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And so like a young initiate who mastered the Vedas, like a trader who turned a quick profit, /

Or like a royal warrior who conquered a hostile army, a success, Nanda approached the Guru. // 18.1 //


For it is pleasant, at a time when wisdom has been fully realized, for teacher to see student, and for student to see teacher, /

Each thinking, "Your toil has rewarded me"; for which same reason the wish to see Nanda arose in the Sage. // 18.2 //


Thus is a noble person obliged to pay respect, to his face, to the one through whom he has acquired distinction. /

Even a noble person who retains the taint of redness is so obliged, out of gratitude: How much more is one with no red taint, all pride having perished? // 18.3 //


For when devotion springs from an agenda or desire, there it remains rooted; /

But when a person has love and devotion for dharma, that person is steeped to the core in tranquillity. // 18.4 //


And so, a glowing gold in his yellow-red robe, he bowed his head to the Guru /

Like a karnikāra tree, with an outburst of ruddy shoots, and a glorious blaze of flowers, nodding in the wind. // 18.5 //


Then, as a manifestation of his individual merit as a student and, indeed, of the great Sage's merit as a teacher, /

And not out of pride, he described his own accomplishment of the work that has to be done: // 18.6 //


"The splinter of a view, that had penetrated to my core, O Mighty One, was paining me intensely, being very sharp; /

Via the jaws of the pincers of your words -- by means of a means and by way of a mouth1 -- it was pulled out of me as a splinter is removed by a surgeon. // 18.7 //


A doubt, by which I fell into a state of hesitant questioning, O One Beyond Doubt, has been eradicated in me -- /

Through your teaching I have arrived at a true path like a straggler, under a good guide, getting on the road.2 // 18.8 //


With senses ruled by relishing, I madly drank the drug of love; /

Its action was blocked in me by the antidote of your words, as a deadly poison is by a great remedy.3 // 18.9 //


Rebirth is over, O Refuter of Rebirth! I am dwelling as one with observance of true dharma. /

What was for me to do, O Doer of the Necessary! is totally done. I am present in the world without being of the world. // 18.10 //


Having drunk from the milk-cow of your voice, whose udder is loving-kindness, whose lovely dewlap is figures of speech, who is milked for true dharma, and whose horns are boldness of expression, /

I am properly satisfied, O Most Excellent One, like a little calf that, because of thirst, has drunk milk.4 // 18.11 //


And so, O Sage, hear from me in brief what, through seeing, I have made my own. /

Though you know it anyway, O All-knowing One, still I wish to mention how I have worked on myself. // 18.12 //


For true freedom-loving people (however individual they are) when they hear of another person's plan that led to freedom /

Will happily work at freedom via that same path, like sick men hearing the plan of one who became free from a disease. // 18.13 //


In a birth, I perceive earth and the other elements, but in earth and those other elements, I perceive no self at all. /

On that basis, there is no attachment in me to those elements; my orientation is equal with regard to my body and outside. // 18.14 //


Again, the five skandhas, beginning with the organized body, I see to be inconstant and without substance, /

As well as unreal and life-negating; therefore I am free from those pernicious constructs. // 18.15 //


Since I see for myself an arising and a vanishing in all situations in the realms of the senses, /

Therefore, again, there is in me no clinging to those aforementioned elements which are impermanent, impersonal, and unsatisfactory. // 18.16 //


Again, on the grounds that I see the whole world as emerging and in the same moment passing away, as having no essential meaning and not being as it ought to be, /

On these grounds, because of meditation, the world is bound fast by my mind in such a way that there is no flicker in me of 'I am.'5 // 18.17 //


There is all manner of indulging in the four sorts of food, but since I am not attached to how I take food, /

Since when it comes to food I am not congealed or trussed up, I am free, on that score, from three kinds of becoming.6 // 18.18 //


In the daily round of dharma-practice since I am neither certain about nor bound in mind to visual, auditory and other kinds of perception, /

And since through that dharma-round I am graced by trailing equanimity, on that account I am detached and am free."7 // 18.19 //


After speaking thus, he prostrated himself on the ground with his whole body, out of deep appreciation for the Guru; /

He looked like a great fallen column of gold tinged with red sandalwood. // 18.20 //


Then, after listening to him who had emerged already out of heedlessness, after hearing his firmness and his testimony /

And a clarity consistent with the gist of dharma, the Sage boomed at him like a thundercloud: // 18.21//


"You who stands firm in the dharma which is loved by those who study it, stand up! Why are you fallen with your head at my feet? /

The prostration does not honour me so much as this surefootedness in the dharma. // 18.22 //


Today, conqueror of yourself, you have truly gone forth, since you have thereby gained sovereignty over yourself. /

For in a person who has conquered himself, going forth has worked; whereas in an impulsive person whose senses remain unconquered, it has not. // 18.23 //


Today you are possessed of purity of the highest order, in that your voice, body, and mind are untainted, /

And in that, henceforward, my gentle friend, you will not again be confined in the ungentle womb of unready slumber. // 18.24 //


Listening ears open to the truth which is replete with listening, and with purpose, today you stand surefooted in the dharma, in a manner that befits the listening tradition. /

For a man equipped with listening ears who is wavering is like a swordsman lacking valour: he is worthy of blame. // 18.25 //


Ah! What firmness in you, who is a slave to objects no more, in that you have willed the means of liberation. /

For, facing the end of existence in this world and thinking 'I will be finished,' it is a fool who gives in to a state of quivering anxiety. // 18.26 //


Happily, this meeting with the present moment, which is so hard to come by, is not being wasted under the sway of ignorance. /

For a man who has been down goes up with difficulty, like a turtle to a hole in a yoke, in the foaming sea. // 18.27 //


Having conquered Māra, who is so hard to stop in battle, today, at the forefront of the fight, you are a hero among men. /

For even a hero is not recognized as a hero who is beaten by the foe-like faults. // 18.28 //


Today, having extinguished the flaming fire of redness, happily, you will sleep well, free of fever. /

For even on a fabulous bed he sleeps badly who is being burned in his mind by the fires of affliction. // 18.29 //


You used markedly to be mad about possessions; today, because you have stopped thirsting, you are rich. /

For as long as a man in the world thirsts, however rich he may be, he is always deprived. // 18.30 //


Today you may fittingly proclaim that King Śuddhodana is your father. /

For it is not commendable for a backslider, after falling from the dharma alighted on by ancestors, to proclaim his lineage. // 18.31 //


How great it is that you have reached the deepest tranquillity, like a man making it through a wasteland and gaining possession of treasure. /

For everybody in the flux of saṁsāra is afflicted by fear, just like a man in a wasteland. // 18.32 //


'When shall I see Nanda settled, given over to the living of a forest beggar's life?', /

So thinking, I had harboured from the start the desire to see you thus. What a wonderful sight you are for me to behold! // 18.33 //


For even an unlovely sort is a sight to behold when he is well-adorned with his own best features. /

But a man who is full of the befouling faults, strikingly beautiful man though he may be, is truly ugly. //18.34 //


Developed in you today is the real wisdom by which you have done, totally, the work you had to do on yourself. /

For even a highly educated man lacks wisdom, if wisdom fails to show in his practice of a better way. // 18.35 //


So it is with seeing, among people with eyes open and with eyes closed. /

For when a man lacks sight that is packed with intuition, though he has eyes, the Eye is not present in him. // 18.36 //


Struck by calamity, stung to do something to combat suffering, the world exhausts itself with work like ploughing; /

And yet it is ceaselessly re-visited by that suffering, to which, using what you know, you today have put an end. // 18.37 //


People in the world are impelled ever forward by thinking 'There might be for me no hardship, just happiness....' /

And yet the world does not know a means whereby that happiness might come to be -- that rarely attained happiness which you today have properly realized." // 18.38 //


While the Tathāgata told him this and more for his benefit Nanda remained firm in his judgement and thinking /

And was indifferent to plaudits or criticisms. With hands joined, he spoke these words: // 18.39 //


"Oh, how particular, O Seer of Particularities, is this compassion that you have shown to me! /

Since I who was sunk, Glorious One, in the mire of love have been a reluctant refugee from the terror of saṁsāra. //18.40 //


If not set free by you, a brother, a guide along a better way, a fruitful father, and equally a mother, /

I would be done for; like a straggler dropped from a caravan, I would not have made it. // 18.41 //


Solitude is sweet for one who is calm and contented, who looks into and has learned what is. /

Again, for one who is sober and shorn of conceits, for one who is detached in his decision-making, dispassion is a pleasure. // 18.42 //


And so, through squarely realising what is, through shaking off faults and coming to quiet, /

I worry now neither about my own place, nor about the person there, nor about apsarases, nor about gods. // 18.43 //


For now that I have tasted this pure, peaceful happiness, my mind no longer hankers after happiness born of desires -- /

Just as the costliest earthly fare cannot entice a god who has supped the heavenly nectar. // 18.44 //


Alas, the world has its eyes closed by blind unconsciousness; it does not see utmost happiness in a different robe. /

Flinging away lasting inner happiness, it exhausts itself so, in pursuit of sensual happiness. // 18.45 //


For just as a fool, having made it to a jewel mine, might leave the jewels and carry off inferior crystals, /

So would one reject the highest happiness of full awakening and struggle to gain sensual gratification. // 18.46 //


Oh! high indeed, then, is the order of that desire to favour living beings which the Tathāgata has, overflowing with benevolence: /

Since, O Sage, you throw away the highest-order happiness of meditation and are consumed by your effort to stop others suffering. // 18.47 //


How today could I possibly repay you, my compassionate Guru whose desire is others' welfare, /

By whom I was taken totally up and out of the foaming sea of becoming, like a man out of a great ocean when his boat is being battered by waves?" // 18.48 //


Then the Sage, hearing his well-founded words which signified the removal of all pollutants, /

Voiced, as the Very Best of Speakers, these lines that none but a buddha, being 'Sheer Radiance,' should voice: // 18.49 //


"As a man of action who got the job done and who knows the primary task, none but you, O crafty man!, should express this affirmation -- /

Like a great trader, having crossed a wasteland and got the goods, who affirms the work of a good guide. // 18.50 //


An arhat, a man of action whose mind has come to quiet, knows the Buddha as a charioteer of human steeds who needed taming: /

Not even a truth-seer appreciates the Buddha in this manner: how much less does an ordinary person, however intelligent he may be? // 18.51 //


This gratitude is fitting, again, in none but you whose mind has been liberated from the dust of the passions and from darkness. /

For while dust prevails in the world, O man of gratitude! real gratitude is a rare state of being. // 18.52 //


O possessor of dharma! Since, because of abiding by dharma, you have skill in making it your own and quiet confidence in me, /

I have something else to say to you. For you are surrendered and devoted, and up to the task. // 18.53 //


Walking the transcendent walk, you have done the work that needed to be done: in you, there is not the slightest thing left to work on. /

From now on, my friend, go with compassion, freeing up others who are pulled down into their troubles. // 18.54 //


The lowest sort of man only ever sets to work for an object in this world. But a man in the middle does work both for this world and for the world to come. /

A man in the middle, I repeat, works for a result in the future. The superior type, however, tends towards abstention from positive action. // 18.55 //


But deemed to be higher than the highest in this world is he who, having realized the supreme ultimate dharma, /

Desires, without worrying about the trouble to himself, to teach tranquillity to others. // 18.56 //


Therefore forgetting the work that needs to be done in this world on the self, do now, stout soul, what can be done for others. /

Among beings who are wandering in the night, their minds shrouded in darkness, let the lamp of this transmission be carried. // 18.57 //


Just let the astonished people in the city say, while you are standing firm, voicing dharma-directions, /

'Well! What a wonder this is, that he who was a man of passion is preaching liberation!' // 18.58 //


Then, surely, when she hears of your steadfast mind with its chariots turned back from sundry objects, /

Your wife following your example will also talk, to women at home, the talk of dispassion. // 18.59 //


For, with you showing constancy of the highest order, as you get to the bottom of what is, she surely will not enjoy life in the palace, /

Just as the mind of an enlightened man does not enjoy sensual pleasures when his mental state is tranquil and controlled, and his thinking is detached and distinct." // 18.60 //


Thus spoke the Worthy One, the instructor whose compassion was of the highest order,

Whose words and equally whose feet Nanda had accepted, using his head; /

Then, at ease in himself, his heart at peace, his task ended,

He left the Sage's side like an elephant free of rut. // 18.61 //


When the occasion arose he entered the town for begging and attracted the citizens' gaze;

Being impartial towards gain, loss, comfort, discomfort, and the like and with his senses composed, he was free of longing; /

And being there, in the moment, he talked of liberation to people so inclined --

Never putting down others on a wrong path or raising himself up. // 18.62 //



This work is pregnant with the purpose of release: it is for cessation, not for titillation;

It is wrought out of the figurative expression of kāvya poetry in order to capture an audience whose minds are on other things -- /

For what I have written here not pertaining to liberation, I have written in accordance with the conventions of kāvya poetry.

This is through asking myself how the bitter pill might be made pleasant to swallow, like bitter medicine mixed with something sweet. // 18.63 //


Seeing, in general, that the world is moved primarily by fondness for objects and is repelled by liberation,

I for whom liberation is paramount have told it here like it is, using a kāvya poem as a pretext. /

Being aware of the deceit, take from (this verb-rooted dust)8 what pertains to peace and not to idle pleasure.

Then elemental dust, assuredly, shall yield up serviceable9 gold. // 18.64 //



The 18th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled "Knowing / Affirmation."10



This is the work of a beggar, the respected teacher Aśvaghoṣa of Saketa,
son of the noble Suvarṇākṣī, crafter of epic poetry and talker of the great talk.




1 A play seems to be intended on the word mukhena: the meanings of mukha include 1. mouth, 2. tip (i.e. the jaw of a pincer) and 3. means.

2 Nanda seems to begin, in verses 18.7-8, by describing the cutting in him of the first two of the five lower fetters (the third, clinging to rules and rituals, being understood).

3 This verse seems to describe cutting the fourth of the five lower fetters, namely desire for sensual pleasure (the fifth, ill-will, being understood).

4 This verse can be read as expressing freedom from the first two upper fetters, both of which are manifestations of end-gaining desire, i.e, craving or thirst.

5 A series of verses in which Nanda seems to describe what is seen by the Dharma-Eye referred to in Canto 17 thus culminates with the association of seeing and sitting-meditation. Nanda sees what he sees because of meditating (dhiyā) . This verse can thus be seen as mirroring 17.34. At the same time, it can be seen as expressing freedom from the upper fetter which is conceit.

6 Three kinds of becoming might mean three forms of the upper fetter which is restlessness or agitation. In the context of taking food, the fetter might mean for example 1. agitated desire for food that is available (wanting it too much), 2. agitated dissatisfaction with food that is available (not wanting it), 3. agitated desire for food that is not available (wanting something else).

7 An expression of freedom from the final upper fetter, ignorance?

8 Pāṃsubhyo dhātu-jebhyaḥ in line 4, “dhātu-born dust,” contains a play on the word dhātu, which means “element” both in the sense of a primary element of the earth and also in the sense of a grammatical element, i.e a verbal root or stem.

9 The noun upakāra (from upa-√kṛ, to serve) means benefit, service, favour, use, advantage. EHJ notes that upakara is not met with elsewhere, nor is there any obvious amendment. One possible amendement (possible in the sense that it fits the metre) is upacitaṁ, which means “heaped up,” “furnished in abundance,” or in short “abundant.”

10 The canto title in Sanskrit is not amenable to a definitive translation, due to the ambiguity of the word ājñā (which means 1. deep knowledge, knowledge of liberation, and 2. order, command, authority, unlimited power), and due to the ambiguity of the context – if ājñā means knowledge and vyākaraṇa means affirmation, who is affirming whose knowledge? If vyākaraṇa means revelation or declaration, does the canto title describe Nanda revealing or declaring his deep knowledge? Does it describe the Buddha revealing or declaring his command? Again, does the canto title describe the Buddha affirming Nanda's full autonomy, as a realized individual? Since the ambiguity is almost certainly intentional on Aśvaghoṣa's part, a translation has been chosen that at least preserves some ambiguity. In the final analysis, a seeker after certainty may never find what he is looking for in Aśvaghoṣa's words.






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