Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Greatness of Giving (Jataka)

Palikanon.com; Amber Dorrian, Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly translation (Aditta Jātaka)
Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion (Vaniaragageles/flickr.com)
Once upon a time the Bodhisat (Buddha-to-be) was born as Bharata, the King of Roruva, in the country of Sovīra.

He was a good ruler and much beloved. His chief queen, Samuddavijayā (Yasodhara-to-be), was knowledgeable and full of wisdom.
The king longed to give alms to reclusive fully-enlightened nonteachers (pacceka buddhas) rather than other recluses who were far less spiritually evolved. He consulted the queen, and acting on her advice proclaimed to the people the benefits of keeping the precepts. He himself observed all lunar observance days (weekly full, new, and quarter moons) giving great gifts in charity to wandering ascetics and temple priests.
One day he offered flowers to the eastern quarter, and paying homage wished that any fully-enlightened recluse in that quarter might come to accept his alms. His wish was not fulfilled.
Giving (dāna) upholds the world.
He repeated the same ceremony to the other quarters on the following days until, on the fourth day, seven enlightened recluses came from the north where they lived in Nandamūlapabbhāra. 
The king and queen fed them for seven days, providing them with robes and all of the other requisites of ascetics. 
The nonteaching buddhas departed one by one, each expressing thanks with a stanza and exhorting the king and queen to lead wholesome lives of nonharming.
This past life tale (jataka) was related in reference to King Pasenadi's great offering (Asadisa dāna) to show that the wise of olde also gave gifts to spiritual recluses with discretion (J.iii.469-74).
This is evidently the story referred to as the Sucira Jātaka in the introduction to the Dasa Brāhmana Jātaka ("Ten Brahmins Tale," J.iv.360) and again as the Sovīra Jātaka in the introductory story to the Sivi Jātaka (J.iv.401).

The Stanzas
Jathakakatha.org translation, edited by Wisdom Quarterly
Practice kindness toward random strangers (Ayshfi)
Whoever can save from flames that burn one’s dwelling down,
Not what is left to be consumed, will still remain one’s own.

The world’s on fire! Decay and death are there the flame to feed;
Save what one can by charity, a gift is saved indeed.

Thus expressing thanks the first elder admonished the king and queen to be diligent in virtue then flew up into the air, straight through the peaked roof of the palace and alighted in Nandamula cave. Along with him all of the requisites gifted to him flew up and alighted in the cave. The bodies of the king and queen became suffused with intense joy. After his departure, the other six expressed thanks each with a stanza:

Beautiful sky goddess (Crorlz/flickr.com)
One who gives to spiritual recluses,
Strong in spiritual energy,
Crosses [the King of the Dead] Yama’s flood and
Gains a dwelling in the sky [space].

Like to war is charity:
Hosts may flee before a few:
Give a little piously:
Bliss hereafter will be one’s due.

Prudent givers please the Teacher[s],
Worthily they spend their toil.
Rich the fruit their gifts afford,
Like a seed in fertile soil.
They who never rudely speak,
Harm to living things abjure:
People may call them timid, weak:
For ’tis dread that keeps them pure.

Lower duties win for one, reborn on earth, a royal fate,
Middle duties win them heaven(s); highest win the Purest State.
Charity is blest indeed,
Yet the Dharma gains higher meed:
Ages old and late attest,
Thus the wise have reached their Rest.

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