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And so, having gazed upon those women who wander in the Gladdening Gardens of Nandana, /

Nanda tethered the fickle and unruly mind to a tethering post of restraint. // 11.1 //


Failing to relish the taste of freedom from care, sapless as a wilting lotus, /

He went through the motions of dharma-practice, having installed the apsarases already in his heart. // 11.2 //


Thus did one whose sense-power had been restless, whose senses had grazed on the pasture of his wife, /

Come, by the very power of sense-objects, to have his sense-power reined in. // 11.3 //


Adept in the practices of love, confused about the practices of a beggar, /

Set firm by the best of practice guides, Nanda did the devout practice of abstinence.1 // 11.4 //


Stifling restraint and ardent love, /

Like water and fire in tandem, smothered him and burned him dry. // 11.5 //


Though naturally good-looking, he became extremely ugly, /

Both from agonizing about the apsarases and from protracted restraint. // 11.6 //


Even when mention was made of his wife, he who had been so devoted to his wife /

Stood by, seemingly bereft of passion; he neither bristled nor quavered. // 11.7 //


Knowing him to be adamant, turned away from passion for his wife, /

Ānanda, having come that way, said to Nanda with affection: // 11.8 //


"Ah! This is a beginning that befits an educated and well-born man -- /

Since you are holding back the power of your senses and, abiding in yourself, you are set on restraint! // 11.9 //


In one entangled in desires, in a man of passion, a sensualist, /

That such consciousness has arisen -- this is by no small cause! // 11.10 //


A mild illness is warded off with little effort; /

A serious illness is cured with serious efforts, or else it is not. // 11.11 //


An illness of the mind is hard to remove, and yours was a powerful one. /

If you are rid of it, you are in every way steadfast. // 11.12 //


For an ignoble man good is hard to do; for an arrogant man it is hard to be meek; /

For a greedy man giving is hard, and hard for a man of passion is the practice of devout abstinence. // 11.13 //


But I have one doubt concerning this steadfastness of yours in restraint. /

I would like assurance on this matter, if you think fit to tell me. // 11.14 //


Straight talk should not be taken amiss: /

However harsh it is, so long as its intention is pure, a good man will not retain it as harsh. // 11.15 //


For there is disagreeable good advice, which is kind; and there is agreeable bad advice, which is not kind; /

But advice that is both agreeable and good is as hard to come by as medicine that is both sweet and salutary. // 11.16 //


Trust, acting in the other's interest, sharing of joy and sorrow, /

And tolerance, as well as affection: such, between good men, is the conduct of a friend. // 11.17 //


So now I am going to speak to you out of affection, with no wish to hurt. /

For my intention is to speak of that better way for you in regard to which I ought not to be indifferent. // 11.18 //


You are practising dharma, so they say, for celestial nymphs as wages. /

Is that so? Is it true? such a thing would be a joke! // 11.19 //


If this really is true, I will tell you a medicine for it; /

Or if it is the impertinence of chatterers, then that dust I shall expose." // 11.20 //


Then -- though it was tenderly done -- Nanda was stricken in his heart. /

After reflecting,2 he drew in a long breath, and his face inclined slightly downward. // 11.21 //


And so, knowing the signs that betrayed the set of Nanda's mind, /

Ānanda spoke words which were disagreeable but sweet in consequence: // 11.22 //


"I know from the look on your face what your motive is in practising dharma. /

And knowing that, there arises in me towards you laughter and at the same time pity. // 11.23 //


Like somebody who, with a view to sitting on it, carried around on his shoulder a heavy rock; /

That is how you, with a view to sensuality, are labouring to bear restraint. // 11.24 //


Just as, in its desire to charge, a wild ram draws back, /

So, for the sake of non-abstinence, is this devout abstinence of yours! // 11.25 //


Just as merchants buy merchandise moved by a desire to make profit, /

That is how you are practising dharma, as if it were a tradable commodity, not for the sake of peace. // 11.26 //


Just as, with a particular crop in view, a ploughman scatters seed, /

That is how, because of being desperate for an object, you have renounced objects. // 11.27 //


Just as a man who craves some pleasurable remedy might want to be ill, /

That is how in your thirst for an object you are seeking out suffering. // 11.28 //


Just as a man sees honey and fails to notice a precipice, /

That is how you are seeing the heavenly nymphs and not seeing the fall that will come in the end. // 11.29 //


Blazing with a fire of desire in your heart, you carry out observances with your body: /

What is this devout abstinence of yours, who does not practise abstinence with his mind? // 11.30 //


Again, since in spiralling through saṁsāra you have gained celestial nymphs and left them /

A hundred times over, what is this yearning of yours for those women? // 11.31 //


A fire is not satisfied by dry brushwood, nor the salty ocean by water, /

Nor a man of thirst by his desires. Desires, therefore, do not make for satisfaction. // 11.32 //


Without satisfaction, whence peace? Without peace, whence ease? /

Without ease, whence joy? Without joy, whence enjoyment? // 11.33 //


Therefore if you want enjoyment, let your mind be directed within. /

Tranquil and impeccable is enjoyment of the inner self and there is no enjoyment to equal it. // 11.34 //


In it, you have no need of musical instruments, or women, or ornaments; /

On your own, wherever you are, you can indulge in that enjoyment. // 11.35 //


The mind suffers mightily as long as thirst persists. /

Eradicate that thirst; for suffering co-exists with thirst, or else does not exist. // 11.36 //


In prosperity or in adversity, by day or by night, /

For the man who thirsts after desires,3 peace is not possible. // 11.37 //


The pursuit of desires is full of suffering, and attainment of them is not where satisfaction lies; /

The separation from them is inevitably sorrowful; but the celestial constant is separation. // 11.38 //


Even having done action that is hard to do, and reached a heaven that is hard to reach, /

A man comes right back to the world of men, as if to his own house after a spell away. // 11.39 //


The backslider when his residual good has run out /

Finds himself among the animals or in the world of the departed, or else he goes to hell. // 11.40 //


Having enjoyed in heaven the utmost sensual objects, /

He falls back, beset by suffering: what has that enjoyment done for him? // 11.41 //


Through tender love for living creatures Śibi gave his own flesh to a hawk.4 /

He fell back from heaven, even after doing such a difficult deed. // 11.42 //


Having attained half of Indra's throne as a veritable earth-lord of the old school, /

Māndhātṛ when his time with the gods elapsed came back down again.5 // 11.43 //


Though he ruled the gods, Nahuṣa fell to earth; /

He turned into a snake, so they say, and even today has not wriggled free.6 // 11.44 //


Likewise King Ilivila being perfect in kingly conduct, /

Went to heaven and fell back down, becoming, so they say, a turtle in the ocean.7 // 11.45 //


Bhūri-dyumna and Yayāti and other excellent kings,8 /

Having bought heaven by their actions, gave it up again, after that karma ran out -- // 11.46 //


Whereas the asuras, who had been gods in heaven when the suras robbed them of their rank, /

Went bemoaning their lost glory down to their Pātāla lair.9 // 11.47 //


But why such citing of royal seers, or of asuras, suras, and the like? /

Mighty Indras have fallen in their hundreds! Even the most exalted position is not secure. // 11.48 //


Again, Indra's luminous sidekick, he of the three strides, lit up Indra's court,10 /

And yet when his karma waned he fell to earth from the apsarases' midst, screaming. // 11.49 //


"Oh, the grove of Citra-ratha!11 Oh, the pond! Oh, the heavenly Ganges! Oh, my beloved!" -- /

Thus lament the distressed denizens of heaven as they fall to earth. // 11.50 //


For intense already is the pain that arises in those facing death in this world /

And how much worse is it for the pleasure-addicts when they finally fall from heaven? // 11.51 //


Their clothes gather dust; their glorious garlands wither; /

Sweat appears on their limbs; and in their sitting there is no enjoyment. // 11.52 //


These are the first signs of the imminent fall from heaven of sky-dwellers, /

Like the unwelcome but sure signs of the approaching death of those subject to dying. // 11.53 //


When the pleasure that arises from enjoyment of desires in heaven /

Is compared with the pain of falling, the pain, assuredly, is greater. // 11.54 //


Knowing heaven, therefore, to be ill-fated, precarious, /

Unreliable, unsatisfactory, and transitory, set your heart upon immunity from that circuit. // 11.55 //


For though he attained a peak experience of bodiless being, Sage Uḍraka,12 /

At the expiration of his karma, will fall from that state into the womb of an animal. // 11.56 //


Through seven years of loving kindness, Sunetra went from here to Brahma's world, /

But he span around again and came back to live in a womb.13 // 11.57 //


Since heaven-dwellers, even when all-powerful, are subject to decay, /

What wise man would aspire to a decadent sojourn in heaven? // 11.58 //


For just as a bird tied to a string, though it has flown far, comes back again; /

So too do people return who are tied to the string of ignorance, however far they have travelled. // 11.59 //


A man temporarily released from prison on bail

Enjoys home comforts and then, when his time is up, he must go back to prison; /

In the same way, through restrictive practices beginning with meditation, a man gets to heaven, as if on bail,

And after enjoying those objects which were his karmic reward, he eventually is dragged back down to earth. // 11.60 //


Fish in a pond who have swum into a net, unwarily,

Do not know the misfortune that results from capture, but contentedly move around in the water; /

In the same way, meditators in heaven (who are really of this world of men), think that they have achieved their end;

And so they assume their own position to be favourable, secure and settled -- as they continue to whirl around. // 11.61 //


Therefore, see this world to be shot through with the calamities of birth, sickness, and death;

See it -- whether in heaven, among men, in hell, or among animals or the departed -- to be reeling through saṁsāra. /

Seeing the world to be thus, for the sake of that fearless refuge, for that sorrowless nectar of immortality, which is benign, and beyond death and decay,

Devoutly practise abstinence, and abandon your fancy for a precarious heaven. // 11.62 //




The 11th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled "Negation of Heaven."







1 Brahma-carya might otherwise translated as “spiritual practice.” The concept is rooted in a tradition of celibacy that pre-dated the Buddha.

2 Dhyā, to reflect, is as in dhyāna, reflection or meditation.

3 The use of kāma in the locative plural confirms that Aśvaghoṣa used the word kāma to mean, depending on context, both desire itself and the object of desire. So when the striver sees suffering as originating in desires, his words sound like the Buddha's teaching, but insofar as the striver is trying to pin the blame on objects, then his idea is totally different from the Buddha's teaching.

4 Both the Mahā-bhārata and Rāmāyaṇa contain the story of how the gods tested King Śibi by taking the form of a hawk and a pigeon. Chased by the hawk, the pigeon fell into the lap of Śibi who offered to compensate the hawk with his own flesh.

5 Māndhātṛ, reputed to be a 19th-generation descendant of Ikṣvāku, was a famous king of the ancient city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The history of that city records that Māndhātṛ obtained half the throne of Indra and conquered the whole earth in one day.

6 Book 13 of the Mahā-bhārata tells the story of how King Nahuṣa became chief of the gods, knocking Indra off top spot, by assiduously performing Brahmanical rites. By his arrogance, however, Nahuṣa incurred the wrath of one of the sages whom he had charged with carrying his palanquin. This sage reacted to being booted in the head by placing a curse on Nahuṣa who duly turned into a great big snake which slithered off to skulk in a Himālayan cave. Thereafter, the story goes, when a group of exiled Pāṇḍavas found the snake hiding in the cave, the Pāṇḍava leader recognized that the snake was no ordinary snake and asked it about its origin. Nahuṣa then confessed and was relieved of his curse, shedding his snakely incarnation.

7 Viṣṇu famously became a turtle (his second avatar, Kurma) in order to stop Mt. Mandara from sinking into the ocean. Though Viṣṇu had a thousand names, however, Ilivila has not been traced as one of them.

8 Bhūri-dhyumna was known for his piety. His fall from heaven, according to EHJ's notes, is documented in Book 2 of the Rāmāyaṇa. Yayāti is the celebrated king of the lunar race whose sons are mentioned favourably in 1.59. When Yayāti cheated on his wife, her father put a curse on him so that he immediately became an old man, whereupon he tried to buy back youth from his sons. Eventually, however, Yayāti realized the futility of his former shallow actions, let go of his worldly ambitions and took pains to redeem himself.

9 Asuras and suras (demons and gods) as their Sanskrit names suggest, are opposed to each other. Pātāla is one of the regions under the earth supposed to be inhabited by nāgas and demons; sometimes it is used as a general name for the lower regions or hells. The resentful attitude of the asuras seems to be comically contrasted with the more yielding attitude of Bhūri-dhyumna and Yayāti.

10 Upendra, lit. “Indra's younger brother,” is one of the many names of Viṣṇu, whose distinguishing characteristic was said to be light. Hymn 7.100 of the Ṛg Veda refers to the celebrated 'three steps' of Viṣṇu by which he strode over the universe and in three places planted his step.

11 Caitra-ratha, is the name of a grove of Kubera trees (Cedrela Toona) supposed to have been cultivated by the gandharva Citra-ratha “Having a Bright Chariot,” the king of the gandharvas. See also 2.53.

12 In 3.3 the Sage Uḍraka, who inclined towards quietness, is mentioned as one of the young Gautama's teachers. EHJ considered this and the next verse to be spurious.

13 Su-netra lit. means “Having Good Eyes” or “Being a Good Leader.” No reference has been traced.







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