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But even when the Sage was there speaking the dharma, and even though other family members heeded the dharma, /

Nanda passed the time in the company of his wife, staying in the palace penthouse, solely occupied with love. // 4.1 //


For joined with his wife like a greylag gander with a greylag goose,1 and fitted for love, /

He turned his thoughts neither to Vaiśravaṇa nor to Śakra: how much less, in that state, did he think about dharma? // 4.2 //


For her grace and beauty, she was called Lovely Sundarī; for her headstrong pride, Sulky Māninī; /

And for her sparkle and spirit, Beautiful Bhāminī. So that she was called by three names. // 4.3 //


She of smiles like the bars of a bar-headed-goose, of eyes like black bees, and swelling breasts like the upward jutting buds of a lotus, /

Shimmered all the more, a lotus-pool in female form, with the rising of a kindred luminary, the sun-like Nanda.2 // 4.4 //


For, with inordinately good looks, and moves to match those heart-stealing looks, /

There was in the human world at that time, among women, [only] Sundarī, and among men, Nanda. // 4.5 //


She, like a goddess wandering in Indra's Gardens of Gladness,3 and Nanda, the bringer of joy to his kin, /

Seemed, having gone beyond mortals, and yet not become gods, to be a Creator's creation in progress. // 4.6 //


If Nanda had not won Sundarī, or if she of the arched eyebrows had not gone to him, /

Then, deprived of each other, the two would surely have seemed impaired, like the night and the moon. // 4.7 //


As though a target4 of the God of Love and his mistress Pleasure; as though a nest of Ecstasy and Joy; /

As though a bowl of Excitement and Contentment; blindly the couple took their pleasure together.5 // 4.8 //


Having eyes only for each other's eyes, minds hanging on each other's words, /

Mutual embraces rubbing away the pigments that scented their bodies, the couple carried each other away. // 4.9 //


Like a kiṁnara meeting a kiṁnarī by a cascading mountain torrent, in love with love, /

The two of them flirted and shone, as if vying to outdo one another in alluring radiance. // 4.10 //


By building up each other's passion, the pair gave each other sexual satisfaction; /

And by playfully teasing each other during languid intervals, they gladdened each other again. // 4.11 //


Wishing to cherish his beloved, he bedecked her there in finery, but not with the aim of making her beautiful -- /

For she was so graced already by her own loveliness that she was rather the adorner of her adornments. // 4.12 //


She put a mirror in his hand; "Just hold this in front of me /

While I do my face," she said to her lover, and up he held it. // 4.13 //


Then, beholding her husband's stubble she began to paint her face just like it, /

But, with a breath on the mirror, Nanda soon took care of that. // 4.14 //


At this wanton gesture of her husband, and at his wickedness, she inwardly laughed; /

But, pretending to be furious with him, she cocked her eyebrows and frowned. // 4.15 //


With a left hand made languid by love, she took a flower from behind her ear and threw it at his shoulder; /

Again, as he kept his eyes half-shut, she sprinkled over his face the scented make-up she had been using to powder herself. // 4.16 //


Then, at his wife's lotus like feet, which were girt in trembling ankle bracelets, /

Their toes sparkling with nail gloss, Nanda bowed his head, in mock terror. // 4.17 //


As his head emerged from beneath the discarded flower, he made as if to regain his lover's affections; /

He looked like an ornamental nāga tree, overburdened with blossoms, that had toppled in the wind onto its golden pedestal. // 4.18 //


Pressing him so close in her arms that her pearls lifted off from her swelling breasts, she raised him up; /

"What are you doing!?" she cried laughingly, as her earrings dangled across her face. // 4.19 //


Then, looking repeatedly at the face of her husband, whose hand had clung to the mirror, /

She completed her face-painting, so that the surface of her cheeks was wet with tamāla juice.6 // 4.20 //


Framed by the tamāla smudges, her face with its cherry red lips, and wide eyes extending to her hair, /

Seemed like a lotus framed by duck-weed, with crimson tips, and two big bees settled on it. // 4.21 //


Attentively now, Nanda held the mirror, which was bearing witness to a work of beauty. /

Squinting to see the flecks she had painted, he beheld the face of his impish lover. // 4.22 //


The make-up was nibbled away at its edges by her earrings so that her face was like a lotus that had suffered the attentions of a kāraṇḍava duck. /

Nanda, by gazing upon that face, became all the more the cause of his wife's happiness. // 4.23 //


While Nanda, inside the palace, in what almost amounted to a dishonour,7 was thus enjoying himself, /

The Tathāgata, the One Thus Come, come begging time, had entered the palace, for the purpose of begging. // 4.24 //


With face turned down, he stood, in his brother's house as in any other house, not expecting anything; /

And then, since due to the servants' oversight, he received no alms, he went again on his way. // 4.25 //


For one woman was grinding fragrant body oils; another was perfuming clothes; /

Another, likewise, was preparing a bath; while other women strung together sweet-smelling garlands. // 4.26 //


The girls in that house were thus so busy doing work to promote their master's romantic play /

That none of them had seen the Buddha -- or so the Buddha inevitably concluded. // 4.27 //


One woman there, however, on glancing through a round side-window on the upper storey of the palace, /

Had seen the Sugata, the One Gone Well, going away -- like the blazing sun emerging from a cloud. // 4.28 //


Thinking in that moment of the importance of the Worthy One to the master of the house, and through her own devotion to the Worthy One, /

She stood before Nanda, intending to speak. And then, with his permission,8 up she spoke: // 4.29 //


"To show favour to us, I suppose, the Glorious One, the Guru, came into our house; /

Having received neither alms, nor welcoming words, nor a place to sit, he is going away, as if from an empty forest." // 4.30 //


When he heard that the great Seer had entered his house and departed again without receiving a welcome, /

Nanda in his brightly-coloured gems and garments and garlands, flinched, like a tree in Indra's paradise shaken by a gust of wind. // 4.31 //


He brought to his forehead hands joined in the shape of a lotus bud, and then he begged his beloved to be allowed to go: /

"I would like to go and pay my respects to the Guru. Please permit me, this once." // 4.32 //


Shivering, she twined herself around him, like a wind-stirred creeper around a teak tree; /

She looked at him through unsteady tear-filled eyes, took a deep breath, and told him: // 4.33 //


"Since you wish to go and see the Guru, I shall not stand in the way of your dharma-duty. /

Go, noble husband! But come quickly back, before this paint on my face is dry. // 4.34 //


If you dawdle, I will punish you severely: /

As you sleep I shall with my breasts, repeatedly wake you, and then not respond. // 4.35 //


But if you hurry back to me before my face-paint is dry, /

Then I will hold you close in my arms with nothing on except fragrant oils." // 4.36 //


Thus implored, and squeezed, by a dissonant-sounding Sundarī, Nanda said: /

"I will, my little vixen. Now let me go, before the Guru has gone too far." // 4.37 //


And so, with arms made fragrant by her swollen sandal-scented breasts, she let him go -- but not with her heart. /

He took off clothes that were suited to love and took on a form that befitted his task. // 4.38 //


She contemplated her lover leaving with brooding, empty, unmoving eyes, /

Like a doe standing with ears pricked up as she lets grass drop down; and as, with a perplexed expression, she contemplates the stag wandering away. // 4.39 //


With his mind gripped by desire to set eyes upon the Sage, Nanda hurried his exit; /

But then he went ponderously, and with backward glances -- like an elephant looking back at a playful she-elephant. // 4.40 //


Between her swelling cloud-like breasts9 and [the buttresses] of her full thighs, Sundarī's lean abdomen was like a golden fissure in a rock formation: /

Looking at her could satisfy Nanda no better than drinking water out of one hand. // 4.41 //


Reverence for the Buddha drew him on; love for his wife drew him back: /

Irresolute, he neither stayed nor went, like a king-goose pushing forwards against the waves. // 4.42 //


Once she was out of sight, he descended from the palace quickly -- /

Then he heard the sound of ankle bracelets, and back he hung, gripped in his heart again. // 4.43 //


Held back by his love of love, and drawn forward by his love for dharma, /

He struggled on, being turned about like a boat on a river going against the stream. // 4.44 //


Then his strides became longer, as he thought to himself, "Maybe the Guru is no longer there!" /

"Might I after all embrace my love, who is so especially loveable, while her face-paint is still wet?" // 4.45 //


And so on the road Nanda saw the One in Whom Absence Was Thus, the Tathāgata,10 devoid of pride and – even in his father's city -- haughtiness thus absent; /

Seeing the Possessor of Ten Powers stopping and being honoured on all sides, Nanda felt as if he were following Indra's flag. // 4.46 //



The 4th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled "A Wife's Appeal."






1 Male and female greylag geese (they are always seen in pairs) feature prominently in Sanskrit romantic literature. Their Sanskrit name, cakravāka, arises from the way they call to each other, the male gently honking, the female responding, the male replying, and so on; a cycle or 'wheel' (cakra) of song. Their gentle, musical 'aang aang aang' is said to be one of the most enchanting calls in the natural world.

2 An allusion to Nanda's heritage as a descendant of Ikṣvāku, founder of the solar dynasty (see 1.18).

3 Nandana, lit. “Gladdening” is the name of Indra's paradise. This is the setting for Canto 10, where the Buddha introduces the gob-smacked Nanda to the all-surpassing beauty of the celestial nymphs, the apsarases.

4 The paper manuscript has lakṣma (= deva-lakṣma, “divine characteristic”) rather than lakṣya (“target”) ; in a note to his English translation EHJ thought perhaps the former reading should be retained. Either reading fits with a four-phased interpretation of the verse along the lines of (1) something divine/spiritual/romantic/idealized, or a target, (2) a concrete place of refuge free from pursuit of targets, (3) a practical utensil like a bhikṣu's bowl, having both spiritual meaning and actual substance, and (4) a meeting of subject and object.

5 Each of the three dual compounds is a masculine-feminine combination: kandarpa (Love) is masculine, rati (Pleasure) is feminine; pramoda (Ecstasy) is masculine, nāndī (Joy) is feminine. praharṣa (Excitement) is masculine, tuṣṭi (Contentment) is feminine.

6 Tamāla fruit is a traditional source for the juice used to make the mark, which is commonly seen in India, painted on a person's forehead.

7 This can be read as a play on the word vimāna, which means (1) disrespect, dishonour, and (2) palace.

8 Ājñayā = instrumental of ājñā, which here means permission or consent, which elsewhere in Saundarananda means deep or liberating knowledge, and the use of which in the title of the final canto may be intended to be ambiguous.

9 Payo-dhara, "containing water or milk," means (1) a cloud, and (2) a woman's breast.

10 Tathāgata is not explicitly used here as an epipthet of the Buddha, but the description of the Buddha as being “similarly free” of haughtiness is a play on the meaning of the words tathā (similarly) and gata (gone, absent). When combined in the epithet tathāgata, these words tathā and gata (or tathā and āgata) can mean the Thus-Come, or the One Who Arrived Like This, or the One Who Arrived at Reality, or the Realised One. These are translations that suggest in the Buddha the presence of something ineffable. The use of tathāgata in today's verse, on the contrary, seems to point not to the presence of something but rather to the absence of something -- the One in Whom Absence Was Like This.






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