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Having thus had pointed out to him the path of what is, Nanda took that path of liberation.1 /

He bowed with his whole being before the Guru and, with a view to abandoning the afflictions, he made for the forest. // 17.1 //


There he saw a clearing, a quiet glade, of soft deep-green grass, /

Kept secret by a silent stream bearing water blue as beryl. // 17.2 //


Having washed his feet there, Nanda, by a clean, auspicious, and splendid tree-root, /

Girded on the intention to come undone, and sat with legs fully crossed. // 17.3 //


By first directing the whole body up, and thus keeping his awareness turned towards the body, /

And thus integrating in his person all the senses, there he threw himself all-out into practice. // 17.4 //


Wishing to practise, on that basis, the truth that has no gaps, and wishing to perform practices that would be favourable to release, /

He moved, using mundane know-how, and stillness, into the stage of readying of consciousness.2 // 17.5 //


By holding firm, keeping direction of energy to the fore, by cutting out clinging and garnering his energy, /

With consciousness that was calmed and contained, he came back to himself and was not concerned about ends. // 17.6 //


Though his judgement had been tempered and his soul inspired, now a vestige of desire, arising out of habit, /

Made his mind turbid -- like lightning striking water in a monsoon. // 17.7 //


Being instantly aware of incompatibilities, he saw off that authoress of the dharma's downfall, /

As a man whose mind is seized by anger shoos away a loved but excitable woman, when he is trying to concentrate. // 17.8 //


Nanda re-directed his energy in order to still his mind, but as he did so an unhelpful thought reasserted itself, /

As when, in a man intent on curing an illness, an acute symptom suddenly reappears. // 17.9 //


To fend against that he turned skillfully to a different factor, one favourable to his practice, /

Like an enfeebled prince who seeks out a powerful protector when being overthrown by a mighty rival. // 17.10 //


For just as, by laying out fortifications and laying down the rod of the law, by banding with friends and disbanding foes, /

A king gains hitherto ungained land, that is the very policy towards practice of one who desires release. // 17.11 //


Because, for a practitioner whose desire is release, the mind is his fortress, know-how is his rod, /

The virtues are his friends, the faults are his foes; and liberation is the territory he endeavours to reach. // 17.12 //


Desiring release from the great net of suffering; desiring to enter into possession of the pathways of release, /

Desiring to experience the supreme noble path; he got a bit of the Eye,3 and came to quiet. // 17.13 //


Heedless would be the unhoused man who, despite hearing the truth, housed the darkness of ignorance; /

But since Nanda was a man of the bowl, a receptacle for liberation, he had collected his mind into himself. // 17.14 //


On the grounds of their being held together, their causality, and their inherent nature, on the grounds of their flavour and their concrete imperfection, /

And on the grounds of their tendency to spread out,4 he who was now contained in himself, carried out a methodical investigation into things. // 17.15 //


Desiring to examine its total material and immaterial substance, he investigated the body, /

And he perceived the body to be impure, full of suffering, impermanent, without an owner, and again, devoid of self. // 17.16 //


For, on those grounds, on the grounds of impermanence and emptiness, on the grounds of absence of self, and of suffering, /

He, by the most excellent among mundane paths,5 caused the tree of afflictions to shake. // 17.17 //


Since everything, after not existing, now exists, and after existing it never exists again; /

And since the world is causal, and has disappearance as a cause, therefore he understood that the world is impermanent. // 17.18 //


Insofar as a creature's industry, motivated by bond-making or bond-breaking impulse, / 

Is dependent on a prescription, named "pleasure," for counteracting pain, he saw, on that account, that existence is suffering. // 17.19 //

And insofar as separateness is a construct, there being no-one who creates or who is made known, /

But doing arises out of a totality, he realised, on that account, that this world is empty. // 17.20 //


Since the throng of humanity is passive, not autonomous, and no one exercises direct control over the workings of the body, /

But states of being arise dependent on this and that, he found, in that sense, that the world is devoid of self. // 17.21 //


Then, like air in the hot season, got from fanning; like fire latent in wood, got from rubbing; /

And like water under the ground, got from digging, that supra-mundane path which is hard to reach, he reached: // 17.22 //


As a bow of true knowledge, clad in the armour of awareness, standing up in a chariot of pure practice of integrity, /

He took his stance for victory, ready to engage in battle his enemies, the afflictions, who were ranged on the battlefield of his mind. // 17.23 //


Then, unsheathing a sword that the limbs of awakening6 had honed, standing in the supreme chariot of true motivation, /

With an army containing the elephants of the branches of the path,7 he gradually penetrated the ranks of the afflictions. // 17.24 //


With arrows made from the presence of mindfulness, instantly he shot those enemies whose substance is upside-down-ness: /

He split apart four enemies, four causes of suffering, with four arrows, each having its own range.8 // 17.25 //


With the five incomparable noble powers, he broke five uncultivated areas of mental ground;9

And with the eight true elephants which are the branches of the path, he drove away eight elephants of fakery. // 17.26 //


And so, having shaken off every vestige of the personality view, being free of doubt in regard to the four truths, /

And knowing the score in regard to pure practice of integrity, he attained the first fruit of dharma.10 // 17.27 //


By glimpsing the noble foursome, and by being released from one portion of the afflictions; / 

By realising for himself what was specific to him as well as by witnessing the ease of the sages; // 17.28 //


Through the stability of his stillness and the constancy of his steadiness; through not being altogether bewildered about the four truths; /

And through not being full of holes in the supreme practice of integrity, he became free of doubt in the truth of dharma. // 17.29 //


Released from the net of shabby views, seeing the world as it really is, /

He attained a joy pregnant with knowing and his quiet certainty in the Guru deepened all the more. // 17.30 //


For he who understands that the doing in this world is determined neither by any outside cause nor by no cause, /

and who appreciates everything depending on everything: he sees the ultimate noble dharma. // 17.31 //


And he who sees as the greatest good the dharma that is peaceful, salutary, ageless, and free of the red taint of passion, /

And who sees its teacher as the noblest of the noble: he, as one who has got the Eye, is meeting Buddha. // 17.32 //


When a healthy man has been freed from illness by salutary instruction, and he is aware of his debt of gratitude, / 

Just as he sees his healer in his mind's eye, gratefully acknowledging his benevolence and knowledge of his subject, // 17.33 //


Exactly so is a finder of reality who, set free by the noble path, is the reality of being noble: /

His body being a seeing Eye,11 he sees the Realised One, gratefully acknowledging his benevolence and all-knowingness. // 17.34 //


Sprung free from pernicious theories, seeing an end to becoming, /

And feeling horror for the consequences of affliction, Nanda trembled not at death or hellish realms. // 17.35 //


As full of skin, sinew, fat, blood, bone, and flesh; as full of hair and a mass of other such unholy stuff, / 

Nanda then observed the body to be; he looked into its essential reality, and found not even an atom. // 17.36 //


By the yoke of that very practice, he, firm in himself, minimised the duality of love and hate; /

Being himself big across the chest, he made those two small, and so obtained the second fruit in the noble dharma.12 // 17.37 //


A small vestige of the great enemy, red passion, whose straining bow is impatient desire and whose arrow is a fixed conception, /

He destroyed using weapons procured from the body as it naturally is -- using the darts of unpleasantness, weapons from the armoury of practice. // 17.38 //


That gestating love-rival, malice, whose weapon is hatred and whose errant arrow is anger, /

He slayed with the arrows of kindness, which are contained in a quiver of constancy and released from the bow-string of patience. // 17.39 //


And so the hero cut the three roots of shameful conduct using three seats of release, /

As if three rival princes, bearing bows in the van of their armies, had been cut down by one prince using three iron points. // 17.40 //


In order to go entirely beyond the sphere of desire, he overpowered those enemies that grab the heel, /

So that he attained, because of practice, the fruit of not returning,13 and stood as if at the gateway to the citadel of nirvāṇa. // 17.41 //


Distanced from desires and tainted things, containing ideas and containing thoughts, /

Born of solitude and possessed of joy and ease, is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered. // 17.42 //


Released from the burning of the bonfire of desires, he derived great gladness from ease in the act of meditating -- /

Ease like a heat-exhausted man diving into water. Or like a pauper coming into great wealth. // 17.43 //


Even in that, he realised, ideas about aforesaid things, and thoughts about what is or is not good, /

Are something not quieted, causing disturbance in the mind, and so he decided to cut them out. // 17.44 //


For, just as waves produce disturbance in a river bearing a steady flow of tranquil water, / 

So ideas, like waves of thought, disturb the water of the one-pointed mind. // 17.45 //


And just as noises are a source of bother to one who is weary, and fallen fast asleep, /

So do ideas become bothersome to one who is indulging in his original state of unitary awareness. // 17.46 //


And so gradually bereft of idea and thought, his mind tranquil from one-pointedness, /

He realised the joy and ease born of balanced stillness -- that inner wellbeing which is the second stage of meditation. // 17.47 //


And on reaching that stage, in which the mind is silent, he experienced an intense joy that he had never experienced before. /

But here too he found a fault, in joy, just as he had in ideas. // 17.48 //


For when a man finds intense joy in anything, paradoxically, suffering for him is right there. /

Hence, seeing the faults there in joy, he kept going up, into practice that goes beyond joy. // 17.49 //


And so experiencing the ease enjoyed by the noble ones, from non-attachment to joy, knowing it totally, with his body, /

He remained indifferent, fully aware, and, having realised the third stage of meditation, steady. // 17.50 //


Since the ease here is beyond any ease, and there is no progression of ease beyond it, /

Therefore, as a knower of higher and lower, he realised it as a condition of resplendent wholeness which he deemed -- in a friendly way – to be superlative. // 17.51 //


Then, even in that stage of meditation, he found a fault: he saw it as better to be quiet, not excited, /

Whereas his mind was fluctuating tirelessly because of ease circulating. // 17.52 //


In excitement there is interference, and where there is interference there is suffering, /

Which is why, insofar as ease is excitatory, devotees who are desirous of quiet give up that ease. // 17.53 //


Then, having already transcended ease and suffering, and emotional reactivity, /

He realised the lucidity in which there is indifference and full awareness: thus, beyond suffering and ease, is the fourth stage of meditation. // 17.54 //


Since in this there is neither ease nor suffering, and the act of knowing abides here, being its own object, /

Therefore utter lucidity through indifference and awareness is specified in the protocol for the fourth stage of meditation. // 17.55 //


Consequently, relying on the fourth stage of meditation, he made up his mind to win the worthy state, /

Like a king joining forces with a strong and noble ally and then aspiring to conquer unconquered lands.14 // 17.56 //


Then he cut the five upper fetters: with the sword of intuitive wisdom which is raised aloft by cultivation of the mind, /

He completely severed the five aspirational fetters, which are bound up with superiority, and tied to the first person.15 // 17.57 //



Again, with the seven elephants of the limbs of awakening16 he crushed the seven dormant tendencies of the mind, /

Like Time, when their destruction is due, crushing the seven continents by means of the seven planets. // 17.58 //


The action which on fire, trees, ghee and water is exerted by rainclouds, wind, a flame and the sun, /

Nanda exerted that action on the faults, quenching, uprooting, burning, and drying them up. // 17.59 //


Thus he overcame three surges, three sharks, three swells, the unity of water, five currents, two shores, /
And two crocodiles: in his eight-piece raft, he crossed the flood of suffering which is so hard to cross.17 // 17.60 //


Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served. Without ambition, without partiality, without expectation; /

Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; while being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different. // 17.61 //


And so Nanda, who, through the instruction of his brother and teacher and through his own valiant effort, /

Had quieted his mind and fulfilled his task, spoke to himself these words: // 17.62 //


"Praise be to him, the Sugata, the One Gone Well, through whose compassionate pursuit of my welfare, /

Great agonies were turned away and greater comforts conferred. // 17.63 //


For while being dragged, by ignoble physicality, down a path pregnant with suffering, /

I was turned back by the hook of his words, like an elephant in musk by a driver's hook. // 17.64 //


For through the liberating knowledge18 of the compassionate teacher who extracted a dart of passion that was lodged in my heart, /

Now such abundant ease is mine -- Oh! how happy I am in the loss of everything! // 17.65 //


For, by putting out the burning fire of desires, using the water of constancy, as if using water to put out a blaze, /

I have now come to a state of supreme refreshment, like a hot person descending into a cool pool. // 17.66 //


Nothing is dear to me, nor offensive to me. There is no liking in me, much less disliking. /
In the absence of those two, I am enjoying the moment, like one immune to cold and heat. // 17.67 //


Like gaining safety after great danger; like gaining release after long imprisonment; /

Like having no boat and yet gaining the far shore, after a mighty deluge; and like gaining clarity, after fearful darkness; // 17.68 //


Like gaining health out of incurable illness, relief from immeasurable debt, /

Or escape from an enemy presence; or like gaining, after a famine, plentiful food: // 17.69 //


Thus have I come to utmost quiet, through the quieting influence of the teacher. /

Again and repeatedly I do homage to him: Homage, homage to the Worthy One, the Realised One! // 17.70 //


By him I was taken to the golden-peaked mountain, and to heaven, where, with the example of the she-monkey, /

And by means of the women who wander the triple heaven, I who was a slave to love, sunk in girl-filled strife, was lifted up and out. // 17.71 //


From that extreme predicament, from that worthless mire, up he dragged me, like a feeble-footed elephant from the mud, /

To be released into this quieted, dustless, feverless, sorrowless, ultimate true reality, which is free from darkness.19 // 17.72 //



I salute the great supremely compassionate Seer, bowing my head to him, the knower of types, the knower of hearts, /

The fully awakened one, the holder of the ten powers, the best of healers, the deliverer: again, I bow to him. // 17.73 //



The 17th Canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled "Obtaining the Deathless Nectar.





1 The path of what is, or the path of liberation, means the noble eightfold path, described by the Buddha in Canto 16 under the three headings of śīla (integrity), prajñā (wisdom), and śama (peace). This canto describes Nanda's progressing on that path all the way to the fourth fruit of dharma, the worthy state of the arhat.

2 Mundane/ordinary knowing (see also 17.17) is opposed to the transcendent "supra-mundane" powers of knowing (abhijñā), described at the beginning of Canto 16.

3 Ancient Pali texts describe the Dharma-Eye arising on the way to attainment of the first fruit of dharma, or stream-entry. In general, the Dharma-Eye does not mean an organ of sight so much as it means an instsrument of seeing, or means of realizing, the truth of the Buddha's dharma (see e.g. 17.32).

4 Niḥsaraṇātmataś (niḥsaraṇātman = tending to terminate / spread out + ablative suffix taḥ) can be understood as a description of impermanence.

5 A mundane path, judging from what Aśvaghoṣa has indicated in previous cantos (viz end of Canto 15 and beginning of Canto 16), is one that does not depend on the "supra-mundane" powers of knowing (abhijñā) which skilled exponents of sitting-meditation are said to enjoy, and which they bring to the task of eradicating polluting influences (āsravas). At the same time, "supra-mundane" is understood to describe a practitioner's efforts following attainment of the first fruit of dharma (stream-entry). So the kind of empirical investigation of reality described here may be understood to belong to those preparatory efforts, prior to stream-entry, that undermine afflictions; whereas supra-mundane powers are used following stream-entry to eliminate, or transcend, afflictions.

6 The seven limbs of awakening are 1. dharma-pravicaya, investigation of things, 2. vīrya, manly endeavor, directed energy, 3. prīti, joy, 4. praśrabdhi, confidence, 5. upekṣā, equanimity/non-interference, 6. samādhi, balanced stillness, 7. smṛti, awareness/vigilance/mindfulness.

7 The eight branches of the path, as enumerated by the Buddha in 16.30-37, are 1. samyag-vāk-karma, using the voice well, 2. samyak-kāya-karma, using the body well 3. samyag-ājiva, making one's living well, 4. samyag-dṛṣṭi, proper insight (into the four noble truths), 5. samyag-vitarka, thinking straight, 6. samyag-parākrama, fully taking initiative, 7. samyak-smṛti, true mindfulness/awareness, 8. samyak-samādhi, totally balanced stillness.

8 The four abodes/applications of mindfulness/awareness are 1. kāya-smṛtyupasthāna, application of mindfulness to the body, 2. vedanā-smṛtyupasthāna, application of mindfulness to feeling, 3. citta-smṛtyupasthāna, application of mindfulness to the mind, and 4. dharma-smṛtyupasthāna, application of mindfulness to things.

9 The five powers are 1. ṣraddhā, confidence, 2. vīrya, manly endeavor, directed energy, 3. smṛti, awareness/vigilance/mindfulness, 4, samādhi, balanced stillness, 5. prajñā, intuitive wisdom.

10 Ten fetters are said to impede the progress of an ordinary bloke on the way to arhathood, five lower fetters and five upper fetters. Stream-entry is associated in ancient Pali texts with the cutting of three of the lower fetters, namely: 1. the personality view, 2. doubting, and 3. clinging to precepts and rituals (as opposed to genuine integrity and untainted devotion to practice). The three elements of this verse seem to describe cutting of those three lower fetters.

11 The emphasis here, as in the writings of Zen Master Dogen, seems to be that real arising of the Dharma-Eye involves not mere recognition but realisation with and through the whole body-mind, in sitting-meditation.

12 The second fruit is also know as being subject to only one return – i.e. only one more rebirth in the saṁsāric cycle, to use the ancient Hindu metaphor of karma and rebirth; or only one more trip back to square one in the karmic game of snakes and ladders, to use another metaphor. The third and fourth of the fetters that bind a person to the nether regions of saṁsāra (or the bottom rows of the snakes and ladders board) are desire for sensual pleasure and ill-will. One who has completely cut these two fetters is said to be a non-returner, having attained the third fruit of the dharma. This verse seems to acknowledge the ancient teaching of ten fetters, saying that Nanda had reduced love and hate to manageable proportions, but had not yet completely cut those lower fetters. See also 3.39.

13 That is, the third of the four fruits of dharma, the fourth fruit being the worthy state of the arhat.

14 EHJ wrote (in the Introduction to his translation of Buddhacarita) that he found it puzzling that Aśvaghoṣa elevated sitting-dhyāna into the area of “supra-mundane” practice in the stage of the third fruit of the dharma, immediately prior to attainment of arhatship: “In Canto 17, after the aspirant has reached the supramundane path, he acquires successively the three stages of the srotāpanna, sakṛdāgāmin and anāgāmin, and it is only thereafter that the four trances are described and they are said to be the immediate precursors of Arhatship. But 16.1, in accordance with the view generally prevailing in the schools, shows that the trances are mastered in a preliminary stage before the process of bhāvanā begins; and that they are even accessible to non-Buddhists is the regular belief, which Buddhacarita Canto 12 shows Aśvaghoṣa to share.” Was Aśvaghoṣa's intention to nod to the very earliest teachings, including the teaching of the four fruits of dharma culminating in the worthy state of the arhat, while at the same time to challenge (albeit circumspectly) what EHJ describes as “the view generally prevailing in the schools”?

15 An arhat or worthy one is defined in ancient Pali texts as one who has cut the ten fetters, five of which bind the ordinary person, the stream-enterer and the once-returner to lower worlds, and five of which bind the more advanced spiritual aspirant to elevated realms. Included in the five lower fetters are 1. personality view, 2. doubting, and 3. clinging to precepts and rituals, along with 4. desire for sensual pleasure, and 5. ill-will. The first and second fruits of dharma (the stages of the stream-enterer and once-returner) are associated with cutting the first three of these five lower fetters (see 17.27). The third fruit of dharma (the stage of the non-returner) is associated with cutting all five of the lower fetters. Aśvaghoṣa in this verse refers to the five upper (or aspirational) fetters (pañca ūrdhvaṁ-gamāni saṃyojanāni), which remain for the would-be arhat to cut. They are namely: 1. undue interest in outward forms/appearances (rūpa-rāga; i.e. material ambition), 2. undue interest in what does not have form (arūpa-rāga; i.e., spiritual ambition, end-gaining desire for higher consciousness, knowledge etc.), 3. conceit, 4. restlessness, and 5. ignorance. In describing these five upper fetters, Aśvaghoṣa repeats the phrase uttama-bandhanāni, and this repetition led EHJ to think that the text might be suspect. But perhaps Aśvaghoṣa was playing with the ambiguity of uttama, which as an adjective means uppermost or highest, and as a noun means “the last person” – i.e. the first person singular. Relevant here is the cautionary tale that Dogen quotes in Shobogenzo of the bhikṣu who, having realized the fourth dhyāna, was tripped up by conceit. See Shobogenzo chap. 90, Shizen-biku, “The Monk who Mistook the Fourth Dhyāna.”

16 The seven limbs of awakening are as per 17.24.

17 The point might be that the eightfold path is a means for overcoming any number and all kinds of obstacles, including both all-smothering religious oneness, and dualism. At the same time, the verse brings to mind the teaching of Zen Master Dogen, who in Shobogenzo chap. 73 Sanjushichi-bon-bodai-bunbo, The 37 Elements of Bodhi, went through the seven limbs, eight branches, four abodes, five powers, and so on, one by one, and then concluded the chapter by saying that we should forget the lot of them, by just sitting.

18 Ājñā here means final or deep knowledge, liberating knowledge, knowledge of liberation. Ājñā also means order, command, or unlimited power, full autonomy. In the title of Canto 18, ājñā-vyākaraṇaḥ, Aśvaghoṣa may have intended either meaning. It is perhaps more likely that he intended to save us from the sin of certainty, by being deliberately ambiguous.

19 The darkness of ignorance is listed as the final fetter in the list of ten fetters.






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