Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories


4. The Story of the Head of A Guild (Dāna)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 40, Fausböll 1, 231-234)

The pious wish to exercise almsgiving even in spite of imminent peril; who, then, should not be charitable when safe? This will be taught as follows.

In the time, when our Lord was still a Bodhisattva, he was a head of a guild. In consequence of the excessive favour of his destiny, and owing to his own great activity, he had acquired a large estate. His fairness and integrity in commercial transactions procured him the highest esteem among the people; he was born of an illustrious family; he had acquainted himself with various branches of learning and art, and by them purified his mind. These qualities and his noble virtues caused him to be honoured by the king. As he was always keeping the precept of almsgiving, he shared his opulence with the people.

1. The mendicants loving him, praised his name far and wide, so as to fill all parts of the horizon with the high reputation of his prowess as an almsgiver. [26]

2. With him, no one indigent was floating on the swing of doubt as to whether he would give or not. Trusting in this benefactor of renowned exploits, the mendicants were bold enough to put forth their wants freely.

3. And he, for his part, did not keep his wealth from them, neither for his own pleasures, nor striving to emulate others, nor overcome by avarice. It was impossible for him to see the suffering of the mendicants, and for this reason he avoided saying no to them.

One day, at meal-time, when the Great Being had just bathed and anointed himself, and a complete dinner made up of various dishes of hard and soft food and the rest, dressed by skilled and excellent cooks, and so prepared as to please by their colour, smell, taste, touch, and so on, was served up, a mendicant came near his house. It was a Pratyekabuddha, who by the fire of his knowledge had burned away all the fuel of innate evil passions, and now desired to increase the merit of the Bodhisattva. He placed himself in the gateway.

4. There he stood without apprehension, without agitation, looking firmly and quietly Read praśama- instead of praṇama-, an error of print of course01 to no greater distance before him than the length of a yoke, Cp. Lalitavistara (Bibl. Ind.), p. 230 infra, Buddhacarita 10, 13.02 in a quiet attitude, holding his lotus-white fingers clasped on his almsbowl.

Now Māra, the Wicked One, could not bear the Bodhisattva to enjoy that bliss of almsgiving. In order to put an obstacle in his way, he created by magic between the Reverend and the threshold of the entrance-door a very deep hell measuring several fathoms in width. It offered a dreadful sight, accompanied with terrible sounds; tremulous flames were burning awfully within; it contained many hundreds of men in great agony. [27]

In the meanwhile the Bodhisattva, seeing the Pratyekabuddha come in search of alms, said to his wife: “My dear, go yourself and give an abundant portion of food to the holy man.” She said she would do so, and went off with excellent hard and soft food; but beholding the hell near the gateway, she suddenly turned on her heels, terror-stricken and with bewildered looks.

When her husband asked her what was the matter, she could hardly tell; the sudden fright had almost barred her throat. As the Bodhisattva, however, was uneasy at the thought that this holy man might turn back from his house without receiving his begged meal, he did not heed what she told him, but taking the excellent hard and soft food, came himself, desiring to fill with it the almsbowl of the Great-Minded One.

When he arrived near the gateway, he saw that most dreadful hell between. And whilst he considered what could be the meaning of this, Māra, the Wicked One, went out of the house-wall, and showing his divine and marvellous shape, stood in the air, and, as if he wished to do good to the Bodhisattva, spoke: “Householder, this is the great hell, named Mahāraurava.

5. Here is the abode - an abode, out of which it is difficult to escape - of those who, greedy of the praising voices of the beggars, desire to give away wealth, indulging in the vicious passion for charity. In this hell they must stay for many thousands of autumns.

6. Material prosperity (artha) is the principal cause of the world's regular striving after the triad of objects. Whoso injures artha, injures righteousness (dharma) too. The idea which underlies this assertion is often met with in Brāhmanical literature. If practising dharma is the same thing as performing the sacrifices to the dieties, material prosperity may be justly styled the foundation-ground or substratum of dharma; for the right performance of sacrifices requires the possession of goods.03 How is it possible, then, that the injurer of righteousness by destroying material prosperity, should not stay in hell? [28]

7. Thou hast sinned, being attached to charity and destroying thy wealth, which is the root of dharma. For this reason this flame-tongued hell, that looks like the face of Narakāntaka, See Viṣṇupurāṇa IV, chapter XXIX (Wilson, p. 581).04 has come to thy encounter in order to devour thee.

8. Well then, desist from giving, lest thou immediately fall down and share the fate of those alms-givers, who shrink away from pain and are weeping piteously.

9. The recipients, on the other hand, who have ceased from the bad custom of giving, obtain the rank of Devas. Therefore, desist from thy effort for charity, which obstructs the way to Heaven, and rather apply thyself to restraint.” The Evil One uses ambiguous expressions purposely. The worthy recipients of the gifts are indeed on the way that leads to salvation; and the 'restaint’ saṁyama he recommends, may imply the meaning of the self-restraint of the monks. The Bodhisattva in his well-turned answer takes care to keep the same ambiguous word (see stanza 15, saṁyamayiṣyatāpi).05

The Bodhisattva, however, knew him: “Surely, this is an attempt of the Evil One to thwart my alms-giving.” And understanding so, he made, in truth, a vigorous reply, yet in accordance with his firm attachment to virtue, without breaking modesty and kindness of words. He spoke thus to him:

10-12. “It is with respect to my welfare, that thou hast had the kindness to show me the path of the pious. Indeed, it is most proper for divine beings to show by their actions their skill in feeling compassion for others.

Nevertheless, it would have been wise to use that way of stopping the illness before its appearance, or immediately after its first symptoms. For if a sickness have already made progress The reading prayāmam, proposed by Prof. Kern in the various readings of his edition, is undoubtedly right. Cp. pp. 78, 2; 96, 23; 111, 16; 171, 15; 182, 3; 238, 11 of his edition.06 by the fault of bad treatment, the desire for cure will but tend to calamity.

So this passion of mine for charity has already spread, I fear, beyond the compass of medical [29] cure, inasmuch as my mind will never shrink from almsgiving, notwithstanding thy well-wishing counsel.

13, 14. As for what thou saidst about unrighteousness arising from charity and wealth being the principal cause of righteousness my weak human understanding cannot grasp how wealth without charity can be called the path of virtue.

Why, tell me, please, at what time is it that wealth produces virtue? whether when laid up as a treasure, or when robbed violently by thieves, or when sunk away to the bottom of the sea, or when having become fuel for fire?

15, 16. Further, thou saidst, ‘the giver goes to hell and the receiver to the celestial abodes.’ Speaking so, however, thou hast increased my longing for works of charity, though endeavouring to restrain me.

Yea, may that word of thine be fulfilled, and those who beg from me rise to heaven! For it is not as a means of procuring my own happiness that I give in charity, but I love charity that I may do good to the world.”

Then Māra, the Wicked One, once more addressed the Bodhisattva, speaking earnestly as though he were a well-meaning friend.

17. “Decide thyself, whether I have spoken for thy good or idle talk, and afterwards go as thou desirest. Thou shalt remember me with high regard - either happy or remorseful.”

The Bodhisattva said: “Sir, thou must excuse me.

18. I will fall of my own accord into this fiercely blazing hell headlong, a prey to the flames, that will lick at me, rather than at the due time of honouring the mendicants, who show me their affection by requesting from me, incur the guilt of neglecting them.”

After so speaking, the Bodhisattva - relying on the power of his destiny and knowing that almsgiving cannot at any rate entail evil - stepped forth across the hell without heeding his family and his attendants, who were eager to withhold him; his mind was not overcome by terror, and his desire of giving was still increased. [30]

19. Then, owing to the power of his merit, in the midst of the hell a lotus sprang up, not rooted in mud like other lotuses. In the original there is a pun, puṁkaja, 'originating in mud, born from mud,’ being a common word for 'lotus’.07 With its row of stamen-teeth Instead of danti- I read danta-.08 it seemed to laugh contemptuously at Māra.

And with the aid of the lotus, produced out of the large amount of his merit, the Bodhisattva having reached the Pratyekabuddha filled his bowl with food, while his heart was expanding with gladness and joy.

20. The monk, in order to show his satisfaction, rose into the air. There he displayed his splendour, raining and flaming with as great a majesty as a cloud from which appears flashes of lightning.

21. Māra, on the other hand, seeing his design overturned was in low spirits and lost accordingly his splendour. He dared no longer look in the face of the Bodhisattva, and soon he disappeared with his hell.

Why has this been taught? (For this purpose): in this manner the pious wish to exercise almsgiving even in spite of imminent peril; who, then, should not be charitable when safe?

[Further this too is to be propounded; the virtuous cannot be induced even by fear to take the wrong way.]”