Ja 340 Visayhajātaka
The Story about (the Wealthy Man) Visayha (4s)

In the present Anāthapiṇḍika gives so much in alms he threatens to impoverish himself and his family. A Devatā who lives in the household seeks to prevent him from giving any more. The Buddha tells a story of a wealthy man in the past who was very generous. To test him Sakka hid away all his possessions. Still he insisted on riasing money for gifts with his hands and giving.

The Bodhisatta = the wealthy man Visayha (Visayho pana seṭṭhi),
Rāhulamātā = the wealthy man’s wife (seṭṭhibhariyā).

Present Source: Ja 40 Khadiraṅgārajātaka,
Quoted at: Ja 284 Siri, Ja 340 Visayha,
Past Compare: Jm 5 Aviṣahyaśreṣṭhi.

Keywords: Generosity, Determination, Devas.

“Of old, Visayha.” [3.85] This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana about Anāthapiṇḍika. The incident that gave rise to the story has already been told in full in the Khadiraṅgārajātaka [Ja 40].

For Anāthapiṇḍika, who had lavished fifty-four crores on the dispensation of the Buddha over the monastery alone, and who valued naught else save only the Three Jewels, used to go every day while the Teacher was at Jetavana to attend the Great Services – once at daybreak, once after breakfast, and once in the evening. There were intermediate services too; but he never went empty-handed, for fear the novices and lads should look to see what he had brought with him. When he went in the early morning, he used to have rice-gruel taken up; after breakfast, ghee, butter, honey, molasses, and the like; and in the evening, he brought perfumes, garlands and cloths. So much did he expend day after day, that his expense knew no bounds. Moreover, many traders borrowed money from him on their bonds – to the amount of eighteen crores; and the great merchant never called the money in. Furthermore, another eighteen crores of the family property, which were buried in the riverbank, were washed out to sea, when the bank was swept away by a storm; and down rolled the brazen pots, with fastenings and seals unbroken, to the bottom of the ocean. In his house, too, there was always rice standing ready for 500 monks – so that the merchant’s house was to the Saṅgha like a pool dug where four roads meet, yes, like mother and father was he to them. Therefore, even the Supreme Buddha used to go to his house, and the Eighty Chief Elders too; and the number of other monks passing in and out was beyond measure.

Now his house was seven stories high and had seven portals; and over the fourth gateway dwelt a Devatā who was a heretic. When the Supreme Buddha came into the house, she could not stay in her abode on high, but came down with her children to the ground-floor; and she had to do the same whenever the Eighty Chief Elders or the other elders came in and out. Thought she, “So long as the ascetic Gotama and his disciples keep coming into this house I can have no peace here; I can’t be eternally coming downstairs to the ground floor. I must contrive to stop them from coming any more to this house.” So one day, when the business manager had retired to rest, she appeared before him in visible shape.

“Who is that?” said he. “It is I,” was the reply, “the Devatā who lives over the fourth gateway.” “What brings you here?” “You don’t see what the merchant is doing. Heedless of his own future, he is drawing upon his resources, only to enrich the ascetic Gotama. He engages in no commerce; he undertakes no business. Advise the merchant to attend to his business, and arrange that the ascetic Gotama with his disciples shall come no more into the house.”

Then said he, “Foolish Devatā, if the merchant does spend his money, he spends it on the dispensation of the Buddha, which leads to safety. Even if he were to seize me by the hair and sell me for a slave, I will say nothing. Begone!”

Another day, she went to the merchant’s eldest son and gave him the same advice. And he flouted her in just the same manner. But to the merchant himself she did not so much as dare to speak on the matter.

Now by dint of unending munificence and of doing no business, the merchant’s incomings diminished and his estate grew less and less; so that he sank by degrees into poverty, and his table, his dress, and his bed and food were no longer what they had once been. Yet, in spite of his altered circumstances, be continued to entertain the Saṅgha, though he was no longer able to feast them. So one day when he had made his bow and taken his seat, the Teacher said to him, “Householder, are gifts being given at your house?” “Yes, sir,” said he, “but there’s only a little sour husk-porridge, left over from yesterday.” “Be not distressed, householder, at the thought that you can only offer what is unpalatable. If the heart be good, the food given to Buddhas, Paccekabuddhas, and their disciples, cannot but be good too. And why? Because of the greatness of the fruit thereof. For he who can make his heart acceptable cannot give an unacceptable gift – as is to be testified by the following passage:

“For, if the heart have faith, no gift is small
To Buddhas or to their disciples true.

’Tis said no service can be reckoned small
That’s paid to Buddhas, lords of great renown.

Mark well what fruit rewarded that poor gift
Of pottage – dried-up, sour, and lacking salt.”

Also, he said this further thing, “Householder, in giving this unpalatable gift, you are giving it to those who have entered on the Noble Eightfold Path. Whereas I, when in Velāma’s time I stirred up all Jambudīpa by giving the seven things of price, and in my largesse poured them forth as though I had made into one mighty stream the five great rivers – I yet found none who had reached the Three Refuges or kept the Five Precepts; for rare are those who are worthy of offerings. Therefore, let not your heart be troubled by the thought that your gift is unpalatable.” And so saying, he repeated the Velāmakasutta [AN 9.20].

Now that Devatā who had not dared to speak to the merchant in the days of his magnificence, thought that now he was poor he would hearken to her, and so, entering his chamber at dead of night she appeared before him in visible shape, standing in mid-air. “Who’s that?” said the merchant, when he became aware of her presence. “I am the Devatā, great merchant, who dwells over the fourth gateway.” “What brings you here?” “To give you counsel.” “Proceed, then.” “Great merchant, you take no thought for your own future or for your own children. You have expended vast sums on the dispensation of the ascetic Gotama; in fact, by long-continued expenditure and by not undertaking new business you have been brought by the ascetic Gotama to poverty. But even in your poverty you do not shake off the ascetic Gotama! The ascetics are in and out of your house this very day just the same! What they have had of you cannot be recovered. That may be taken for certain. But henceforth don’t you go yourself to the ascetic Gotama and don’t let his disciples set foot inside your house. Do not even turn to look at the ascetic Gotama but attend to your trade and traffic in order to restore the family estate.”

Then he said to her, “Was this the counsel you wanted to give me?” “Yes, it was.”

Said the merchant, “The One with Ten Powers has made me proof against a hundred, a thousand, yes against a hundred thousand Devatās such as you are! My faith is strong and steadfast as Mount Sineru! My substance has been expended on the dispensation that leads to safety. Wicked are your words; it is a blow aimed at the dispensation of the Buddhas by you, you wicked and impudent wretch. I cannot live under the same roof with you; be off at once from my house and seek shelter elsewhere!”

Hearing these words of that converted man and elect disciple, she could not stay, but repairing to her dwelling, took her children by the hand and went forth. But though she went, she was minded, if she could not find herself a lodging elsewhere, to appease the merchant and return to dwell in his house; and in this mind she went to the tutelary deity of the city and with due salutation stood before him. Being asked what had brought her there, she said: “My lord, I have been speaking imprudently to Anāthapiṇḍika, and he in his anger has turned me out of my home. Take me to him and make it up between us, so that he may let me live there again.” “But what was it you said to the merchant?” “I told him for the future not to support the Buddha and the Saṅgha, and not to let the ascetic Gotama set foot again in his house. This is what I said, my lord.” “Wicked were your words; it was a blow aimed at the dispensation. I cannot take you with me to the merchant.” Meeting with no support from him, she went to the Four Great Kings of the world. And being repulsed by them in the same manner, she went on to Sakka, King of Devas, and told him her story, beseeching him still more earnestly, as follows, “Deva, finding no shelter, I wander about homeless, leading my children by the hand. Grant me of your majesty some place wherein to dwell.”

And he too said to her, “You have done wickedly; it was a blow aimed at the Conqueror’s dispensation. I cannot speak to the merchant on your behalf. But I can tell you one way whereby the merchant may be led to pardon you.” “Pray tell me, Deva.” “Men have had eighteen crores of the merchant on bonds. Take the semblance of his agent, and without telling anybody repair to their houses with the bonds, in the company of some young Yakkhas. Stand in the middle of their houses with the bond in one hand and a receipt in the other, and terrify them with your Yakkha power, saying, ‘Here’s your acknowledgment of the debt. Our merchant did not move in the matter while he was affluent; but now he is poor, and you must pay up the money you owe.’ By your Yakkha power obtain all those eighteen crores of gold and fill the merchant’s empty treasuries. He had another treasure buried in the banks of the river Aciravatī, but when the bank was washed away, the treasure was swept into the sea. Get that back also by your supernatural power and store it in his treasuries. Further, there is another sum of eighteen crores lying unowned in such and such a place. Bring that too and pour the money into his empty treasuries. When you have atoned by the recovery of these fifty-four crores, ask the merchant to forgive you.” “Very good, Deva,” said she. And she set to work obediently, and did just as she had been bidden. When she had recovered all the money, she went into the merchant’s chamber at dead of night and appeared before him in visible shape standing in the air.

The merchant asking who was there, she replied, “It is I, great merchant, the blind and foolish Devatā who lived over your fourth gateway. In the greatness of my infatuate folly I knew not the virtues of a Buddha, and so came to say what I said to you some days ago. Pardon me my fault! At the instance of Sakka, King of Devas, I have made atonement by recovering the eighteen crores owing to you, the eighteen crores which had been washed down into the sea, and another eighteen crores which were lying unowned in such and such a place – making fifty-four crores in all, which I have poured into your empty treasure-chambers. The sum you expended on the monastery at Jetavana is now made up again. While I have nowhere to dwell, I am in misery. Bear not in mind what I did in my ignorant folly, great merchant, but pardon me.”

Anāthapiṇḍika, hearing what she said, thought to himself, “She is a Devatā, and she says she has atoned, and confesses her fault. The Teacher shall consider this and make his virtues known to her. I will take her before the Supreme Buddha.” So he said: “My good Devatā, if you want me to pardon you, ask me in the presence of the master.” “Very good,” said she, “I will. Take me along with you to the Teacher.” “Certainly,” said he. And early in the morning, when night was just passing away, he took her with him to the Teacher, and told the Tathāgata all that she had done.

Hearing this, the Teacher said: “You see, householder, how the defiled man regards defilement as excellent before it ripens to its fruit. But when it has ripened, then he sees defilements to be defiled. Likewise the good man looks on his goodness as wrong before it ripens to its fruit; but when it ripens, he sees it to be goodness.” And so saying, he repeated these two verses from the Dhammapada [119-120]:

“The defiled man thinks his deed is good,
So long as wrong has ripened not to fruit.
But when his wrong at last to ripeness grows,
The defiled man sees ‘It was wrong I wrought.’

The good man thinks his goodness is but wrong,
So long as it has ripened not to fruit.
But when his goodness unto ripeness grows,
The good man sees that ‘It was good I wrought.’ ”

At the close of these verses that Devatā was established in the Fruit of the First Path. She fell at the wheel-marked feet of the Teacher, crying, “Stained as I was with passion, depraved by defilements, misled by delusion, and blinded by ignorance, I spoke wickedly because I knew not your virtues. Pardon me!” Then she received pardon from the Teacher and from the great merchant.

At this time Anāthapiṇḍika sang his own praises in the Teacher’s presence, saying: “Sir, though this Devatā did her best to stop me from giving support to the Buddha and his following, she could not succeed; and though she tried to stop me from giving gifts, yet I gave them still! Was not this goodness on my part?”

On this occasion the Teacher addressing Anāthapiṇḍika said: “Wise men of old, my lay brother, gave alms, rejecting the counsel of Sakka, king of heaven, when he stood in mid-air and tried to prevent them, saying, ‘Give not alms.’ ” [As can be seen from the story above in Ja 40 Khadiraṅgārajātaka, it is a Devatā who advises against giving alms, and not Sakka. In the Jātakamālā version of the story, however, it is Śakra who makes the request, as stated here.] And at his request the Teacher told a story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta became a great merchant, named Visayha, worth eighty crores. {3.129} And being endowed with the five precepts, he was liberal and fond of generosity. He had alms halls built at the four city gates, in the heart of the city, and at the door of his own house. At these six points he started almsgiving, and every day six hundred thousand men went forth to beg, and the food of the Bodhisatta and that of the beggars was exactly the same.

And as he thus stirred up the people of all Jambudīpa by his gifts, the abode of Sakka was shaken by the extraordinary efficacy of his generosity, and the yellow marble throne of the king of heaven showed signs of heat. Sakka exclaimed, “Who, I wonder, would make me fall from my seat in heaven?” And looking about him he espied the great merchant and thought to himself, “This Visayha gives alms and by scattering his gifts everywhere is stirring up all Jambudīpa. By means of his generosity, I think, he will dethrone me and himself become Sakka. I will destroy his wealth and make him a poor man, and so bring it about that he shall no longer give alms.”

So Sakka caused his oil, honey, molasses, and the like, even all his treasure of grain to vanish, as well as his slaves and work people. Those who were deprived of his gifts came and said: “My lord, the alms-hall has disappeared. We do not find anything in the various places set up by you.” “Take money hence,” he said. “Do not cut off the giving of alms.” And calling his wife, he bade her keep up her generosity. She searched the whole house, and not finding a single piece of money, she said: “My lord, except the clothes we wear, I see nothing. The whole house is empty.” Opening the seven jewel treasuries they found nothing, and save the merchant and his wife no one else was seen, neither slaves [3.86] nor hirelings. The Bodhisatta again addressing his wife said: “My dear, we cannot possibly cut off our charities. Search the whole house till you find something.”

At that moment a certain grasscutter threw down his sickle and pole and the rope for binding the grass in the doorway, and ran away. The merchant’s wife found them and said: “My lord, this is all I see,” {3.130} and brought and gave them to him. Said the Bodhisatta, “My dear, all these years I have never mown grass before, but today I will mow grass and take and sell it, and by this means dispense the fitting alms.” So through fear of having to cut off his charities, he took the sickle and the pole and the rope, and going forth from the city came to a place of much grass, and cutting it tied it up in two bundles, saying: “One shall belong to us, and with the other I will give alms.” And hanging the grass on the pole he took it and went and sold it at the city gate, and receiving two small coins he gave half the money to the beggars.

Now there were many beggars, and as they repeatedly cried out, “Give to us also,” he gave the other half of the money also, and passed the day with his wife fasting. In this way six days passed, and on the seventh day, while he was gathering the grass, as he was naturally delicate and had been fasting for seven days, no sooner did the heat of the sun strike upon his forehead, than his eyes began to swim in his head, and he became unconscious and fell down, scattering the grass. Sakka was moving about, observing what Visayha did. And at that instant the god came, and standing in the air uttered the first verse:

1. “Of old, Visayha, you did alms bestow
And to almsgiving loss of wealth do owe.
Henceforth show self-restraint, refuse to give,
And you midst lasting joys for aye shall live.” {3.131}

The Bodhisatta on hearing his words asked, “Who are you?” “I am Sakka,” he said. The Bodhisatta replied, “Sakka himself by giving alms and taking upon him the moral duties, and keeping fast days and fulfilling the seven vows attained the office of Sakka. But now you forbid the generosity that brought about your own greatness. Truly you are guilty of an unworthy deed.” And so saying, he repeated three verses:

2. “It is not right, men say, that deed of shame
Should stain the honour of a noble name.
O you that do a thousand eyes possess
Guard us from this, e’en in our sore distress.

3. Let not our wealth in faithless wise be spent
On our own pleasure or aggrandisement,
But as of old our stores with increase bless.

4. By that same road a former chariot went
A second may well go. So will we give
As long as we have wherewithal to live,
Nor at the worst each generous thought repress.” [3.87] {3.132}

Sakka being unable to stop him from his purpose asked him why he gave alms. “Desiring,” he said, “neither to become Sakka nor Brahmā, but seeking omniscience do I give.” Sakka in token of his delight on hearing these words patted him on the back with his hands. At the very instant the Bodhisatta enjoyed this favour, his whole frame was filled with joy. By the supernatural power of Sakka all manner of prosperity was restored to him. “Great merchant,” said Sakka, “henceforth do you every day give alms, distributing twelve hundred thousand portions.” And creating countless wealth in his house, Sakka took leave of him and returned straight to his own place of abode.

The Teacher, having ended his lesson, thus identified the Jātaka, “At that time the mother of Rāhula was the merchant’s wife, and I myself was Visayha.”