4 –THE MERCHANT
Pg 29 – Even in the face of imminent peril
the virtuous never shrink from practicing charity.
Who, then, when safe and happy, should not be charitable?
Once, when the Buddha was still a Bodhisattva, he took birth as the son of a good family. Blessed with boundless energy and great good fortune, he became head of his guild. He acquired a large estate, and by his fairness and integrity in business, earned the deepest respect of all. In addition, his study of various branches of the arts and sciences purified his mind and produced qualities which, together with his noble virtues, brought him honor even from the king.
Devoted to the precept of giving, he constantly endeavored to share his wealth with the people. The mendicants praised his name far and wide, spreading his reputation for charity in all directions; they trusted him entirely, becoming bold enough to tell him their desires freely. For his part, untouched by avarice, he never held back his wealth, either for his own pleasure or to gain influence over others-for he found it impossible to witness any sort of suffering and refuse to help.
One day a mendicant, a Pratyekabuddha in whom the fire of knowledge had burned away all fettering passions, approached the Bodhisattva’s dwelling. –
Pg – 30 Now this beggar’s sole desire was to increase the merit of the Bodhisattva, and to that end he had appeared in the gateway at meal time, just as the Great Being, having bathed and anointed himself, was about to sit down to a feast. Many and various dishes had been prepared by the finest of cooks, dishes pleasing in their color, smell, taste, texture, and so on. In the quiet of the evening, the monk stood outside the house without apprehension or agitation, looking firmly and quietly a small distance before him, his lotus-like hands holding a wooden alms bowl.
Now the demon Mara, the Wicked One, could not bear to see the Bodhisattva about to enjoy the happiness which comes from giving alms. Determined to obstruct the act of giving, Mara manifested a deep hell several fathoms wide which separated the mendicant from the gateway. In that hell, hundreds of people were writhing among the flames, making ghastly sounds of great agony: It was truly a dreadful sight.
But the Bodhisattva, seeing only the Pratyekabuddha, said calmly to his wife: “Please go, my dear, and give this holy man some food.” At once his wife approached the door carrying a bowl full of the best portions for the beggar. But close to the gateway, she turned on her heels, terror, stricken and utterly bewildered. So firmly was fear lodged in her throat that when the Bodhisattva asked her what was the matter, she could barely speak.
Uneasy at the thought that the holy man might turn away from his house empty-handed, the Bodhisattva paid no attention to the stuttering of his wife. Taking the bowl of food in his own hands, he had just started for the gate when he too caught sight of that horrifying hell. While he stood. there,
Pg 31 – pondering the meaning of such a phenomenon, Mara the Wicked One suddenly appeared. Manifesting as a great god, Mara emerged from the house wall and, floating in the air, toke in seeming kindness to the Bodhisattva:
“Householder, behold here the hell of Maharauvara, from which it is most difficult to escape! This is the hell of those hoed by the praise of beggars, those who indulge in a vicious passion for charity and thus give away all their well-earned wealth. Here they must remain for thousands of years.
“Wealth is the cause leading to purification of the three worldly states. When one gives up one’s wealth, how can one not injure the Dharma? He who injures wealth injures righteousness. Is it not fitting that one who destroys the Dharma by destroying wealth should go to hell?
“And now this hell that looks like Narakantaka licks at your doorstep, eager to devour you, for you have sinned immeasurably by giving up your wealth, root of all Dharma. Henceforth cease from giving, lest you fall headlong into this pit of flames and share the fate of these piteous almsgivers who writhe in pain and weep incessantly.
“The wealthy, however, who cease their bad habits of giving. attain the rank of gods! Desist from your charitable efforts, which are obstructions to heavenly bliss. Practice elf-restraint!”
The Bodhisattva knew that anyone saying such things could only be an evil person. “Surely this is an attempt to thwart my almsgiving,” he thought. Firmly yet kindly, and in accord with virtue, he replied:
Most considerately have you shown me the path of the pious. Indeed, it is fitting that the gods should show their
Pg 32 – compassion by their actions and skill in helping others. Nevertheless, it would have been wiser to halt the disease before it took hold, or at least to apply the cure as soon as the first symptoms appeared. For if the wrong treatment allows a disease to develop, a cure applied too late can lead only to disaster. My passion for giving has grown, I fear, far beyond the reach of help, for my mind can now never turn from almsgiving, despite your counsel so well-intended.
“As for your words regarding the sin of charity and the righteousness of wealth, I am afraid my weak human understanding cannot grasp it. How can wealth without charity be called the path of virtue? When, please tell me, does wealth produce virtue? As buried treasure, perhaps? Or when violently taken by thieves? When lost at the bottom of the sea, or when used as fuel for fire?
“Further, by saying that givers go to hell and that recipients go to heavenly realms, you only increase my longing to perform works of charity. May those words come to pass! May those who beg from me rise immediately to the heavenly realms! For it is not for my own happiness that I give, but for the good of all beings.”
Then Mara the Wicked One bent toward the Bodhisattva and like the closest of friends whispered earnestly in his ear: “Decide for yourself whether my words are lies or are for your own good. Then do as you will. Happy or remorseful, you will not soon forget me.”
The Bodhisattva replied: “Sir, you must forgive me. Of my own accord I will throw myself into this fiercely blazing hell and be prey to its flames. Rather this than be guilty of neglecting the kindly mendicants who show me their affection by begging from me.”
Pg 33 – And so the Bodhisattva, relying on the power of his good fortune (and knowing full well that the consequences of true generosity can never be evil), stepped forward into the hell gaping before him. And in doing so, his mind was untouched by fear and his desire to give was stronger than ever, despite the feverish entreaties of family and servants.
By the power of the Bodhisattva’s merit, a lotus bloomed in the midst of that hell; its row of petals shaking as if in laughter at Mara, it carried the Great Being across the sea of fire. Standing before the Pratyekabuddha, the householder filled the monk’s bowl with food, while his own heart overflowed with happiness and joy.
The Pratyekabuddha, demonstrating his satisfaction, rose high in the air, raining down glory and flaming with majesty like a cloud flashing with lightning. Vanquished and disheartened, Mara lost his splendor. Not daring to look upon the Bodhisattva’s face, he disappeared completely, along with his hell.
From this story one can see how the virtuous do not shrink from giving even when they are in peril; who then when he is safe and happy would not be charitable? The brave and great-hearted can never be induced to travel the wrong path, even by fear.