Nandakovada Sutta: Nandaka’s Teaching

I have heard that at one time the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi, at Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. Then one day, Mahapajapati Gotami, along with about 500 other nuns, went to the Blessed One and, after bowing down to him, sat to one side. Standing there, she said to him, “Encourage the nuns, venerable. Talk to the nuns. Give the nuns a teaching of the Dhamma.”

Now at that time the elder monks were taking turns in teaching the nuns, but Venerable Nandaka did not want to teach the nuns when his turn came. So the Blessed One spoke to Venerable Ananda: “Ananda, whose turn is it to give the nuns a teaching today?”

“Venerable, everyone has taken his turn in giving the nuns a teaching, except for Venerable Nandaka, here, who doesn’t want to teach the nuns when his turn arrives.”

Then the Blessed One spoke to Venerable Nandaka; “Encourage, the nuns, Nandaka. Talk to the nuns, Nandaka. Give the nuns a teaching of the Dhamma, brahman.”

“As you say, Venerable,” Venerable Nandaka replied. Then, early in the morning, having put on his robes and carrying his bowl and outer robe, he went into Rajagaha for alms. After his meal, when he came back from his alms round, he went with another monk accompanying him to Rajagaha Park. The nuns saw him coming from far away, and when they saw him, they arranged a seat and laid out water for his feet. Venerable Nandaka sat down on the seat they had prepared and washed his feet. The nuns bowed down to him and sat to one side.

Venerable Nandaka said to them, “This will be a question-and-answer-talk, sisters. Where you understand, you should say, “We understand.” Where you don’t, you should say, “We don’t understand.” Where you are doubtful or confused, you should ask me, “How does this work, bhante? What is the meaning of this?”

“Bhante, we are grateful and joyful that you invite us in this way.”

The eye

“So then, sisters, what do you think: is the eye constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“It’s changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, impermanent and suffering, subject to change and decay as, ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

The ear

“What do you think, sisters: is the ear constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“It’s changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, subject to change and decay as, ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

The nose

“What do you think, sisters: is the nose constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“It’s changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

“What do you think, sisters: is the tongue constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

The tongue

“It’s changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

The body

“What do you think, sisters: is the body constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“It’s changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

The mind

“What do you think, sisters: is the mind constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“It’s changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante. Why do we say this? Because we have already seen this as it is, with right understanding – that these six sense doors are inconstant, that they are changing.”

“Well done, well done, sisters. That is how it is for a student of the noble ones who has, with wisdom, really seen this as it is.”

Six objects of sense

Colour and light seen by the eye

“What do you think, sisters: is light and colour constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“It’s changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Sounds

“What do you think, sisters: are sounds constant and fixed, or are they changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Smells

“What do you think, sisters: are smells constant, or are they changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as, ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Flavours

“What do you think, sisters: are flavours (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent)- are they constant and fixed, or are they changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, inconstant, disagreeable, subject to change and decay as, ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Physical sensations

“What do you think, sisters: are physical sensations (heat, cold, softness, hardness, pressure, tickling) constant and fixed, or are they changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Thoughts and ideas

“What do you think, sisters: are thoughts constant and fixed, or are they changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante. Why do we say that? Because we have already seen this as it is, with right understanding – that these six objects of the senses are inconstant, that they are changing.””

“Well done, well done sisters. That is how it is for a student of the noble ones who has, with wisdom, really seen this as it is.”

Six types of awareness (vinnana) based on six sense doors

Awareness at the eye /seeing at the eye

“Now, what do you think, sisters: is seeing at the eye (Cakkhu vinyana) constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as, ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Hearing at the ear

“Now, what do you think, sisters: is hearing at the ear (Sota vinnana) constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Sensing at the nose

“Now, what do you think, sisters: is the sensing at the nose (Ghanavinnana) constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as, ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Tasting at the tongue

“Now, what do you think, sisters: is the tasting at the tongue (Jihvavinnana) constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Sensing at the body

“Now, what do you think, sisters: is the sensing at the body (kayavinnana) constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante.”

Knowing at the mind

“Now, what do you think, sisters: is the knowing at the mind (manovinnana) constant and fixed, or is it changing?”

“Changing, bhante.”

“And whatever is changing, is it agreeable and pleasant, or is it disagreeable, suffering?”

“It’s disagreeable, bhante, it’s suffering.”

“And is it correct to see what is unfixed, disagreeable, suffering, subject to change and decay as ‘This is mine. This is myself. This is what I am’?

“No, bhante. Why do we say that? Because we have already seen this as it is, with right understanding – that these six types of vinnana, of awareness, are inconstant, that they are changing.”

“Well done, well done sisters. That is how it is for a student of the noble ones who has with wisdom, really seen this as it is.”

The oil lamp

“Just as when the oil in a burning oil lamp is unfixed, inconstant, changing; its wick is unfixed, inconstant, and subject to change; its flame is unfixed, inconstant, impermanent, subject to change, then its light is unfixed, inconstant, impermanent, and subject to change. If someone were to say, ‘The oil in that burning oil lamp is unfixed, inconstant, changing; its wick is unfixed, inconstant, subject to change; its flame is unfixed, inconstant, subject to change, but its light is constant, everlasting, continuing, not subject to change,’ would he be speaking rightly?”

“No, bhante. Because the oil in that burning oil lamp is unfixed, inconstant, impermanent, changing; its wick is unfixed, inconstant, subject to change; its flame is unfixed, inconstant, impermanent, subject to change, therefore so much more should its light be unfixed, inconstant, impermanent, and subject to change.”

“In the same way, sisters, if someone were to say, ‘My six sense doors are inconstant, unfixed and changing, but everything I experience based on the six sense doors – agreeable, disagreeable and neutral feelings – that is constant, everlasting, continuing forever – not subject to change,’ – would he be speaking correctly?”

 “No, bhante. Why? Because when each feeling of agreeable or disagreeable arises, it is completely dependent on contact through the six sense doors, and when the contact changes the feeling changes too.”

“Well done, well done sisters. That is how it is for a student of the noble ones who has with wisdom, really seen this as it is.

The great, standing tree

“Just as when the root of a great, standing tree is unfixed, inconstant and changing, its trunk is unfixed, inconstant and changing, its branches and leaves are inconstant, unfixed and changing – then its shadow is inconstant, unfixed and changing. If someone were to say, ‘The root of that great, standing tree is unfixed, inconstant and changing, its trunk is unfixed, inconstant and changing, its branches and leaves are inconstant, impermanent and changing – but as for its shadow, that is constant, permanent, everlasting, continuing forever, not subject to change.’ Would he be speaking rightly?”

“No, bhante. Because the root of that great, standing tree is unfixed, impermanent, inconstant and changing, its trunk is impermanent, inconstant and changing, its branches and leaves are inconstant, impermanent, unfixed and changing – then so much more should its shadow be inconstant, impermanent, unfixed, changing.”

“In the same way, sisters, if someone were to say, ‘My six sense doors are inconstant, unfixed and changing, but everything I experience based on the six sense doors – agreeable, disagreeable and neutral feelings – that is constant, everlasting, continuing – not subject to change,’ – would he be speaking correctly?”

“No, bhante. Why? Because when each feeling of agreeable or disagreeable arises, it is completely dependent on contact through the six sense doors, and when the contact changes the feeling changes too.”

“Well done, well done sisters. That is how it is for a student of the noble ones who has with wisdom, really seen this as it is.

The skilled butcher

“Sisters, imagine a skilled butcher, or a butcher’s student, were to kill a cow, and then he were to cut it up with a sharp butcher’s knife, so that without ever damaging the flesh inside, without damaging or cutting the outside skin, he would cut and detach all the muscles, connecting tissues and attachments in between. Suppose he were to, then, after having detached all the skin from the flesh, lay the skin over the flesh and cover it. If he were then to say that the cow and its inner flesh was connected with the skin just as it had been, would he be speaking correctly?”

“No, bhante. No matter how much he might say that the cow was connected with the skin as it had been, the cow would still be separated from the skin.”

“This example, sisters, I have given you so as to carry a message. The message is this: the flesh is the six sense doors; the outside skin is the six kinds of sensory objects. And the sharp knife is wisdom, the right wisdom that cuts, severs and detaches the kilesa, enemies and things in between that are blocks to understanding.

Factors of enlightenment

“Sisters, there are these seven factors of enlightenment, and it’s through working on them, growing them and following them and practicing them, that a meditator can go into and stay in the states of being kilesa-free, letting go through awareness and letting go through wisdom, having directly seen, known and realized them for himself in the present. What are the seven?

It can be that a monk, understanding rightly, develops awareness (sati) as a factor of Enlightenment. He develops the analytical mind (useful/useless analysis) as a factor for enlightenment, effort as a factor of enlightenment (continuing to put effort non-stop as with keeping the ember alive), joy as a factor of enlightenment, calm as a factor of enlightenment), concentration as a factor for enlightenment (one pointedness – being one with the object of meditation) and equanimity as a factor of enlightenment (no movement of like and disike, no love and hate from objects outside.) These are the seven factors of enlightenment, and with the development of these factors a monk can go into and stay in the states of being kilesa-free, with letting go through awareness and letting go through wisdom,[1] having directly seen, known and realized them for himself.”

Then having encouraged the nuns with this teaching, Venerable Nandaka dismissed them, saying “Go, sisters. The time has come.” The nuns, delighting in Venerable Nandaka’s teaching, got up from their seats, bowed down to him, walked around him keeping him to the right, and went to see the Blessed One. When they arrived, they bowed down to him and stood to one side. The Blessed One said to them while they were standing there, “Go, nuns. The time has come.” So the nuns, having bowed down to the Blessed One, walked around him, keeping him to their right, and left.

Then not long after the nuns had left, the Blessed One spoke to the monks: “Monks, just as on the uposatha day of the fourteenth, people in general are not doubtful or confused as to whether the moon is missing something or whether it is full, for it is clearly missing something; in the same way, even though the nuns are satisfied with Nandaka’s Dhamma-teaching, their aims have not yet been reached.” So he spoke to Venerable Nandaka: “So, Nandaka, teach the nuns again tomorrow with the same teaching.”

“As you say, Venerable,” Venerable Nandaka replied. The next day, early in the morning, having put on his robes and carrying his bowl and outer robe, he went into Rajagaha for alms and in Rajagaha Park, he gave the nuns the same teaching as before. When the nuns had left, the Blessed One spoke to the monks: “Monks, just as on the uposatha day of the fifteenth, people in general are not doubtful or confused as to whether the moon is missing something, or full, for it is clearly full; in the same way, the nuns are satisfied with Nandaka’s Dhamma-teaching, and their aims have been reached. Of these 500 nuns, the most backward is a Sotapanna, not headed for the worlds of suffering, on the way to enlightenment for sure.”

This is what the Blessed One said. Grateful and satisfied to hear this, the monks delighted in the Blessed One’s words.


[1] From Vijja-bhagiya Sutta: A share in Clear Knowing

“These two qualities contribute to clear knowing: calm and clear seeing. When calm is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is made calm, and developed. When the mind is developed, what is it for? Emotion is let go.

When clear seeing is developed, what purpose does it serve? Wisdom arises and grows. And when wisdom arises and grows, not-knowing, ignorance is left behind.

Clouded by emotion, the mind is not free. Clouded by ignorance, by not-knowing, wisdom does not grow. Therefore from the fading of emotion there is the release through awareness. From the fading of ignorance there release through wisdom.