3 – A SMALL PORTION OF GRUEL
Any gift that comes from the heart and is upon a bestowed worthy recipient will produce a great result. No gift of such a nature, however small, is without merit.
Pg 21 – Once, when the Buddha was still a Bodhisattva, he lived as a great king of Koshala. Energy, discretion, majesty, power, these and other royal virtues were his to the highest degree. Yet the strength of one quality surpassed all others: his talent for gaining prosperity. Enriched by this felicitous ability, his other qualities shone all the brighter, as the splendor of moonlight increases in autumn.
Fortune followed him everywhere like a lover, abandoning his enemies and holding his followers dear. Although his sense of fairness prevented him from harming any living being, his fortune was such that his adversaries did not flourish even though he refused to oppress them.
Now it happened one day that this king came to recall one of his previous lives, and was deeply moved. And with this recollection he increased the gifts of charity he was used to bestowing on the shramanas and brahmans, on the poor, on the wretched and the helpless. For giving is the basis and
Pg 22 – cause of happiness. More than ever before, he strove to practice good conduct; more than ever he followed the restrictions on holy days.
Intent on illustrating to his people the power of meritorious action, every day he made the same proclamation in his assembly hall as well as in the innermost apartments of his palace. These were the words that issued from his heart with deep feeling:
“Respect paid to the Buddhas, no matter how small it may seem, will never yield insignificant fruit. This has been heard before, but now looks at the proof. Look around you, and behold the rich results produced by a small portion of gruel, saltless, coarse, and dry!
“My mighty army with its splendid chariots, its powerful horses, and its dark blue throngs of fierce elephants; my boundless wealth; Fortune’s favor; dominion over the earth; my noble wife-behold the result of merit, all from a small portion of gruel!”
Even after the king had developed the habit of saying these words every day, no one, not the ministers, not the worthiest of the elder brahmans, not the most prominent towns folk no one ventured to ask what he meant, although all were plagued by curiosity.
Eventually the queen also grew curious at the king’s constant repetition of these words. Feeling free to question her husband, one day during full audience she seized the opportunity to do so:
“My lord, all the time now, day and night, you recite these words about a small portion of gruel. You speak with such heartfelt fervor that I am filled with wonder. Your -words
Pg 23 – surely cannot refer to some secret, since they are proclaimed in such an open manner; what they refer to must be a matter for public knowledge. If I am allowed to hear it, I request humbly that you tell me what you mean.”
The king looked on his queen, his face suffused with love. Smiling, he spoke: “You are not the only one curious about the meaning, the cause, and the circumstances of my words. All the officials, the queens, and all the townspeople are full of wonder and curiosity. Listen, then, to my words:
“Why I do not know, but as naturally as one awakens from deep sleep, the memory of one of my past lives suddenly came to me. I was living as a servant in this very town. I was honest and trustworthy, but resigned to a dreary existence working for people elevated by wealth alone. All was toil, contempt, and sorrow. Each day I struggled to support my forever in fear that I would be unable to sustain them.
“Then one evening I encountered four monks begging
for alms. Their senses subdued, they radiated the glory of monkhood. My heart softened to them as if I were their disciple; I bowed to them and asked them into my home.
“Then I offered what I could, a small portion of gruel. And from that tiny sprout has sprung this tree of greatness, so immense that the glittering crown jewels of other kings are reflected in the dust at my feet.
“Such are my thoughts as I recite those words, my queen, and this is the reason I gain such pleasure in performing acts merit, and in associating with spiritual people.”
The queen’s face shone with surprise and happiness. Respectfully raising her eyes to the king, she said: “Now I
Pg 24 – understand, Great King, why you are so intent on gathering merit-for you yourself have witnessed the result of virtuous action. Because of this, you strive to protect your subjects like a father, ever mindful to avoid evil actions and to attain all the qualities which bring forth merit.
“Today you shine with illustrious glory enhanced by charity, and your rival kings await your commands in willing obeisance. May you rule the earth with justice forever, from here to its wind-swept ocean borders.”
The king replied: “Since I have seen its lovely signs, I will always attempt to point out the path of salvation. How could I not be liberal, my queen, having experienced myself the rewards of generosity? And now, having heard this tale of the results of charity, people everywhere will love the act of giving.”
The king, looking lovingly toward his queen, noticed that she had begun to glow with a splendor almost divine. “You are shining amidst your attendants like the crescent moon amidst the stars. What virtuous act of yours has brought forth such radiance?”
The queen replied: “I, too, my lord, have had some memory of a former life, dimly recalled like something that happened when I was a child. I was a slave who, one day, after giving the remnants of a dish of food to a holy monk, fell asleep. And it is as if I woke up here.
“By that wholesome action of giving I won you for my lord and my protector, sharing you with the world. The very words you have spoken-‘No benefit is small when given to those free of defilement’-those very words were spoken by that monk.”
Pg 25 – The members of the assembly were overcome by amazement; having witnessed such wonderful results of merit, they developed a high regard for meritorious action. Noticing this, the king said to them: “After seeing the splendid result of one good deed, however small, how could anyone not diligently practice charity and right conduct? Clearly the person who, wrapped in the darkness of avarice, declines to offer charity though wealthy enough to do so is not worth a moment’s thought.
“Wealth, after all, must finally be left behind, and is then of no use at all. But by giving it up in the right manner, any good quality can be acquired. In truth, many different virtues – happiness, a good name, and so on, are founded on giving. Who, then, knowing this, would choose the path of selfish action?
“Generosity is a great treasure. No thief can steal it, no fire destroy it, no water can ruin it, no king can command it. Generosity cleanses the mind of selfishness and greed, resting our weariness as we travel through life. It is our best and closest friend, constantly giving pleasure and comfort.
“Generosity can win you whatever you may wish: riches, power, beautiful body, or heavenly palace. Who then Would not practice giving?
“Generosity is called the worth of riches, the essence of dove, the way to glory. Even rags offered by, the simple minded are a gift well-bestowed.”
The assembly respectfully listened to the king’s discourse, and from that moment on, each one was more inclined to practice charity.
Pg 26 – From this story one can see how any gift that proceeds from the heart and is bestowed on a worthy recipient produces a great result; no gift of such a nature can be considered small. Therefore, if one gives with a faithful heart to the Sangha, the congregation of the holy, those most excellent friends who sow meritorious action, one may obtain the utmost nobility, even an exalted state. Blessings even greater than these may occur as well.