Introduction to the Story about the Elder Nun Nandā

Elder Nun Nandā’s Story
at Wat Pho, Bangkok

This is one of the slighter stories regarding the nuns in this section: having made her aspiration during Buddha Padumuttara’s time, and being reborn amongst god and men for a hundred thousand aeons, she was reborn through Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī some time before the Bodhisatta, and was the elder sister of Nanda and elder half-sister to the Buddha himself.

In the Aṅguttara commentary translated here, it is clear that she had several names: Nandā, Rūpānandā and Janapadakalyāṇī. In the Suttanipāta commentary (to Sn 1.11), however, Ven. Dhammapāla distinguishes three Elders having these names, and gives different stories for each. It seems that there was quite some confusion about this Elder in the tradition.

She went forth into the homeless life shortly after her Mother, Brother and half-Brother’s wife did, but not out of faith, it seems, and she did not like to meet with the Buddha, as she thought he would blame her for her great beauty. She therefore avoided contact even when the time for the fortnightly instruction came round. Qualified monks were and are required to give instruction to the nuns on the Full Moon and New Moon dates. 01

The Buddha then gave an order saying that everyone must come and see him personally for the instruction, and when she came he created a beautiful woman with his spiritual power who attended on Him, and this caused her regret for her reluctance to come before.

The Buddha then gave her two teachings on the impermanent and unsatisfactory nature of the body, a verse now recorded in the Dhammapada, and a discourse now in the Suttanipāta. Hearing these teachings she soon attained Liberation.

As she had gained deep insight through these teachings and took great delight in meditation thereafter, the Buddha appointed her as the foremost nun amongst those who meditate.

With her story compare Ven. Khemā’s above, which it resembles in many respects. Her male counterpart was Kaṅkhā Revata.

6. The Story about the Elder Nun Nandā

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AN 1.5.6

Etad-aggaṁ bhikkhave mama sāvikānaṁ bhikkhunīnaṁ
jhāyīnaṁ, yad-idaṁ Nandā.

This is the foremost of my nun disciples, monastics, amongst those
who meditate, that is to say, Nandā.

AA 1.5.6
The Commentarial Story:

In the sixth story, “Amongst those who meditate, that is to say, Nandā,” it shows why the Elder Nun Nandā, amongst those who delighted in meditation, was said to be foremost.

Her Aspiration and Good Deeds

At the time of the Buddha Padumuttara, it seems, she was conceived in a good family home in Haṁsavatī. Later, while listening to the Teacher teach the Dhamma, she saw the Teacher place a certain nun as being foremost amongst those who meditate, did a great deed, and aspired for that position herself.

Her Last Life

She was reborn amongst gods and humans only for one hundred thousand aeons, and was reborn at a time before our Teacher, The Traditions say she was the Buddha’s younger sister. Both here and in the Therīgāthā Commentary though, she is said to be the elder. 02 being conceived in the womb of Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī. She was given the name Nandā, also Beautiful Nandā was said, and later, because of her supreme beauty, the name Janapadakalyāṇī Lit: the Country Beauty.03 arose.

After the One of Ten Powers had attained omniscience, and gradually come to Kapilavatthu, given the going forth to Rāhula and Nanda, and was leaving after the time of the Great King Suddhodana's Final Nibbāna, she understood: ‘After Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī and Rāhula’s Mother had renounced, they received the going forth in the presence of the Teacher,’ and she thought: ‘After their going forth, what work is there for me here?” In the Traditions she is persuaded to go forth by her Mother. 04 So she went into the presence of Mahāpajāpatī and also went forth.

From the day of her going forth, thinking: ‘The Teacher finds fault with beauty,’ she didn’t go to attend on the Teacher, and when an occasion for instruction arrived, This was given before the fortnightly recitation of the Bhikkhuni Pātimokkha or Rules of Discipline.05 having sent another, she had her bring the instruction.

The Teacher, understanding that she was intoxicated with her own beauty, said: “Let each one come and receive the instruction herself, she should not send another from amongst the nuns.”

Then Beautiful Nandā, not seeing another way, went unwillingly for her instruction.

The Teacher, because of her conduct, created a beautiful woman with his spiritual power, who held a palmyra fan, and seemed to be fanning him.

Seeing that, Beautiful Nandā thought: ‘Without reason I was heedless and I did not come, yet such beautiful women go about confidently in the presence of the Teacher. My beauty is not worth even a sixteenth part of the beauty of their beauty, not knowing this for such a long time I did not come!’

She stood there gazing at the woman’s form.

The Teacher, knowing she was endowed with all the former conditions, recited the verse found in the Dhammapada: Dhp 150, I have added it in here. In the Traditions the story is quite different: the Buddha makes a beautiful woman appear and Nandā entranced lies in her lap; just then the image is bitten by a poisonous spider and rots away from the inside, giving Nandā insight into the impermanent nature of the body. 06

This citadel is made of bones, smeared over with flesh and blood, where old age and death, conceit and anger are lying hidden.

and he spoke the Discourse: Sn 1.11 Vijayasuttaṁ, The Discourse on Success.07

Whether going or standing, whether sitting or lying, it moves, it stretches, this is the movement of the body.

Bones and sinews conjoined, smeared with skin and flesh, the body is covered with skin, and the reality is not seen.

Full of intestines, full of undigested food, having a lumpy liver, a bladder, heart, lungs, kidney and spleen; These are solid organs, a list of liquids follows. Cf. also the Dvattaṁsākāra, Khp 3. 08 mucus, spit, sweat and fat, blood, synovial fluid, bile and grease.

Always there are impurities flowing from its nine orifices, eye-defecation from the eyes, ear-defecation from the ears, mucus from the nose.

From the mouth vomit is vomited, also bile and phlegm; perspiration and dirt from the body, and its hollow head is filled with the brain.

A fool, honouring ignorance, thinks of it as beautiful, but when it lies dead, bloated and discoloured, cast aside in the charnel ground, even his relatives have no further expectation of it.

Dogs, hyenas, wolves and worms eat it, crows, vultures also eat it, and whatever other breathing beings there are.

Having heard the Word of the Buddha, the monastic endowed with wisdom here, the one who understands it, sees as it really is.

Thinking: ‘As is this, so is that, as is that, so is this,’ inside and outside, he should remove delight for the body.

Having removed passion and delight, the monastic endowed with wisdom here has passed over to the deathless peace, the immovable state of Nibbāna.

He cares for this stinking, impure two legged body, but it is full of various corpses flowing out from here and there.

He who would think to be proud of such a body, or would despise another because of theirs: what is this except a lack of insight?

With that she was established in knowledge about the dissolution and destruction of beauty and attained Liberation.

In this place the story below is the same as the Elder Nun Khemā’s story, and is not elaborated further. Again it is hard to see how this applies here, in Khemā’s case she attained while still in the lay life, and afterwards ordained, and the story is then brought to a conclusion, but here Nandā is already ordained, and there is no more story to be added in. 09

From thence onwards Beautiful Nandā was chief amongst those delighting in meditation.

Later the Teacher was sitting in Jeta’s Wood, and as he was assigning the places of the nuns in order, he placed the Elder Nun Nandā in the foremost position amongst those who meditate.