His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa at Deer Park in 2005.
To the great pioneers appearing in the past, present, and future
who illuminate the Buddha’s teaching in India and Tibet,
and to those who uphold their instruction lineages, to all without distinction,
I bow a hundred times with heartfelt devotion, free of all artifice.
-- Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye the Great1
Most Gentle Nandiya
A very close disciple of Lord Buddha was most gentle Nandiya, who is mentioned in association with Deer Park, which is situated at Vaishali, Sarnath, that lies near Benares, a luxurious city during those times. Vaishali was “included in the list of great cities suggested by Ananda as a suitable place for the Parinirvana of the Buddha.”2 Ananda had implored Lord Buddha not to enter Parinirvana in an insignificant, barren, small town like Kushinagara, but the Buddha told him: “Kusinara was not an insignificant, small place. In times long past, it was known as Kusavati, the capital city of Universal Monarchs who ruled over the four quarters of the world. The Buddha then described the magnificence and grandeur of Kusavati when King Mahasudassana once ruled a mighty kingdom from there. He also told Ananda how the king ruled over his dominions righteously and how, finally abandoning all attachments and practising jhana, he passed away and reached the blissful Brahma realm. The Buddha revealed to Ananda that he himself was King Mahasudassana of that time. He had cast off the body in Kusavati for six times as a Universal Monarch. Now he was casting it off for the seventh and last time.”3
The Nabhasa Pali Dictionary also states that King Mahasudassana (who possessed the seven treasures of a Chakravartin, a “Universal Monarch”) had ruled his kingdom from the city Kusavati (Kushinagara), a city which contained all the characteristics of a great capital: “Having realized that his power and glory were the result of past good deeds, King Mahasudassana practiced generosity, self conquest, and self-control, and developed the four jhanas, suffusing all quarters with thoughts of love, pity, sympathy, and equanimity.”4
Why did Ananda think that Lord Buddha should choose Vaishali as the location to pass into Parinirvana? The site Sacred Texts offers a story about Deer Park, Migadaya in Pali, that appeared in the book Sermons for a Buddhist Abbot by Soyen Shaku in 1906, and sheds further light on Lord Buddha’s decision to enter Parinirvana at Kushinagara. This noteworthy book is a translation of a Sutra called Sutra of Forty-two Chapters.5
Buddha Shakyamuni’s Past Incarnation at Migadaya, Deer Park
The Story of Deer Park: Once the King of Benares, Brahmadatta, went into the forest to hunt. He saw two herds of deer, each troupe consisting of five hundred deer that were being led by the strongest stag. One stag’s fur was in the colours of the seven precious jewels. He was a past incarnation of Bodhisattva Shakyamuni, while the other leader was Devadatta in a previous life.6 Before continuing with this story, it might be good to know who Brahmadhatta and Devadatta were.
The Nabhasa Dictionary states that during the times of Kassapa Buddha (the former Buddha), “Brahmadatta was a monk who had lived in the forest for twenty thousand years. He was then born as the son of the King of Benares. When his father died he became king, ruling over twenty thousand cities with Benares as the capital, but, wishing for quiet, he retired into solitude in the palace. His wife, tired of him, committed adultery with a minister who was banished on the discovery of his offence. The minister then took service under another king and persuaded him to attack Brahmadatta. Brahmadatta's minister, much against his will and having promised not to take life, made a sudden attack on the enemy and drove them away. Brahmadatta, seated on the field of battle, developed thoughts of compassion and became a Pratyeka Buddha.”  Devadatta was the cousin of Shakyamuni and brother of Ananda. He split the Sangha by declaring that he would conduct things separately. He went to Rajagriha with a large assembly of monks who had become his followers. To win them back, Lord Buddha sent Shariputra and Maudgalputra and, while Devadatta was sleeping, the two friends spoke to the assembly and they all returned to Lord Buddha. Devadatta then decided to kill the Buddha himself and tried a few times. For instance, one day when the Buddha was walking on the slopes of Gijjhakuta (one of the five hills encircling Rajagriha and a favourite resort of Lord Buddha’s followers because of its solitude) he hurled down on the Buddha a great rock. Two peaks sprang up from the ground, thereby arresting its rushing advance, but a splinter struck the Buddha's foot, causing the blood to flow. It is stated that “in spite of the great hatred shown by Devadatta towards him, the Buddha did not harbour, on his part, one single feeling of ill-will.”7
The Story of Deer Park continues with the former life of Lord Buddha as a deer: “The Deer-Bodhisattva was greatly grieved at the sight of so many of his fellow-animals being killed by the royal hunting party of Devadatta in a former life. His great loving heart was stirred to its core and he could not endure any longer to witness the butchery. He determined to see the king in person and to have the matter settled in a more humane way. When he moved forward, a veritable shower of arrows greeted him, but he was not to be overcome and made a steady advance towards the king. Observing this indomitable resolution displayed by the Deer-Bodhisattva, the king ordered the party to cease shooting and allowed him to approach unharmed.
“Said the Deer-Bodhisattva, ‘It grieves my heart to see so many innocent creatures sacrificed merely to gratify your selfish passions. If you wish to have us for your table, we could arrange to send you each day one victim, to be chosen alternately from our two herds. Only let us be spared from a general massacre.’ The greedy king consented to this arrangement.
“For a while the plan worked without obstruction, but now it happened that a prospective mother-doe had to be chosen for the victim. She was exceedingly mortified over the ill fate, not for her own sake, but for that of her baby that was coming to see the light ere long. She went to Devadatta, the king of the troupe to which she belonged and asked him for a special dispensation, saying, ‘It being my fate to be sacrificed this time, I have no complaint to make as far as I alone am concerned, but the baby I am about to give birth to is not to be deprived of existence with its mother, for its doomsday has not yet arrived. Would that your majesty would contrive some means to execute the plan as arranged and yet to save my innocent child.’ But Devadatta was cold-hearted and bluntly said, ‘Who in the world desires to be killed? Does not every living creature wish to preserve its life as long as it can? The turn is yours. Be gone, and no more of this wailing.’
The mother-doe thought within herself that she did not at all deserve the wrath of Devadatta, and this added to her grief and despondence. But a happy idea occurred to her. As the last resort she resolved to go and see the Bodhisattva-Deer of the other herd, asking him if he knew some way of saving her at this critical moment. Being questioned by him as to the steps taken by Devadatta concerning this matter, she told Bodhisattva: ‘My king has no compassion for me, but is enraged without due cause - it seems to me. I know, however, that your love is boundless and that you are the last refuge for the helpless and despondent. This is the reason why I, though not belonging to your group, am here to ask for your infinite wisdom.’ The Bodhisattva-Deer took great pity on the despairing mother-doe and thought: ‘If she has to be sacrificed, her innocent unborn child will have to share the same fate. If a substitute were to be selected, an injustice would be done. The only person that could take her place without disturbing the prearranged order is nobody else than myself. I shall then be the victim this time instead of the mother-doe.’
“Coming to this conclusion, the Bodhisattva-Deer offered himself to the king as the victim of the day. Asked the king, ‘What brings you here? Are all your deer gone already?’ Replied the Bodhisattva, ‘Your grace and benevolence is known the world over, and nobody would dare violate your injunctions; but it grieves me to see the propagation of my race unnecessarily checked. I have come to the knowledge of such a case today and I pity it. If I make any change in the order of victims as arranged at the outset, it will be unreasonable. If I do not save the mother-doe, it is against the nature of a sentient being. This is the reason why I present myself today before you. Life is short and everything is subject to the law of impermanence. Why shall I not practise loving kindness while I am yet alive?’ The greedy king was greatly moved by the words of the Bodhisattva and expressed his deep appreciation as follows: ‘It is myself and not you that belongs to the beastly creation. Though you are in appearance a lower animal, you are in heart a human being. What makes one differ from another is not outward signs but inner reason. If endowed with a loving heart, though a beast in form, one is human. From this day I swear not to delight any more in partaking of animal flesh. Fear not, my friend, but be at ease forever.’
“It was in this wise that the forest was reserved for the deer to roam about as they pleased and the site came to be known as Deer Park.”8
The Nandiyamiga Jataka tells the story a little differently: “The Bodhisatta was once born as a deer named Nandiya and looked after his parents. The king of Kosala was very fond of hunting, and his subjects, that they might be left in peace, planned to drive deer from the forest into a closed park where the king might hunt. Nandiya, seeing the men come, left his parents in the thicket so that they might not be seen and joined the deer who were being driven into the park. The deer agreed each to take turns in being killed by the king. The Bodhisatta-Deer stayed on even in spite of a message brought by a Brahmin from his parents, though he could have escaped. But he wished to show his gratitude to the king who had supplied the deer with food and drink. When his turn came to be killed, he appeared fearlessly before the king and, by the power of his virtue, the king's bow refused to shoot. The king thereupon realized Nandiya's goodness and granted him a boon. Nandiya asked for security for all living beings, and established the king in the path of virtue.” Nabhasa added: “The story was related in reference to a monk who was blamed for looking after his parents. But the Buddha praised him. The king of the story was Ananda and the Brahmin who brought the message was Sariputta” 9 – both in a former life.
            The Pali Dictionary mentions a disciple of Lord Buddha who was called Nandiya Thera. He belonged to the Shakiyan family of Kapilavastu and “was called Nandiya because his birth brought bliss. He renounced worldly ways at the same time as Anuruddha, Kimbila and other disciples and he soon attained Arahatship. It was to them that the Upakkilesa Sutta was preached. It is said that Mara appeared before him in a terrible form, but Nandiya drove him away.”10
May virtue increase!
Selected & arranged by Gaby Hollmann in 2005.

1 Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Myriad Worlds. Translated & edited by the International Translation Committee of Kunkhyab Choling founded by the V.V. Kalu Rinpoche, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, 1995, page 76.
2 In the site of  Nabhasa, Benares.
3 BuddhaSasana, Guide to Tipitaka. The Mahasudassana Sutta, Burma Pitaka Association, Rangoon, 1986, in: BuddhaSasana Homepage 04.
4 Nabhasa, Mahasudassana Sutta.
5 The introduction tells us that the Sutra of Forty-two Chapters is the first Buddhist literature ever translated into the Chinese language, and that it “was brought into China by the first missionaries from Central India, A.D. 67, who were specially invited by the Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty. Though some authorities think that the sutra existed in Sanskrit in the present Chinese form, the most probable fact is, as maintained by another authority, that the translators extracted all these passages from the different Buddhist canonical books, which they brought along for their missionary purposes, and compiled them after the fashion of the Confucian Analects.” Sacred-texts.com, Introduction to “The Story of Deer Park.”
6 See Sermons for a Buddhist Abbot by Soyen Shaku. Translated by Dasetz Teitaro Suzuki, 1906, pages 183-185 (reprinted in numerous editions as Zen for Americans), in the site: Sacred-texts.com.
7 Nabhasa, Brahmadatta and Devadatta.
8 Sermons for a Buddhist Abbot by Soyen Shaku. Translated by Dasetz Teitaro Suzuki, ibid., pages 183-185.
9 Nabhasa, Nandiyamiga Jataka, no. 385, under Nandiya 6.
10 Nabhasa, Nandiya 1.