Nanda, Lord Buddha’s cousin
Nanda, Lord Buddha’s cousin, was very attached to his wife and did not want to renounce the world. Even though, by skillful means, Lord Buddha persuaded him to enter the Dharma and become monk, he did not follow the precepts. He was about to run away, when the Buddha miraculously transported him to the top of a snow-mountain and showed him one-eyed she-monkey. The Buddha asked Nanda.
“Which do you find more beautiful, this monkey or your wife Pundarika?”
“My wife,” replied Nanda. “A hundred or a thousand times more!”
“Good,” replied the Buddha. “Now let us go to the realm of the gods.”
When they arrived, the Buddha sat down and told Nanda to go and have a look around. Each god lived in his own palace, surrounded by many young goddesses, and enjoyed inconceivable pleasure, happiness and abundance. However, there was one palace with numerous but no god. Nanda asked why, and was told, “In the realm of the humans, there is a man called Nanda, a cousin of the Buddha, who is following monastic discipline. This action will lead him to be reborn among the gods, and this palace will then be him.” Nanda was overjoyed. He went back to the Buddha who asked him, “Did you see the gods’ realm?” “I certainly did!” replied Nanda. “Good. Which do you find more beautiful, your wife or the young goddesses?” “The daughters of the gods are much more beautiful,” replied Nanda; “indeed, their beauty surpasses that of Pundarika by as much as her beauty surpasses that of the one-eyed monkey we saw before.”
Once back on earth, Nanda observed monastic discipline perfectly.
Then the Buddha addressed the monks. “Nanda has renounced worldly life in order to be reborn in the divine realms,” he said, “but all of you have become monks in order to go beyond suffering. You and he are not on the same path. Do not talk to him anymore. Do not be intimate with him. Do not even sit on the same seat as him!”
All the monks obeyed, and Nanda was very upset. He thought, “Ananda is my younger brother; at least he will still have some affection or me.” But when he went to see his brother, Ananda got up from the seat and moved away. Nanda asked him why, and Ananda told him what the Buddha had said. Nanda was heartbroken.
At last the Buddha came to him and said, “Nanda, will you come to see the hells?” Nanda agreed, and the Buddha transported them both there with his miraculous powers. “Go and look around,” he said. So Nanda set off to explore, visiting all the realms of hell, until in one place he came across an empty pot with a blazing fire crackling inside it and a large number of the Lord of Death’s henchmen all around. He asked them why there was no one in the pot.
“There is a young cousin of the Buddha called Nanda,” they replied, “who is practicing monastic discipline with the intention of being reborn as a god. After enjoying the happiness of celestial realm, when his merit runs out he will be reborn here.” Nanda was terrified. He returned, and thought thins over. To be born among the gods in the future and then to end up in the hell-realms made no sense, so developed a real determination to seek freedom from samsara. Having seen the hells which his own eyes, he never did anything that transgressed the precepts even slightly, and the Buddha extolled him as the disciple with the best control over the sense-doors.(Controlling the sense-doors means not allowing oneself to be seduced by the objects of the senses.)
We do not need to go so far as to see the hells with our own eyes. A simple picture is enough to frighten us and reinforce our desire for liberation. It is for this reason that the Buddha asked that the five-fold wheel representing samsara be drawn at the doors of the sangha’s assembly-halls. (This diagram can commonly be seen at the entrance of Tibetan temples.)