NANDA TOURED HEAVEN AND HELL
- A Story from the Buddhist Sutra
Prince Siddhartha had a step brother named Nanda (not to be confused with Ananda who wrote most of the Buddhist Scriptures), whose mother was Mahaprajapati. May be I should clarify the family tree a little bit here:
King Suddhodhana and Queen Maya gave birth to Prince Siddhartha, but she past away shortly after Gautama's birth. Therefore, King Suddhodhana's second wife, Mahaprajapati, got the responsibility for upbringing the young Prince, who was the first in line to the throne.
Prince Siddhartha married his cousin Princess Yasodhara, who gave birth to Rahula, who was the second in line to the throne.
King Suddodhana and Mahaprajapati gave birth to Nanda, who was the third in line to the throne.
1. A Womanizing Brother
Years later, Prince Siddhartha had renounced the heritage to the throne to became the Buddha, and his son, Rahula, had followed him to become a young monk. Therefore, Nanda became the first in line to the throne - but that was not what the Buddha wanted to see, because all Nanda was interested in were women, and had shown little capability to manage a Kingdom.
One day, as the Buddha came to Nanda's palace to collect the alms, he asked Nanda what he had been doing recently. Nanda replied, "I have just fallen in love with Janapada Kalyani, the most beautiful woman in Kapilavastu. I regret that I do not have time to visit you because I have to take care of Kalyani, to make her look pretty and charming. I do not want to do anything else but to be with her all the time. Therefore, please tell me right away what offerings will you accept so that I can return to my lovely Kalyani as soon as possible."
The Buddha thought sadly, "What kind of Leader will the people get?" Without saying a word, he put down his begging bowl and returned to his monastery.
"Just a minute," cried Nanda. "I will give you an offering of food." And, as he said this, he followed the Buddha into the monastery.
"Dear Brother," said the Buddha when he met Nanda at the monastery, "Since I have to take care of all sentient beings, I have to take care of you also. For your future, why don't you stay with me and join the Sangha?"
Nanda thought it was a joke. So he murmured, "I am willing....."
But, the Buddha took it seriously. He summoned Sariputra to shave Nanda's hair.
Nanda was shocked. But, as the elder brother looked at him solemnly, he dared not to say no. But, after he had joined the Sangha, he always thought of Kalyani and simply could not renounce his worldly desire and concentrate on studying the Dharma. So one day, the Buddha brought him to a forest where a group of monkeys was playing.
2. A Tour of Heaven
"How did Kalyani compare with the monkeys?" the Buddha asked.
"You are joking." replied Nanda. "Kalyani is the most beautiful lady in our Kingdom. She is as pretty as a fairy nymph. How can a monkey be compared with her?"
"Well, you say that your Kalyani is as pretty as a heavenly nymph." said the Buddha. "I say she has no comparison with such a beautiful nymph living in Heaven. If you wish to see how a nymph looks like, no problem. I will bring you up there to meet one."
So, the Buddha used his mystic power to perform a miracle and took his brother up to Heaven for a visit. What Nanda saw was a place lined with marvelous palaces built in jade and precious stones, what he heard was melodic heavenly music and what he smelt was floral fragrance. Moreover, what he met were fairy nymphs whose prettiness was beyond verbal description.
A group of fairy nymphs came forward and surrounded Nanda. Nanda felt dizzy with their beauty.
"We heard that in Kapilavastu on earth there is a Buddha whose brother is called Nanda," said one of the nymphs. "Because Nanda had joined the Sangha to cultivate his behavior, his karma will cause him to be reborn as a heavenly being after his death. Then, we will be his concubines, making love with him all day all night. Living here in heaven is nothing but joyfulness and happiness. We can get whatever we want and there is no need to worry about work and food. Life in here is much more enjoyable than life on earth."
"Oh, but you look like an ordinary human being," continued the fairy nymph. "You have not yet cultivated enough good karma to come to Heaven yet. You must finish your work in the Sangha before you are qualified to come here."
"How do you compare those nymphs with Kalyani?" the Buddha asked his brother.
"I am stupid," replied Nanda. "Kalyani looks like a monkey when compared with those nymphs. In the past, I do not know that good karma will bring me here. I will do more good deeds and avoid evil deeds so that I can go to Heaven in my afterlife. Then, I will be able to make love to those beautiful fairy nymphs for the next several thousand years!"
The Buddha remained silent. He thought, "All Nanda want is to go to Heaven to enjoy his afterlife with those beautiful fairies. I will show him something about Hell as well." Again, he used his mystic power, performed a miracle, and took his brother down to Hell for a tour.
3. A Tour of Hell
As soon as they entered the Great Iron Circle Wall that surrounded Hell, Nanda immediately felt the horrible atmosphere. Observing that Nanda hesitated to go forward, the Buddha said, "Brother, don't get scared. We come here just for a tour. Everything that happened here has nothing to do with us. If you have any question, just ask any Hell Officer and he can give you a correct answer."
As Nanda toured around Hell, what he saw was absolutely terrifying: Hell Officers punishing sinners by burning them in hot fires, putting sharp knives through their bodies, throwing them into boiling oil and water, etc. etc. Here, people are punished according to what they have done in their past lives, i.e., their karma.
As Nanda walked passed a huge empty oil pan, he asked a Hell Officer standing next to it, "What is the empty oil pan for?"
"In the Kingdom of Kapilavastu on earth, there is a Buddha whose brother is called Nanda." replied the Hell Officer. "He will be reborn to Heaven because he is trying to cultivate his karma. However, after he finishes his enjoyment in Heaven, he will come down to Hell to face judgement by our boss, King Yama. If he had done bad deeds in the past, we will immerse him into boiling oil in this pan as punishment. We are waiting for him!"
Upon hearing this, Nanda was so terrified that he could not stand it anymore. He just rushed out of Hell to see his brother Gautama Siddhartha. Now, he found that all worldly enjoyments such as wealth, sex, love and power were just illusions, and to get out of all sufferings and away from the pain of samara (cycle of rebirth), he must follow the teachings of the Buddha wholeheartedly.