ // 10.3 //

And so the Sugata, the One Gone Well, seeing Nanda wandering in the darkness called “wife,” / Took his hand and flew up into the sky, wishing to take him up – like an honest man in the water bearing up a pearl. // 10.3 //

kāṣāya-vastrau kanakāvadātau virejatus tau nabhasi prasanne /
anyonya-saṁśliṣṭa-vikīrṇa-pakṣau saraḥ-prakīrṇāv iva cakravākau // 10.4 //

A shining gold they shone with their ochre robes, in the clear sky, / Like a pair of greylag geese rising up from a lake, embracing one another with outstretched wings. // 10.4 //

tau devadārūttama-gandha-vantaṁ nadī-saraḥ-prasravaṇaugha-vantam /
ājagmatuḥ kāñcana-dhātu-mantaṁ devarṣi-mantaṁ hima-vantam āśu // 10.5 //

Filled with the heady fragrance of the divine deodar, The deodar tree is deva-dāru, lit. “god-wood” or “divine-timber.” It thus carries the connotation of something spiritual. 03 full of rivers and lakes, and springs and gulches, / And filled with golden ore was the Himālayan mountain full of divine seers at which the two arrived, immediately. Four elements of the verse can be seen as following a fourfold dialectical progression – 1. something spiritual (thesis), 2. something material (antithesis), 3. a material like gold which people imbue with value and meaning (synthesis), and 4. a Himālayan mountain where great yogis have traditionally sat in full lotus (transcendent action in the moment).04// 10.5 //

tasmin girau cāraṇa-siddha-juṣṭe śive havir dhūma-kṛtottarīye /
agamya-pārasya nirāśrayasya tau tasthatur dvīpa ivāmbarasya // 10.6 //

On that auspicious mountain – which was frequented by celestial singers and saints and blanketed in smoke from burnt offerings – / As if on an island in an unsupported sky, where no far shore is reached, the two stood. Similarly – 1. the spiritual presence of celestial beings; 2. the material presence of smoke from fires; 3. negation of end-gaining and affirmation of individual autonomy in action; 4. remaining upright in empty space, in what feels like a condition of zero gravity, wherein even the negation of dualism is negated. 05 // 10.6 //

śāntendriye tatra munau sthite tu sa-vismayaṁ dikṣu dadarśa nandaḥ /
darīś ca kuñjāṁś ca vanaukasaś ca vibhūṣaṇaṁ rakṣaṇam eva cādreḥ // 10.7 //

While the Sage, his sense-power stilled, remained there standing, Tatra, being there, is as in the description of the Buddha in the final verse of SN Canto 3. Cf. also the description in BC Canto 12 and 13 of the bodhisattva under the bodhi tree, just sitting there (tatropaviṣṭe; BC13.1), while Māra does his worst. 06 Nanda looked all around in amazement / At the caverns and bowers and forest-dwellers that were the mountain’s jewels and its guardians. // 10.7 //

bahv-āyate tatra site hi śṛṅge saṁkṣipta-barhaḥ śayito mayūraḥ /
bhuje balasyāyata-pīna-bāhor vaiḍūrya-keyūra ivābabhāse // 10.8 //

For there on a great long horn of white rock, lay a peacock with its tail feathers arrayed / So as to resemble, on the long and muscular arm of Bala, an armlet of cat’s-eye gems. Bala means Bala-rāma, the elder brother of Kṛṣṇa and third of the Rāmas, regarded as the 8th avatar of Viṣṇu. In contrast to his brother, Kṛṣṇa, who is shown as dark blue or black, Bala is generally depicted as being fair skinned (hence the comparison to a long horn of white rock), and as wearing armlets. 07 // 10.8 //

manaḥśilā-dhātuśilāśrayeṇa pītā-kṛtāṁso virarāja siṁhaḥ /
saṁtapta-cāmīkara-bhakti-citraṁ rūpy-āṅgadaṁ śīrṇam ivāmbikasya // 10.9 //

A lion with shoulders made orange from contact with the orange-red ore of ‘the mind-rock,’ arsenic, Orange-red arsenic ore, or realgar, is manaḥ-śilā, lit. “mind-rock.” The compound might be a clue to something that Aśvaghoṣa is intending to draw to the reader’s attention in this Canto, namely the material basis for even the most exotic and outlandish mental phenomena. What we imagine always has its basis in what we have experienced – flowers in space open on the ground. Therefore, investigating how a buddha imagines heaven to be, we can learn something about how a buddha experiences the world – as, for example, governed absolutely by cause and effect. 08 / Looked like Āmbika’s The name Āmbika is a conjecture, but evidently the reference is to some mythical figure; the point might be that a lion’s mane (something real, albeit imagined to exist in Indra’s heaven) resembled something mythical or legendary – a flower on the ground opened in space. 09 crumpled armband of wrought silver streaked with refined gold. // 10.9 //

vyāghraḥ klama-vyāyata-khelagāmī lāṅgūla-cakreṇa kṛtāpasavyaḥ /
babhau gireḥ prasravaṇaṁ pipāsur ditsan pitṛbhyo ’mbha ivāvatīrṇaḥ // 10.10 //

A tiger moved unhurriedly and expansively, its tail curling around its right [shoulder], / As it went to drink at a mountain spring: it looked like an offering to the ancestors, being made by somebody who has arrived at water. The tail curling around the right shoulder may allude to the traditional method of wearing a kaṣāya, with the right shoulder bare. Arriving at water might suggest the state of a tathāgata, one who has arrived at reality. 10 // 10.10 //

calat-kadambe himavan-nitambe tarau pralambe camaro lalambe /
chettuṁ vilagnaṁ na śaśāka bālaṁ kulodgatāṁ prītim ivāryavṛttaḥ // 10.11 //

A yak had got stuck in a dangling kadamba tree swaying on the Himālayan hillside: / Unable to free its tangled tail, it was like a man of noble conduct who cannot break away from a kindness that has been shown in his House. In the hidden meaning, kula means e.g. the lineage of Zen patriarchs – where freedom is described, ironically, as being caught in the grip of stillness. 11 // 10.11 //

suvarṇa-gaurāś ca kirāta-saṁghā mayūra-pittojjvala-gātra-lekhāḥ /
śārdūla-pāta-pratimā guhābhyo niṣpetur udgāra ivācalasya // 10.12 //

Communities of golden mountain-men, the Kirātas, Kirāta mountain men were said to be golden; they were famous, or infamous, for their abandonment of all religious rites and views – and so, in the Brahmanical tradition, they were regarded as heretics. The final word of the verse, ācala, as an adjective, means “not moving” or “immoveable”; as a noun it means a mountain. See also SN3.7. 12 their limbs streaked with shining peacock gall, / Rushed out from their caves like flying tigers, These tigers may be contrasted with the tiger in verse 10 that moves unhurriedly. That tiger might symbolize mindful or careful practice (at the 1st phase). These tigers might symbolize an attitude of transcendent carelessness (in the 3rd phase). 13 as if spewed out of the unmoving mountain. // 10.12 //

darī-carīṇām atisundarīṇāṁ manohara-śroṇi-kucodarīṇām /
vṛndāni rejur diśi kinnarīṇāṁ puṣpotkacānām iva vallarīṇām // 10.13 //

Hanging out in nooks and crannies, and going beyond Beauty Ati-sundarī, “beyond beauty” or “exceedingly beautiful,” includes the hint that Nanda is on the way to getting over the Beauty who is Sundarī herself. 14 with their heart-stealing hips, breasts and bellies, / Were the bevies of kiṁnarīs who appeared in every quarter, like creepers with flowers in their upward winding curls. // 10.13 //

nagān nagasyopari devadārūn āyāsayantaḥ kapayo viceruḥ /
tebhyaḥ phalaṁ nāpur ato ’pajagmur mogha-prasādebhya iveśvarebhyaḥ // 10.14 //

Pestering the godly deodars, Deva-dāru, as in verse 5, lit. means “divine tree.” Because of its heady fragrance, the deodar tree was assigned a certain divinity, to which the behaviour of greedy monkeys is here comically opposed. 15 monkeys roved from peak to peak; / Obtaining from those trees no fruit, they went away, Going away suggests, at the 3rd phase, action in which nothing is to be gained (see the metaphor of walking away in SN16.4). 16 as if from powerful masters whose favour is futile. This can be read as a reminder, at the 4th phase, that praying for the Buddha’s benevolence without directing one’s own energy in sitting-mediation, is as useless as praying to a doctor without taking the medicine he or she has prescribed. 17// 10.14 //

tasmāt tu yūthād alasāryamāṇāṁ niṣpīḍitālaktaka-rakta-vaktrām /
śākhā-mṛgīm eka-vipanna-dṛṣṭiṁ dṛṣṭvā munir nandam idaṁ babhāṣe // 10.15 //

But lagging behind that troop was one whose face was red as pressed red resin – / A female monkey Śākhā-mṛgī is the feminine form of śākhā-mṛga, lit. “branch creature.” 18 with one eye missing. Seeing her, the Sage spoke this to Nanda: // 10.15 //

kā nanda rūpeṇa ca ceṣṭayā ca saṁpaśyataś cārutarā matā te /
eṣā mṛgī vaika-vipanna-dṛṣṭiḥ sa vā jano yatra gatā taveṣṭiḥ // 10.16 //

“Which, Nanda, in beauty and in manner, is the lovelier in your eyes: / This one-eyed monkey, or the person who is the focus of your wishing?” // 10.16 //

ity evam uktaḥ sugatena nandaḥ kṛtvā smitaṁ kiṁ-cid idaṁ jagāda /
kva cottama-strī bhagavan vadhūs te mṛgī naga-kleśa-karī kva caiṣā // 10.17 //

Addressed thus by the One Gone Well, Nanda said, with a slight smirk: / “How can a gap be measured, Kva.. kva… implies excessive incongruity – Where is this? Where is that? In other words, how distant is this from that? 19 Glorious One!, between that most excellent of women your sister-in-law, and this tree-tormenting monkey?” // 10.17 //

tato munis tasya niśamya vākyaṁ hetv-antaraṁ kiṁ-cid avekṣamāṇaḥ /
ālambya nandaṁ prayayau tathaiva krīḍā-vanaṁ vajra-dharasya rājñaḥ // 10.18 //

Then the Sage, hearing his protestation, and having in mind a slightly unconventional means, Hetv-antaram: “a different means,” i.e., a means different from what one might expect, an unconventional means. This use of antara mirrors Aśvaghoṣa’s frequent use of anya with a subtext that affirms the individual and unconventional – see note to verse 19. 20 / Took hold of Nanda as before and proceeded to the pleasure-grove of the royal bearer of the thunderbolt. Vajra-dhara, “bearing the thunderbolt,” is an epithet of Indra. 21// 10.18 //

ṛtāv-ṛtāv ākṛtim eka-eke kṣaṇe-kṣaṇe bibhrati yatra vṛkṣāḥ /
citrāṁ samastām api ke-cid anye ṣaṇṇām ṛtūnāṁ śriyam udvahanti // 10.19 //

There one by one, season by season, and moment by moment, trees convey their individual form; / While some odd ones Anye means other. At the same time it means different, odd, individual, atypical, not conforming to ideas and expectations. This use of the Sanskrit word anya may thus be understood as similar to the use of the Chinese/Japanese character 非 (hi-), non-, in the phrase 非仏 (hi-butsu), “non-buddha.” A non-buddha, in its ironic hidden meaning, as explored in Shobogenzo chap. 28, is a buddha as a real individual. 22 also bring out the combined manifold glory of all six seasons. // 10.19 //

puṣyanti ke-cit surabhīr udārā mālāḥ srajaś ca granthitā vicitrāḥ /
karṇānukūlān avataṁsakāṁś ca pratyarthi-bhūtān iva kuṇḍalānām // 10.20 //

Some produce garlands and wreaths Mālā and sraj, wreath and garland, are the names of metres used in Sanskrit poetry. 23 which are fragrant and affecting, with variously interwoven strands, The meanings of granthita include 1. strung, tied together or in order; 2. artificially composed or put together (as in the plot of a play); 3. closely connected with each other, difficult to be distinguished from each other; 4. having knots, knotty. These definitions all work as descriptions of Aśvaghoṣa’s poetry, with the variously interwoven strands of, for example, its recurring metaphors. 24 / And small round creations Avataṃsaka (from the root √taṁs, to decorate) is a garland, a ring-shaped ornament. Below the suface, Aśvaghoṣa may be suggesting a well-constructed verse whose 4th pāda brings a sense of completion. 25 suited to the ear which are akin to earrings’ opponents. // 10.20 //

raktāni phullāḥ kamalāni yatra pradīpa-vṛkṣā iva bhānti vṛkṣāḥ /
praphulla-nīlotpala-rohiṇo ’nye sonmīlitākṣā iva bhānti vṛkṣāḥ // 10.21 //

Trees there that abound in red lotuses look like trees ablaze. / Different trees, Anye vṛkṣāḥ again means different trees, or trees that are not what people think of as trees, as in Yakusan’s famous phrase describing the practice of sitting-dhyāna as 非思量 (hi-shiryo), “non-thinking.” 26 growing full-blown blue lotuses, Whereas blazing redness symbolizes the passions, a blue lotus, which comes into full bloom in cool pools at the height of the hot season, is a symbol of coolness and hence enlightenment. 27 seem to have their eyes open. // 10.21 //

nānā-virāgāṇy atha pāṇḍarāṇi suvarṇa-bhakti-vyavabhāsitāni /
atāntavāny eka-ghanāni yatra sūkṣmāṇi vāsāṁsi phalanti vṛkṣāḥ // 10.22 //

In various colourless hues, or else white; beautifully illuminated with golden dividing lines; / Beyond the weaving together of strands, being nothing but a unity; are the exquisite robes that trees there bear as fruit. Verses 19-22 relate to things in Indra’s paradise which, at the 1st of four phases, seem to have religious, spiritual, or holistic meaning – like poetic words, symbols of Buddhist enlightenment, and traditionally-sewn robes. 28// 10.22 //

hārān maṇīn uttama-kuṇḍalāni keyūra-varyāṇy atha nūpurāṇi /
evaṁ-vidhāny ābharaṇāni yatra svargānurūpāṇi phalanti vṛkṣāḥ // 10.23 //

Pearl necklaces and gemstones, supreme earrings, choicest armlets, and ankle bracelets, / Are the kinds of ornament, fit for heaven, that trees there bear as fruit. The ornaments described in this verse, from a spiritual viewpoint, might be meaningless baubles. From a materialistic viewpoint, they might be worth a lot of money. The verse can thus be taken, at the second phase, to be antithetical to the previous four verses. 29// 10.23 //

vaiḍūrya-nālāni ca kāñcanāni padmāni vajrāṅkura-kesarāṇi /
sparśa-kṣamāṇy uttama-gandhavanti rohanti niṣkampa-talā nalinyaḥ // 10.24 //

There rise golden lotuses with beryl stems and diamond shoots and stamens; / Receptive to touch, they have a scent of the ultimate: still pools without ripples allow them to grow. Golden lotuses with beryl stems can be understood as symbolizing, at the third phase, what transcends the opposition between red and blue, profane and spiritual, organic and inorganic, material and immaterial, et cetera. That they grow out of stillness seems to acknowledge the practical value of yogic practices that allow body and mind to come to quiet. 30// 10.24 //

yatrāyatāṁś caiva tatāṁś ca tāṁs tān vādyasya hetūn suṣirān ghanāṁś ca /
phalanti vṛkṣā maṇi-hema-citrāḥ krīḍā-sahāyās tridaśālayānām // 10.25 //

All kinds of musical instrument, with lengthened [sinews] and widened [skins], with open tubes and solid substance, / Are born there as fruit, by the distinctively bejewelled and gilded trees which are the heaven-dwellers’ playing companions. Krīḍā, play or sport, suggests enjoyment of actions – again, at the third phase – like standing, walking, lying down, and sitting. 31// 10.25 //

mandāra-vṛkṣāṁś ca kuśe-śayāṁś ca puṣpānatān koka-nadāṁś ca vṛkṣān /
ākramya māhātmya-guṇair virājan rājāyate yatra sa pārijātaḥ // 10.26 //

Over mandāra coral trees, and over trees weighed down with water-lily and ruddy lotus blossoms, / The ‘Full Grown’ Coral, shining there with majestic qualities, steps up and reigns supreme. The mandāra and pārijāta tree are the same species of tree – the majestic coral tree. But pārijāta literally means “fully developed”; so it suggests something mature, fully transcendent, and ultimate – for example, a fully enlightened buddha’s sitting practice, which might be both exactly the same as, and totally beyond, the sitting practice of you and me. 32 // 10.26 //

kṛṣṭe tapaḥ-śīla-halair akhinnais tripiṣṭapa-kṣetra-tale prasūtāḥ /
evaṁ-vidhā yatra sadānuvṛttā divaukasāṁ bhoga-vidhāna-vṛkṣāḥ // 10.27 //

Growing there, on soil tilled in Indra’s heaven Tri-piṣṭapa, lit. “the 3rd height,” means the highest heaven, Indra’s heaven. 33 by unwearying ploughs of austerity and discipline, / Are such trees as these, which are always adapting to provide for sky-dwellers’ enjoyment. // 10.27 //

manaḥśilābhair vadanair vihaṁgā yatrākṣibhiḥ sphāṭika-saṁnibhaiś ca /
śāvaiś ca pakṣair abhilohitāntair māñjiṣṭhakair ardha-sitaiś ca pādaiḥ // 10.28 //

Birds Vihaṁgāḥ, lit. “sky-goers,” means birds; at the same time it has connotations of acting in emptiness. 34 there have bright red beaks, Vadana, lit. “speaking,” can mean the face or the mouth – or in the case of a bird, the beak. 35 the colour of red ‘mind-rock’ arsenic; and crystalline eyes; / And wings Pakṣa can mean wing or side. 36 a deathly shade of yellow, with intensely red tips; and claws Pāda means the foot or leg of any person or creature or inanimate thing. 37 as red as red dye, but half white. The four colours mentioned here – 1. the red of ‘mind-rock’; 2. transparency, or absence of independent colour; 3. deathly yellow still tinged with red; 4. contrast or opposition between red and white – may be taken as symbolizing, in four phases, our painful struggles as ordinary, unenlightened people in the world. 38// 10.28 //

citraiḥ suvarṇac-chadanais tathānye vaiḍurya-nīlair nayanaiḥ prasannaiḥ /
vihaṁgamāḥ śiñjirikābhidhānā rutair manaḥ-śrotra-harair bhramanti // 10.29 //

Birds which are – again – different, with distinctively golden wings and bright, beryl-blue eyes, / Birds called śiñjirikas fly to and fro, carrying away minds and ears with their songs. Anye… vihaṁgamāḥ, “birds which are different,” or “goers through the sky, being different,” may once again be taken as symbols of those non-buddhas who have mastered the practice of non-thinking. On that basis they talk the talk of dharma beautifully and enchantingly, carrying away our minds and ears. The colour which distinguishes them is gold, symbolizing what is most valuable, e.g. a sitting buddha’s enlighenment. Verses 28 and 29 are thus antithetical to each other. 39 // 10.29 //

raktābhir agreṣu ca vallarībhir madhyeṣu cāmīkara-piñjarābhiḥ /
vaiḍūrya-varṇābhir upānta-madhyeṣv alaṁkṛtā yatra khagāś caranti // 10.30 //

Adorned with curling feathers that are red at the tips, golden in the middle, / And the colour of beryl within borders, birds there move. The double appearance of madhyeṣu suggests synthesis in the middle way between opposites, and khagāś caranti, “sky-goers move,” emphasizes action itself. 40// 10.30 //

rociṣṇavo nāma patatriṇo ’nye diptāgni-varṇā jvalitair ivāsyaiḥ /
bhramanti dṛṣṭīr vapuṣākṣipantaḥ svanaiḥ śubhair apsaraso harantaḥ // 10.31 //

Winged ones of a different ilk, named rochiṣṇus, who have the lustre of a blazing fire, their faces seeming to be aglow, / Roam around, shaking views with their wonderful appearance, and carrying apsarases away with their splendid sound. These birds, like the ‘Full Grown’ Coral Tree, seem to have something especially transcendent and energetic about them, which causes views to be dropped off. Cf. Nāgārjuna: In the direction of abandoning all views, he taught the true Dharma, / Putting compassion into practice – I bow to him, Gautama.// (MMK27.30). 41// 10.31 //

yatreṣṭa-ceṣṭāḥ satata-prahṛṣṭā nirartayo nirjaraso viśokāḥ /
svaiḥ karmabhir hīna-viśiṣṭa-madhyāḥ svayaṁ-prabhāḥ puṇya-kṛto ramante // 10.32 //

There, merit-makers do whatever they like; constantly erect, they are free from pain, free from aging, and beyond sorrow; / Each by his actions inferior, superior, or in the middle, each letting his own light shine, the merit-makers rejoice. // 10.32 //

nityotsavaṁ taṁ ca niśāmya lokaṁ nis-tandri-nidrārati-śoka-rogam /
nando jarā-mṛtyu-vaśaṁ sadārtaṁ mene śmaśāna-pratimaṁ nṛ-lokam // 10.33 // (EHJ: 10.34)

Seeing that world to be in a perpetually elevated state, free from tiredness, sleep, discontent, sorrow, and disease, / Nanda deemed the ever-afflicted world of men, under the sway of aging and death, to be akin to a cremation ground. // 10.33 //

aindraṁ vanaṁ tac ca dadarśa nandaḥ samantato vismaya-phulla-dṛṣṭiḥ /
harṣānvitāś cāpsarasaḥ parīyuḥ sagarvam anyonyam avekṣamāṇāḥ // 10.34 // (EHJ: 10.35)

Nanda beheld Indra’s forest all around him, his eyes wide open with amazement. / And the apsarases surrounded him, bristling with joyous excitement, while eyeing each other haughtily. // 10.34 //

sadā yuvatyo madanaika-kāryāḥ sādhāraṇāḥ puṇya-kṛtāṁ vihārāḥ /
divyāś ca nir-doṣa-parigrahāś ca tapaḥ-phalasyāśrayaṇaṁ surāṇām // 10.35 // (EHJ: 10.36)

Eternally youthful and devoted purely to Love, the apsarases are zones of recreation open to all who have made merit; / They are the heavenly and innocent resort of gods, their reward for ascetic practices. // 10.35 //

tāsāṁ jagur dhīram udāttam anyāḥ padmāni kāś-cil lalitaṁ babhañjuḥ /
anyonya-harṣān nanṛtus tathānyāś citrāṅga-hārāḥ stana-bhinna-hārāḥ // 10.36 // (EHJ: 10.37)

Odd ones among those women sang, in low and in high voices; some pulled lotuses apart, playfully; / Others in the same vein danced, bristling with mutual delight, limbs making exotic gestures, breasts perturbing pearl necklaces. This is one of several places where Aśvaghoṣa makes a play on the many possible meanings of hāra, which include “bearing” (hence aṅga-hāra, “limb-bearing” means gesture) and “pearl necklace.”42// 10.36 //

pūrvaṁ tapo-mūlya-parigraheṇa svarga-krayārthaṁ kṛta-niścayānām /
manāṁsi khinnāni tapo-dhanānāṁ haranti yatrāpsaraso laḍantyaḥ // 10.37 // (EHJ: 10.33)

Here, having first accepted the price in austerities and made the decision to splash out on heaven, / Ascetics rich in austerities have their weary minds enthralled by the flirting apsarases. EHJ expressed in his preface doubts about whether this verse might be spurious. But the verse appears as verse 37 in both the palm-leaf and paper manuscripts, whose order has been maintained here. EHJ repositioned the verse, so that it appears as verse 33 in his edition.43 // 10.37 //

kāsāṁ-cid āsāṁ vadanāni rejur vanāntarebhyaś cala-kuṇḍalāni /
vyāviddha-parṇebhya ivākarebhyaḥ padmāni kādamba-vighaṭṭitāni // 10.38 //

The faces of some of these women, ear-rings atremble, peeped through chinks in the undergrowth / Like duck-dunked In his Sanskrit text, EHJ amended kādamba-vighaṭṭitāni to kāraṇḍava-ghaṭṭitāni, but at the translation stage he reflected that the amendation was perhaps hardly necessary since the Indian lexica give kāraṇḍava (MW: a sort of duck) and kādamba (MW: a kind of goose with dark-grey wings) as synonymous. 44 lotuses peeping through scattered and displaced leaves. // 10.38 //

tāḥ niḥsṛtāḥ prekṣya vanāntarebhyas taḍit-patākā iva toya-debhyaḥ /
nandasya rāgeṇa tanur vivepe jale cale candramasaḥ prabheva // 10.39 //

When he saw them emerging from their forest niches like ribbons of lightning from rainclouds, / Nanda’s body trembled with passion like moonlight on rippling water. // 10.39 //

vapuś ca divyaṁ lalitāś ca ceṣṭās tataḥ sa tāsāṁ manasā jahāra /
kautūhalāvarjitayā ca dṛṣṭyā saṁśleṣa-tarṣād iva jāta-rāgaḥ // 10.40 //

Their heavenly form and playful gestures he then mentally seized; / And, while his eye was appropriated by curiosity, he became impassioned, as if from a thirst for union. // 10.40 //

sa jāta-tarṣo ’psarasaḥ pipāsus tat-prāptaye ’dhiṣṭhita-viklavārtaḥ /
lolendriyāśvena mano-rathena jehrīyamāṇo na dhṛtiṁ cakāra // 10.41 //

He became thirsty, desirous of drinking up the apsarases, afflicted by a pervading itch to have them. / Dragged along by the mind-chariot whose horse is the restless power of the senses, he could not come to stillness. // 10.41 //

yathā manuṣyo malinaṁ hi vāsaḥ kṣāreṇa bhūyo malinī-karoti /
mala-kṣayārthaṁ na malodbhavārthaṁ rajas tathāsmai munir ācakarṣa // 10.42 //

For just as a man adds soda ash to dirty clothes and thereby makes them even dirtier / Not in order to increase dirt but in order to remove it, so the Sage had stirred the dust of passion in Nanda. // 10.42 //

doṣāṁś ca kāyād bhiṣag ujjihīrṣur bhūyo yathā kleśayituṁ yateta /
rāgaṁ tathā tasya munir jighāṁsur bhūyastaraṁ rāgam upānināya // 10.43 //

Again, just as a healer who wishes to draw faults from the body would endeavour to aggravate those faults, / So, wishing to kill the red taint of passion in him, the Sage brought about an even greater passion. // 10.43 //

dīpa-prabhāṁ hanti yathāndhakāre sahasra-raśmer uditasya dīptiḥ /
manuṣya-loke dyutim aṅganānām antar-dadhāty apsarasāṁ tathā śrīḥ // 10.44 //

Just as a light in the dark is extinguished by the thousand-rayed brightness of the rising sun, / So the lovely radiance of women in the human world is put in the shade by the brilliance of the celestial nymphs. // 10.44 //

mahac ca rūpaṁ svaṇu hanti rūpaṁ śabdo mahān hanti ca śabdam alpam /
gurvī rujā hanti rujāṁ ca mṛdvīṁ sarvo mahān hetur aṇor vadhāya // 10.45 //

Great beauty blots out lesser beauty, a loud noise drowns out a small noise, / And a severe pain kills a mild pain – every great stimulus tends towards the extinction of a minor one. // 10.45 //

muneḥ prabhāvāc ca śaśāka nandas tad-darśanaṁ soḍhum asahyam anyaiḥ /
avītarāgasya hi durbalasya mano dahed apsarasāṁ vapuḥ śrīḥ // 10.46 //

And Nanda was able, relying on the power of the Sage, to endure that sight unendurable to others. / For the mind of a man lacking dispassion, when he was weak, would be burned up by the apsarases’ shining splendour. // 10.46 //

matvā tato nandam udīrṇa-rāgaṁ bhāryānurodhād apavṛtta-rāgam /
rāgeṇa rāgaṁ pratihantu-kāmo munir virāgo giram ity uvāca // 10.47 //

Deeming then that Nanda was roused to a new height of passion, his passion having turned from love of his wife, / And desiring This line draws out the distinction between rāga, redness, passion (from the root √rañj, to be dyed), and the wider term kāma, desire (from the root √kam, to wish, desire). Again, in the Buddha’s ultimate teaching of alpecchu-saṁtuṣṭi, having small desire and being content, icchu is from √iṣ, to seek for. The point to be clear about is that being dispassionate does not mean having no desire. 45 to fight passion with passion, the dispassionate Sage spoke these words: // 10.47 //

etāḥ striyaḥ paśya divaukasas tvaṁ nirīkṣya ca brūhi yathārtha-tattvam /
etāḥ kathaṁ rūpa-guṇair matāste sa vā jano yatra gataṁ manas te // 10.48 //

“Look at these women who dwell in heaven and, having observed, truly tell the truth: / Do you think more of these women with their lovely form and excellent attributes or the one upon whom your mind has been set?” // 10.48 //

athāpsaraḥsv eva niviṣṭa-dṛṣṭī rāgāgnināntar-hṛdaye pradīptaḥ /
sa-gadgadaṁ kāma-viṣakta-cetāḥ kṛtāñjalir vākyam uvāca nandaḥ // 10.49 //

So, letting his gaze settle upon the apsarases, burning in his innermost heart with a fire of passion, / And stammering, with a mind stuck on objects of desire, Nanda joined his hands like a beggar and spoke. // 10.49 //

haryaṅganāsau muṣitaika-dṛṣṭir yadantare syāt tava nātha vadhvāḥ /
tad-antare ’sau kṛpaṇā vadhūs te vapuṣmatīr apsarasaḥ pratītya // 10.50 //

“Whatever difference there might be, Master, between that one-eyed she-monkey and your sister-in-law, / Is the same when your poor sister-in-law is set against Pratītya is here used as the absolutive of prati-√i, in the sense of “to go against,” i.e. to be compared to. Pratītya is as in pratītya-samutpāda, “dependent arising” (see SN17.21, but especially BC Canto 14), in which compound pratītya seems to mean “going back to” or “having gone back to,” and hence “being dependent upon.” 46 the lovely apsarases. // 10.50 //

āsthā yathā pūrvam abhūn na kā-cid anyāsu me strīṣu niśāmya bhāryām /
tasyāṁ tataḥ samprati kā-cid āsthā na me niśāmyaiva hi rūpam āsām // 10.51 //

For just as previously, when I beheld my wife, I had no interest in other women, / So now when I behold their beauty I have no interest in her. // 10.51 //

yathā pratapto mṛdunātapena dahyeta kaś-cin mahatānalena /
rāgeṇa pūrvaṁ mṛdunābhitapto rāgāgninānena tathābhidahye // 10.52 //

Just as somebody who had been pained by mild sunshine might be consumed by a great fire, / So I who was previously toasted by a mild passion am now roasted by this blaze of passion. // 10.52 //

vāg-vāriṇāṁ māṁ pariṣiñca tasmād yāvan na dahye sa ivābja-śatruḥ /
rāgāgnir adyaiva hi māṁ didhakṣuḥ kakṣaṁ sa-vṛkṣāgram ivotthito ’gniḥ // 10.53 //

Therefore pour on me the water of your voice, before I am burned, as was The Fishes’ Foe; Abja-śatruḥ lit. “the enemy of the water-born,” can be understood as another name for mīna-ripu (The Fishes’ Foe) mentioned in SN8.44. 47 / For a fire of passion is going now to burn me up, like a fire rising up to burn both undergrowth and treetops. // 10.53 //

prasīda sīdāmi vimuñca mā mune vasundharā-dhairya na dhairyam asti me /
asūn vimokṣyāmi vimukta-mānasa prayaccha vā vāg-amṛtaṁ mumūrṣave // 10.54 //

Please, Prasīda (be pleased to; please!) and sīdāmi (I am sinking) are both from the root √sad, to sit or sink down, to settle. 48 O Sage firm as the earth, The 2nd pāda, similarly, contains plays on words from the root √dhṛ, to bear or hold firm – thus the earth is vasun-dharā (lit. “treasure-bearer”) and firm is dhairya. 49 I am sinking. Liberate me who am without firmness. / I shall give up my life, O Man of Liberated Mind, Vimokṣyāmi (I shall give up) and vimukta (liberated) are both from vi-√muc. 50 unless you extend to a dying man the deathless nectar of your words. Amṛtam (deathless [nectar]) and mumūrṣave (to one about to die) are both from the root √mṛ. Even though Nanda himself is evidently taking his own burning desire so deadly seriously, the plays on words impart a certain subversive sense of levity. 51 // 10.54 //

anartha-bhogena vighāta-dṛṣṭinā pramāda-daṁṣṭreṇa tamo-viṣāgninā /
ahaṁ hi daṣṭo hṛdi manmathāhinā vidhatsva tasmād agadaṁ mahā-bhiṣak // 10.55 //

For a snake whose coils are calamity, whose eyes are destruction, Vighāta, “a blow, destruction, ruin,” is as in the title of SN Canto 7, strī-vighātaḥ, A Tirade against Women. 52 whose fangs are madness, whose fiery venom is dark ignorance: / The snake of love has bitten me in the heart. Therefore, Great Healer, supply the antidote! Agada means medicine and especially an antidote. As a rule, the antidote to passion (rāga) is recorded in suttas like the Long Discourse Giving Advice to Rāhula (DN22), as the unpleasant or unattractive (aśubha; see e.g. SN16.60; SN17.38). Hence the striver’s description of the repulsive aspects of the human body in Cantos 7 and 8. The Buddha himself, however, in his administering of the medicine of dharma to Nanda, evidently sees the wisdom in a less conventional and more indirect route. 53// 10.55 //

anena daṣṭo madanāhinā hi nā na kaś-cid ātmany anavasthitaḥ sthitaḥ /
mumoha vodhyor hy acalātmano mano babhūva dhīmāṁś ca sa śantanus tanuḥ // 10.56 //

For nobody bitten by this snake of love remains anything but unsettled in himself / Bewildered was the mind of Vodhyu, whose essence had been immovability, while ‘Good-Body’ Śan-tanu, who had been a sensible man, grew gaunt. Śan-tanu is the king mentioned by Nanda in SN7.41 and 7.44. No reference to Vodhyu has been traced. As in verse 54, Nanda’s sense of the deadly seriousness of his situation is subverted by the latitude Aśvaghoṣa exhibits in finding time for poetic wordplay, whereby the closing two syllables of each pāda are repeated|: ...hi nā hi nā; ...sthi taḥ sthi taḥ; ...ma no ma no; ...ta nus ta nuḥ. 54// 10.56 //

sthite viśiṣṭe tvayi saṁśraye śraye yathā na yāmīha vasan diśaṁ diśam /
yathā ca labdhvā vyasana-kṣayaṁ kṣayaṁ vrajāmi tan me kuru śaṁsataḥ sataḥ // 10.57 //

In you who abides conspicuously in the state of refuge, I seek refuge. So that I do not wander through this world loafing in this place and that place; / So that I might come to and then go beyond that abode which is my adversity-ending end, The meanings of kṣayam include both ending and abode. Like the hāra of verse 36, kṣaya is one of Aśvaghoṣa’s favourite words for punning. 55 please, repeatedly I plead that you help me.” Again, the closing two syllables of each pāda are repeated: ...śraye śraye; ...diśaṃ diśam; ...kṣayaṃ kṣayam; ... sataḥ sataḥ. The sense of the repetitiveness of Nanda’s pleading is emphasized not only by the sound of śaṁsataḥ sataḥ, but also by the meaning of śaṁsataḥ, from the root √śams, to repeat. 56// 10.57 //

tato jighāṁsur hṛdi tasya tat-tamas tamo-nudo naktam ivotthitaṁ tamaḥ /
maharṣi-candro jagatas tamo-nudas tamaḥ-prahīṇo nijagāda gautamaḥ // 10.58 //

Desiring to dispell that darkness in his heart like the moon Tamo-nuda, “darkness-disperser,” means the sun or, as in this case, the moon. 57 dispersing the darkness that rises by night, / Then spoke the moon of great seers, the disperser of the world’s darkness, the one devoid of darkness – Gautama: // 10.58 //

dhṛtiṁ pariṣvajya vidhūya vikriyāṁ nigṛhya tāvac chruta-cetasī śṛṇu /
imā yadi prārthayase tvam aṅganā vidhatsva śulkārtham ihottamaṁ tapaḥ // 10.59 //

“Embrace firmness, shake off indecision, get a grip of hearing and of heart, and listen! / If you desire these women practise now the utmost asceticism to pay their price. // 10.59 //

imā hi śakyā na balān na sevayā na saṁpradānena na rūpavattayā /
imā hriyante khalu dharma-caryayā sacet praharṣaś cara dharmam ādṛtaḥ // 10.60 //

For these women are conquered neither by force nor by service, neither by gifts nor by good looks; / They are mastered Again, the ambiguity of √hṛ (root of hāra in verse 36) is well suited to Aśvaghoṣa’s ironic purposes. Ostensibly hriyante means they are mastered or conquered or overpowered or won over, and taken as wives or lovers; but in the hidden meaning hriyante might mean they are won over in the sense of being persuaded to go in the right direction; or again hriyante might mean they are eclipsed, or surpassed, or transcended. 58 just by dharma-conduct. If aroused, The first definition of praharṣa in the MW dictionary is “erection of the male organ.” But pra- √hṛṣ also means to rejoice, be glad, exult. So in the hidden meaning, praharṣa suggests non-sexual arousal, as in BC Canto 3, titled saṁvegotpattiḥ, Arising of Nervous Excitement. 59 practise dharma diligently. // 10.60 //

ihādhivāso divi daivataiḥ samaṁ vanāni ramyāṇy ajarāś ca yoṣitaḥ /
idaṁ phalaṁ svasya śubhasya karmaṇo na dattam anyena na cāpy ahetutaḥ // 10.61 //

Perching here in heaven with gods; delightful forests; ageless women – / Such is the fruit of your own pure action. It is not conferred by another; nor is it without cause. // 10.61 //

kṣitau manuṣyo dhanur-ādibhiḥ śramaiḥ striyaḥ kadā-cidd hi labheta vā na vā /
asaṁśayaṁ yat tv iha dharma-caryayā bhaveyur etā divi puṇya-karmaṇaḥ // 10.62 //

Through strenuous efforts on earth – drawing a bow and suchlike – a man may sometimes win women, or else he may not; / But what is certain is that, through his practice of dharma here and now, these women in heaven can belong Ostensibly, again, the Buddha is affirming the ancient idea that celestial nymphs can belong to an ascetic practitioner in a sexual sense. The verb √bhū, however, can mean “to belong” not only in a sexual sense but also in the sense of all being on the same side and thus belonging to each other. 60 to a man of meritorious action. // 10.62 //

tad apramatto niyame samudyato ramasva yady apsaraso ’bhilipsase /
ahaṁ ca te ’tra pratibhūḥ sthire vrate yathā tvam ābhir niyataṁ sameṣyasi // 10.63 //

So delight in restraint, being attentive and ready, if you desire to secure Abhilipsase is a desiderative form of abhi-√labh, which ostensibly means, again, to obtain or secure in a sexual sense; but in the hidden meaning to reach, or to win over, in a transformative sense. 61 the apsarases, / And I guarantee that, insofar as you persist in your observance, you certainly shall be one Sameṣyasi is from sam-√i, which, again, ostensibly means to come together in sexual union, to cohabit; but which in its hidden meaning might simply mean to be together, to live harmoniously together. 62 with them.” // 10.63 //

ataḥ-paraṁ paramam iti vyavasthitaḥ parāṁ dhṛtiṁ parama-munau cakāra saḥ /
tato muniḥ pavana ivāmbarāt patan pragṛhya taṁ punar agaman mahī-talam // 10.64 //

“From now on, I will!” he agreed. Believing intently in the supreme Sage, he had become extremely determined. “From now on” is ataḥ-param; “’I will,’ he agreed” is paramam iti. “Extremely determined” is parām dhṛtim. “In the supreme sage” is parama-munau. Hence a particuarly poetic Canto finishes with a final poetic flourish – param, paramam, parām, paramam….63 / Then the Sage, gliding down from the sky like the wind, brought him back down again to earth. // 10.64 //

saundaranande mahākāvye svarga-nidarśano nāma daśamaḥ sargaḥ /
The 10th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled “A Vision of Heaven.”