Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories


3. The Story of the Small Portion of Gruel (Dāna)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 415, Fausböll III, 406-414;
Divyāvadāna VII, p. 88, Cowell's ed.; Kathāsaritsāgara XXVII, 79-105)

Any gift that proceeds from faith of the heart and is bestowed on a worthy recipient produces a great result; there does not exist at all anything like a trifling gift of that nature, as will be taught by the following.

In the time, when our Lord was still a Bodhisattva, he was a king of Kośala. Though he displayed his royal virtues, such as energy, discretion, majesty, power, and the rest in an exceedingly high degree, the brilliancy of one virtue, his great felicity, surpassed the others.

1. His virtues, being embellished by his felicity, shone the more as the moonbeams do, when autumn makes their splendour expand.

2. Fortune, who dwelt with him, distributed her wrath and favour to the other kings in such a manner, that she abandoned his enemies, however proud, but like an amorous woman cherished his vassals.

3. His righteousness, however, prevented his mind from doing ill; so he did not oppress at all his adversaries. But his dependents displayed their affection for him in such a degree, that Fortune would not stay with his foes.

Now one day this king recollected his last previous existence. In consequence of remembering this he felt greatly moved. He bestowed still greater gifts in charity - the motive and essential cause of happiness - on Śramaṇas and Brāhmans, the wretched and the beggars; he fostered unceasingly his observance of good conduct (śīla); and he kept strictly the poṣadha-restrictions Poṣadha in Buddhistic Sanskrit = Pāli uposatha, which is of course the same word as Sanskrit upavasatha. A fuller form upoṣadha occurs in the Avadānakalpalatā VI, 76.01 on sabbath-days. Moreover, as he was desirous of bringing his people into the way of salvation by magnifying the power of meritorious actions, he was in the habit of uttering with a believing [21] heart in his audience-hall as well as in the inner apartments of his palace these two stanzas, full of import:

4. “Attending on Buddhas The text has na Sugataparicarvā vidyate svalpikāpi, the parallel passage in the Pāli Jātaka may serve as its commentary: Na kir’ atthi anomadassisu Pāricariyā Buddhesu appikā. In stanza 18 of this Jātaka the purport of these words of the king is thus expressed: kṣīṇāsraveṣu na kṛtaṁ tanu nāma kiṁcit; therefore, kṣiṇāsrava = Pāli khīṇāsavo, 'who has extinguished his passions,’ is here synonymous with buddha. Speaking properly, then, all wandering monks, who are earnestly performing their duties as such, may be styled 'buddhas,’ cp. for instance, Suttanipāta, Sammāparibbājanīyasutta, verse 12; in other terms, buddha may sometimes be an equivalent of muni. So it is used in chapter 14 of the Dhammapada; see the note of Prof. Max Muller on verses 179 and 180 in Sacred Books, vol. x, p. 50, and the verses pointed out by Weber, Ind. Streifen, I, p. 147. It is also plain that the Pratyekabuddhas are considered to belong to the general class of the Buddhas. Though they are different from the Supreme Buddhas (Saṁyaksambuddha), they are nevertheless also sugatas or buddhas. Cp. Spence Hardy, Manual, pp. 37-39; Kern, Het Buddhisme, I, pp. 294-296. 02 by paying them honour, howsoever little, cannot produce a trifling fruit. This has been taught before only by words, now it may be seen. Look at the rich affluence of the fruit, produced by a small portion of saltless, dry, coarse, reddish-brown gruel.

5. This mighty army of mine with its beautiful chariots and horses and its dark-blue masses of fierce elephants; the sovereignty of the whole earth; great wealth; Fortune's favour; my noble wife; behold the beauty of this store of fruit, produced by a small portion of coarse gruel.”

Neither his ministers nor the worthiest among the Brāhmans nor the foremost among the townsmen, though tormented with curiosity, ventured to question the king as to what he meant by these two stanzas which he was in the habit of reciting every moment. Now by the king's incessant repeating of them the queen also grew curious; and as she felt less embarrassment in putting forth her request, one day, the opportunity of entering into conversation upon this subject presenting [22] itself, she put this question in full audience to him;

6, 7. “Verily, at all times, my lord, you are reciting, as if you were giving vent to the gladness which is within your heart. But my heart is troubled by curiosity at your speaking so.

If my person is allowed to hear it, say on, then, what you mean by this utterance, sir. A secret is nowhere proclaimed in this manner; therefore, it must be a matter of public knowledge, and I may ask you about it.”

Then the king cast a mild look of gladness on his queen, and with a smile-blooming face he spoke:

8, 9. “When hearing this utterance of mine without perceiving its cause, it is not only you, that are excited by curiosity, but also the whole of my officials, my town, and my zenana are troubled and disturbed by the desire of knowing the meaning of it. Listen, then, to what I am going to say.

10. Just as one who awakes from sleep, I remember my existence, when I lived a servant in this very town. Although I was keeping good conduct, I earned a sorry livelihood by performing hired labour for people elevated only because of their wealth.

11. So one day I was about to begin my service for hire, that abode of toil, contempt, and sorrow, striving to support (my family) and fearing, lest I should lack the means of sustenance myself; when I saw four Śramaṇas with subdued senses, accompanied as it were by the bliss of monkhood, going about for alms.

12. After bowing to them with a mind softened by faith, I reverentially entertained them in my house with a small dish of gruel. Out of that sprout has sprung this tree of greatness, that the glitterings of the crest-jewels of other kings are now reflected in the dust on my feet.

13. Thinking of this I recite these stanzas, my queen, and for this reason I find satisfaction in doing meritorious actions and receiving Arhats.”

Then the queen's face expanded with gladness and [23] surprise. She raised her eyes respectfully to the king, saying: “Highly probable, indeed, is it that such very great prosperity is the fruit produced by meritorious actions, since you, great king, being yourself a witness of the result of meritorious actions, are so anxious for (gathering) merit. For this very reason you are disinclined to evil actions, disposed to protect your subjects duly like a father, and intent on earning plenty of merit.

14. Shining with illustrious glory enhanced by charity, vanquisher of your rival kings waiting with bent heads for your orders, may you for a long time with a righteous management rule the earth up to its wind-wrinkled ocean-border!”

The king said: “Why should this not be? my queen!

15. In fact, I will endeavour to keep once more the path leading to salvation, of which I have noted the lovely marks. People will love giving, having heard the fruit of charity; how should not I be liberal, having experienced it in myself?”

Now the king, tenderly looking on his queen, beheld her shining with almost divine splendour, and desiring to know the reason of that brightness, said again:

16. “Like the crescent amidst the stars you shine in the midst of the women. Say, what deed have you done, my dear, having this very sweet result?”

The queen replied: “O yes, my lord, I too have some remembrance of my life in my former birth.” Now, as the king gently entreated her to tell it, she spoke:

17, 18, “Like something experienced in my childhood I recollect that being a slave, after giving with devotion to a Muni with extinguished passions the remnants of one dish, I fell asleep there, as it were, and arose from sleep here.

By this wholesome action my prince, I remember, I have obtained you for my lord, sharing you with the earth. What you said: ‘surely, no benefit given to holy persons who have extinguished their passions, can be a small one’ - these very words were then spoken by that Muni.” [24]

Then the king, perceiving that the assembly was overcome by feelings of piety and amazement, and that the manifestation of the result of merit had roused in their minds a high esteem for meritorious actions, earnestly pressed on the audience something like this:

19. “How is it possible then, that anybody should not devote himself to performing meritorious actions by practising charity and good conduct, after seeing this large and splendid result of a good action however small? No, that man is not even worth looking at, who inwrapt in the darkness of avarice, should decline to make himself renowned for his gifts, though being wealthy enough to do so.

20. If by abandoning in the right manner wealth, once necessarily to be left and so of no use at all, any good quality may be acquired: who, then, knowing the charm of virtues, would follow in this matter the path of selfishness? And different virtues, in truth, gladness, and so on, being followed by good renown, are founded on charity.

21. Almsgiving is a great treasure, indeed, a treasure which is always with us and is inaccessible to thieves and the rest. That is: to fire, water, seizure from the part of the king. Cp. Story 5, stanza 8. 03 Almsgiving cleanses the mind from the dirt of the sins of selfishness and cupidity; it is an easy vehicle by which to relieve the fatigue of the travel through Saṁsāra; it is our best and constant friend, that seeks to procure manifold pleasure and comfort for us.

22. All is obtained by almsgiving, whatever may be wished for, whether it be abundance of riches or brilliant domination, or a residence in the city of the Devas, or beauty of the body. Who, considering this matter so, should not practise almsgiving?

23. Almsgiving, it is said, constitutes the worth of riches; it is also called the essential cause of dominations, the grand performance of piety. Even rags for [25] dress, given away by the simple-minded, are a well-bestowed gift.”

The audience respectfully approved this persuasive discourse of the king, and felt inclined to the exercise of charity and the like.

So any gift that proceeds from faith of the heart, and is bestowed on a worthy recipient, produces a great result; there does not exist at all anything like a trifling gift of that nature.

[For this reason, by giving with a faithful heart to the Congregation of the Holy Āryasaṁghe. 04 - that most excellent ground fit for (sowing) meritorious actions - one may obtain the utmost gladness, considering thus: “such blessings, and even greater than these, may erelong occur to me too.”]