Nanda was the son of Suddhodana and Mahà Pajàpatã Gotamã and was thus the Buddha's half brother. In the Tipiñaka he is depicted as something of a Buddhist Adonis. He was `finely formed, beautiful and handsome'(A.IV,165-6) and even after he became a monk `he pressed his robe on both sides, painted his eyes and walked around with a beautiful shiny bowl'(Vin.IV,173). It is also said that he was four finger-breadths (caturaïgulomaka) shorter than the Buddha and often mistaken for him from a distance (Vin.IV,173).

After Nanda left to become a monk, he could not stop thinking of his lover who had said to him on leaving: `Come back soon, young master.' Informed of this problem, the Buddha took Nanda by the arm and transported him up to a heaven realm `where the nymphs have feet like doves'. Pointing to these nymphs, he asked Nanda: `Which is more beautiful, these nymphs or your girlfriend?' `Compared to these nymphs my girlfriend is like a mutilated monkey' Nanda replied. With this new and more beautiful image in his mind Nanda began meditating diligently in the hope of being reborn in the company of these nymphs. When the other monks heard of this, they smirked and laughed at Nanda's motives, calling him a `day labourer', i.e. someone who works for meagre wages.

In Buddhism, seeking rebirth in heaven is considered more lofty than rebirth in purgatory, but decidedly inferior to attaining nirvana. This teasing made Nanda feel somewhat ashamed of himself but eventually this was replaced by self-respect and the determination to practise for the right reasons. Living diligently and in solitude he eventually became enlightened. The taking of Nanda up to heaven is cited as an example of the Buddha's skilful means (Th.158). The famous Sanskrit poem, the Saundarànandakàvya, is based on the life of Nanda.