Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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5. The Story of Aviṣahya, the Head of a Guild (Dāna)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 340, Fausböll III, 128-132.) In the Pāli redaction the story is told of the seṭṭhi Visayha, not Avisayha, in consequence, it seems, of the misintepretation of the first pāda of the first gāthā in this story; that line should be read adāsi dānāni pure 'visayha. Likewise in the Nidānkathā (Fausb. I. p. 45,1. 14) we must read Candakumārakāle 'viṣahyaseṭṭhikāle (editor's note: the Nidānakathā actually reads visayhaseṭṭhikāle, Prof. Speyer having inadvertantly Sanskritised the Pāli).01

The virtuous do not allow themselves to be deficient in the virtue of charity either from respect to the loss of their fortune, or from the prospect of riches, as will be taught in the following. [31]

In the time, when our Lord was yet a Bodhisattva, he was the head of a guild, born of an illustrious family. He possessed many virtues: liberality, modesty, morals, sacred learning, spiritual knowledge, The 'sacred learning’ is śruta, knowledge of Vaidik texts, etc., the 'spiritual knowledge,’ jñāna, to be learnt from the Upaniṣads, the philosophical Darśanas and the like. 02 humility, and so on His affluent riches made him appear another Kubera. He spent them by admitting everybody as his guest and practising charity like an everlasting sacrifice (sattra). In short, he was the best of almsgivers and lived for the good of mankind. On account of his being invincible by vices, selfishness, and the rest, he was known under the name of Aviṣahya (that is, “the Invincible One”).

1. The sight of the mendicants had the same effect on him, as he had on the mendicants. On both sides it was a principal cause of gladness, since it destroyed the uncertainty as to the attainment of the object wished for.

2. When requested to give, he was not capable of saying “no.” His great compassion had left no room in his heart for attachment to wealth.

3. His joy rose to the highest pitch, when mendicants carried away the best things out of his house. For he knew those so-called goods to be the source of violent and heavy calamities, and therefore to cause dissatisfaction in a short time and without any apparent reason.

4. As a rule, indeed, riches, being joined with covetousness, may be called caravans on the road towards wretchedness. With him, on the contrary, they conduced to the bliss of both himself and others; his goods appeared to be what is signified by their name.

So then, that Great Being bestowed large gifts on the mendicant people all around, and satisfied them wholly, giving to each according to his desire and generously, and adorning his bounty by paying a pious [32] respect to the requesters.

When Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, heard of his lofty munificence, he was transported with amazement: and wishing to try the firmness of his resolution, he caused the everyday provisions of money, grains, jewels, clothes to disappear day after day; “perhaps, so he thought, his apprehension at least of the loss of his goods may entice him to self-interest.” Nevertheless, the Great Being remained intent on the virtue of charity.

5. As often as his goods disappeared, like water-drops hit by the sun-darts, so often did he order them to be fetched again from his house, as if it were on fire, and continued his large gifts.

Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, understanding the Great Being to be bent as intently as ever on deeds of charity, although his riches always went on decreasing, his amazement grew. Now he concealed the whole of his wealth in one night, except a coil of rope and a sickle.

When the Bodhisattva, as usual, awoke at daybreak, he nowhere saw his household goods, neither furniture, nor money, nor grains, nor clothes, nor even his attendants. His house looked quite empty, desolate, and sad, as if it were plundered by Rākṣasas; in short, it offered an afflicting aspect. Then he began to reflect upon the matter; and searching about, he found nothing left but that coil of rope and that sickle. And he considered thus: “Perhaps somebody, not accustomed to begging, but wont to get his livelihood by his own energy, has in this manner shown a favour to my house. In that case, my goods are well spent. If, however, by the fault of my destiny, some person whom my high rank has made envious, has caused them to run away without being of use to any one, it is a great pity.

6. The fickleness of Fortune's friendship was known to me long before; but that the indigent have come to grief by it, on this account my heart aches.

7. When coming to my empty house, how will they feel, my mendicants, who for a long time were accustomed to the enjoyment of my gifts and my [page 33] hospitality? Will they not be like thirsty people coming to a dried-up pond?”

Nevertheless, the Bodhisattva did not yield to the feeling of affliction and sadness, but kept the constancy of his mind, and though, being in this condition, he was not capable of asking others, not even his intimates, as he never had followed the course of getting his livelihood by begging. Moreover, since he experienced himself that it is hard to beg, his compassion for the begging people became still greater. Then that High-minded One, still with the disposition to earn, from those who lived by begging their food, kind words of welcome and the like, took that coil of rope and that sickle, and went out to weed grass day after day. With the little money he earned by selling the grass, he attended to the wants of the mendicants.

But Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, seeing his imperturbable calmness and his devotion to almsgiving even in a state of extreme poverty, was filled not only with astonishment, but also with admiration. Showing his wonderful celestial body, he stood in the air and spoke to the Great Being to dissuade him from giving: “Householder,

8-10. Neither thieves have robbed thee of thy wealth, nor water, nor fire, nor princes. It is thy own largesses, that have brought thee into this condition, which alarms thy friends.

For this reason I tell thee for thy own good: restrain thy passionate love of charity. Though being as poor as thou art now, if thou dost not give, thou mayst recover thy former beautiful riches.

By constant consuming of however little at a time, possessions fade; by gathering ant-hills become high. For him who sees this, the only way of increasing his property is self-restraint.”

The Bodhisattva, however, displayed his high-mindedness and his constant practice of charity, when he answered Śakra in this manner:

11. “A gentleman (ārya), however distressed, will scarcely do anything ignoble (anārya), O thou Thousand-eyed One! Never let such wealth be mine, [34] O Śakra, to obtain which I should have to live as a miser.

12, 13. Who, thinking himself to belong to an honest family, would strike with the clear-sky thunder-bolt of his refusal the wretched men who desire to find a remedy for their misery by death-like begging?

Is it possible, then, that such a one as I am, should accept any jewel, or wealth, or even the realm among the Celestials, and not use it for the purpose of gladdening the faces of the beggars, grown pale by the pain of asking?

14. Such receiving as would only tend to increase the vice of selfishness, not to strengthen the propensity to give away, must be entirely abandoned by such as me; for it is a calamity in disguise.

15. Wealth is as fickle as a flash of lightning; it may come to everyone, and it is the cause of many calamities; but almsgiving is a source of happiness. This being so, how may a nobleman cling to selfishness?

16. Therefore, Śakra, thou hast shown me thy good nature, I thank thee also for thy commiseration and well-wishing words; yet my heart is too much accustomed to the gladness caused by deeds of charity. How, then, can it take delight in the wrong way?

17. Do not, however, bend thy mind to anger on this account, I pray thee! Indeed, it is impossible to assault the hostile fortress of my native character with small forces.”

Śakra spoke: “Householder, what thou describest is the line of conduct for a wealthy man, whose treasury and granary are full to the top, for whom manifold and abundant work is well-performed (by his servants), who has assured his future, and has gained domination among men, but that conduct does not suit thy condition. See,

18-20. Thou must, before all, through honest business either carried on by exerting thy own sagacity, or by following the traditional line of trade of thy family, in so far as it be compatible with thy fame, [35] gather riches surpassing, like the sun, the splendour of thy rivals: then on proper occasions, display thy opulence to the people, and rejoice by it thy relations and friends.

Afterwards, having obtained due honour even from the part of the king and enjoying Fortune's favour, like the embrace of a loving sweetheart, if then there may arise in thee the inclination for charity or worldly pleasures, nobody will blame thee.

But the sole love of charity without means makes a man come to calamity and resemble a bird desiring to rise in the air with wings not yet full-grown.

21. Therefore, thou must acquire wealth by practising restraint and pursuing humble aims, and meanwhile give up the longing for almsgiving. And what meanness can there be in this after all, if thou dost not give, possessing nothing?”

The Bodhisattva replied: “Pray, thy Highness must not urge me.

22, 23. Even he who cares more for his own interest than for the benefit of others, ought to give in charity, not caring for riches. For great opulence affords him no such gladness, as is caused by the satisfaction he enjoys by subduing covetousness with charitable deeds.

Add to this, that mere riches do not lead to Heaven, but charity alone is sufficient to obtain a holy reputation; further, that riches are an impediment to the subduing of selfishness and the other vices. Who, then, should not observe charity?

24. He, however, who in order to protect the creatures surrounded by old age and death, desires to give away his very self in alms, moved by compassion; he whom the sufferings of others forbid to enjoy the relish of pleasures; say, of what use will be to him the very great bliss, possessed by thee?

Hear also this, Lord of the Devas.

25. The duration of our life is as uncertain as the prosperity of our wealth. Thus reflecting, we must not care for riches, when getting a mendicant.

26. If one carriage has beaten a track on the ground, a second goes by that track with some confidence, [36] and so on. For this reason I will not spurn this first good road, nor prefer conducting my carriage on the wrong path.

27. And should I once more come to great wealth, it shall to a certainty enrapture the minds of the mendicants: and for the present, even in this condition, I will give alms according to my means. And may I never be careless in keeping my vow of charity, Śakra!”

On these words Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, being wholly propitiated exclaimed with praise: “Excellent excellent,” and looking at him with admiration and kindness, spoke:

28, 29. “(Other) people run after riches by every trade, be it low and rough and prejudicial to their reputation, not minding danger, since they are attached to their own pleasures and misguided by their inconsiderateness.

Thou, on the contrary, dost not mind the loss of thy wealth, nor the deficiency of thy pleasures, nor my temptation; keeping thy mind firmly intent on promoting the welfare of others, thou hast manifested the greatness of thy excellent nature!

30. Ah! how thy heart shines with the lustre of exceeding loftiness, and how it has wiped off entirely the darkness of selfish feelings, that even after the loss of thy riches the hope for recovering them cannot spoil it by bringing about reduction of its charitableness!

31. Yet, since thou sufferest at the suffering of others, and moved by compassion strivest for the good of the world, it is no wonder after all, that I have not been able to deter thee from almsgiving. As little is the Snow-bright Mountain shaken by the wind.

32. But it is in order to enhance thy fame by trial, that I have hidden that wealth of thine. Not otherwise than by trial can a gem, though beautiful, reach the crest value of a renowned jewel.

Well then, pour thy gifts down on the mendicants, satisfy them as a great rain-cloud fills the pools. By my favour thou shalt never experience the loss of [37] thy wealth, and thou must forgive me my behaviour towards thee.”

After praising him so, Śakra restored his large estate to him, and obtained his pardon, then he disappeared on the spot.

In this manner, then, the virtuous do not allow themselves to be deficient in the virtue of charity either through regard to the loss of their fortune, or through the prospect of riches.