Thursday, March 20, 2014

Buddhist multi-millionaire: poor then rich again

Dhr. Seven and Amber Larson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Hellmuth Hecker, Anathapindika: The Great Benefactor, Part II, "As A Wealthy Patron" (Lives of the Great Disciples Series)
The noble disciples with the Buddha at their head (Thai-on/
"Thus have I heard. One time the Blessed One was staying in the city of Savatthi at Jeta's Grove, in Anathapindika's Monastery..."

Many of the Buddha's sutras begin with these words, so the name of that great lay devotee and multimillionaire, Anathapindika, is well known. His name was Sudatta, a stream enterer, whose honorific nickname means: "One who gives alms (pinda) to the unprotected (a-natha)."
Who was he? How did he meet the Buddha? What was his relationship to the Dharma? The answers to these questions may be found in the many references to him in the traditional discourses.

Buying land with gold to gift to the Buddha
Even the wealth of the Buddhist multimillionaire Anathapindika (the merchant, trader, banker, or "best," see setthi*) was not inexhaustible.

One day treasures worth 18 million gold pieces were swept away by a flash flood and washed into the sea. Moreover, Anathapindika had loaned nearly the same amount of money to business friends, who had failed to repay him. He was reluctant, however, to ask for the money.

Because his fortune amounted to about five times 18 million, and he had already spent three-fifths of it for the famous forest monastery he donated to the Buddha and Buddha's wandering ascetics, his money had now nearly run out. Anathapindika had become poor.

Nevertheless, he continued to provide food for the mendicants nuns and monks as well as the needy and defenseless, although it was only a modest serving of thin rice gruel.

At that time a spirit lived in his seven-storied mansion, above the gate-tower. Whenever the Buddha or a noble (enlightened) disciple entered the house, the spirit, following the laws of its realm, was obliged to step down from its place in order to honor the Great Ones. However, this was very inconvenient for the spirit. Annoyed, he tried to think of a way to keep noble ones out away from the house.

He appeared to a servant and suggested the residence stop offering alms. But the servant paid no attention to these urgings. Then the spirit tried to turn the son of the house against the monastics, but this also failed.

Finally, the spirit appeared in the supernatural aura to the householder himself and tried to persuade Anathapindika to stop the giving of alms given that he was now impoverished. However, Anathapindika, who was a stream enterer, explained that he recognized only three treasures: the Buddha, the Enlightened Teacher, the Dharma, the Teaching that leads to Enlightenment, and the Sangha, the Community of Noble Disciples [that runs the gamut from lay disciples who are stream enterers or those destined for stream entry to ordained arhats].
Sculpture of his donation (British Library)
Anathapindika was looking after these treasures and told the spirit to leave his house as there was no place in it for adversaries of the noble ones with the Buddha as their head.

Thereupon, the spirit, following the laws of his realm, had to abandon that place. He betook himself to the deity who was the divine protector of the city of Savatthi and requested an assignment to a new shelter. But it was instead referred to a higher court, that of the Four Great Sky Kings (corresponding to the Four Cardinal Directions).

However, these four also did not feel qualified to make judge where the noble ones were concerned and sent the homeless spirit [up one plane of existence] to Sakka, King of the Devas.

In the meantime, the spirit had become aware of its grave misconduct and asked Sakka to seek forgiveness on his behalf. The king of the devas required that as a penance the spirit help Anathapindika regain his fortune.
First of all, the spirit had to retrieve the sunken gold that had washed into the sea; moreover, he had to procure unclaimed buried treasure, and finally he had to persuade Anathapindika's ungrateful debtors to repay their debts.

With a great deal of effort, the spirit fulfilled these tasks. In doing so, he appeared to the debtors in dreams to demand repayment. Soon after Anathapindika regained 54 million and was again able to be as generous as before.
The Buddha -- noble, awakened, and free -- helped all who came in contact with him, whether human, deva, or spirit. Such was his loving-kindness and wisdom (Hanuman/
The spirit appeared before the Enlightened One and asked his pardon for his malevolent misbehavior, motivated by its annoyance. He was forgiven, and after the Buddha explained the Dharma to him, he became a disciple.

The Enlightened One taught him, moreover, that a person who strives for perfection in giving could not be kept from it by anything in the world, neither by bad nor good fairies, not devas, not yakkhas, nor threat of death (Jataka 140; Jataka 340).

After Anathapindika regain his wealthy and status, a Brahmin became jealous of his good fortune and decided to steal from him what, in his opinion, had made him so wealthy. He wanted to abduct the manifestation of Sirī (Sri), the Goddess of Fortune, because he thought that then fortune would leave Anathapindika and come to him.

He could then force her to do his bidding. This strange perception was based on the idea that so called favors of fate, while a [karmic] reward for earlier meritorious deeds, are nevertheless dispensed by devas/deities), who force them to dwell in the beneficiary's house.

So the Brahmin went to Anathapindika's house and looked around to see where the Spirit of Fortune -- the one Americans today refer to, often quite literally, as Lady Luck -- might be found. Like many ancient Indians of his day, he had clairvoyant powers (dibba cakkhu, the "divine eye"), and he saw "Fortune" living in a white cock which was kept in a golden cage in the palace.

He asked the master of the house to give him the cock to awaken his students in the morning. Without hesitation, generous Anathapindika granted the Brahmin his wish. However, just at that moment, "Fortune" wandered into a jewel.

Therefore, the Brahmin also requested the jewel as a present and received it. Then the spirit hid in a staff, a self-defense weapon. After the Brahmin had successfully begged this, the manifestation of Siri settled down on the head of the lady Puññalakkhana-devi, the first wife of Anathapindika, who was truly the good spirit of the house and therefore had the protection of the devas.
Anathapindika visits the Buddha (MBDD)
When the Brahmin saw this, he recoiled in fright: "His wife I cannot request from him!" He confessed his greedy unskillful intentions, returned the gifts and, deeply ashamed, he left the house.

Anathapindika went to the Enlightened One and recounted this strange encounter which he had not understood. The Buddha explained the connection to him -- how the world is changed through skillful works and how, for those with right insight through the purification of virtue, everything is attainable, even nirvana (Jataka 284). More

No comments: