5 – THE INVINCIBLE ONE
Neither fear of fortune’s loss nor hope of future gain can
distract the virtuous from the practice of giving
Pg 35 -At one time when the Buddha was still a Bodhisattva, he was born in an illustrious family and later became head of his guild. He radiated generosity and morality, and excelled in sacred learning, self-discipline, and spiritual knowledge, embodying both wisdom and humility.
Blessed with such boundless riches, he seemed like Kuvera himself. Charity was for him a perpetual practice-and so he became a constant source of wealth. Best of almsgivers, he lived only to benefit humanity; truly oblivious to all manner of greed and selfishness, he soon came to be known as Avishahya, `the Invincible One’. He was as happy to see beggars as they were to see him: At first sight, both knew that their fondest wish had been granted. He was, indeed, incapable of refusing any request, and his great compassion left no room in his heart for attachment to wealth. His highest joy, therefore, was to watch the mendicants carry off the finest objects from his home. He saw those so-called goods for what they were, sources of desire and discontent that would quickly lead to dissatisfaction without any apparent cause.
Indeed, riches joined with greed may be called swift caravans on the road to despair. His riches, on the other hand, brought true benefit both to himself and to others. The Great Being gave the mendicants whatever they desired and ornamented his gifts with respect and freedom from emotionality, in this way satisfying them wholly.
When Shakra, Lord of the Gods, heard of the Bodhisattva’s benevolence, he was truly astounded, and instantly decided to test the firmness of the Bodhisattva’s resolution. Day by day, little by little, quantities of money, grain, jewels, and clothes began to disappear from Avishahya’s house. “Perhaps,” thought Shakra, “concern for the loss of his property may tempt him to show a little self-interest.” But the Great Being remained intent on giving. No sooner did his possessions vanish, like raindrops touched by the sun-than he would order more to be fetched from his house, as if saving them from a dangerous fire.
At this, Shakra was even more amazed, and prepared a test of greater severity. During the night he concealed the whole of Avishahya’s wealth, except for a rope and a sickle. The Bodhisattva awoke to find everything gone, household goods, furniture, money, grain, clothes, even his servants. His house stood empty, desolate, and sad, as if plundered by rakshasas; searching about he found nothing but the rope and the sickle.
“Perhaps some poor person unused to begging has decided to use his initiative and help himself. In that case, he has done my house a favor and my goods are well spent,” he thought. “If, however, by some fault of my destiny, someone who is
Pg 37 – envious of my good fortune has simply stolen all these things, and does not intend to use them, it is a great pity.
The fickleness of Fortune is no surprise to me, but that the indigent should come to grief because of it, saddens me. Thev have long enjoyed my gifts and hospitality; now, finding my house empty, how will they feel? They are no better off than those who, dying of thirst, find a dry pond.”
Yet maintaining his even mindedness, the Bodhisattva refused to succumb to sorrow. Unaccustomed to begging, he was not able to bring himself to ask others for help, even those he knew well. And so he realized how truly difficult it is to beg. His compassion for beggars grew even greater, and with the thought of providing for these mendicants strongly in mind, he took up the rope and sickle and ventured out into the fields to gather grass. Day after day he toiled in the hot sun, and with the little he earned by selling his crop, he attended to the wants of many mendicants.
Witnessing such unshakable calm and devotion to giving in the midst of extreme poverty, Shakra was filled with astonishment and admiration. But he was not finished with his test. In a burst of dazzling rainbows of light, he appeared in mid-air before the Bodhisattva, and displaying his wondrous celestial form, attempted to turn the Bodhisattva from giving, proclaiming:
“Householder! Neither thieves nor water, neither fire nor princes have robbed you of your wealth. Your own profligate generosity has reduced you to this state, and your friends are much alarmed. For this reason I urge you to restrain your passionate love of giving. If you would stop your giving, it is possible that even as poor as you are now, you could yet recover your former riches. By constant consumption, possessions dwindle;
Pg 38 – but gathering ant hills can make a mountain. By practicing self-restraint you can increase your property.”
In order to indicate his devotion to giving, the Bodhisattva replied: “O Thousand-Eyed one, the noble-hearted, however distressed, could never lower themselves to do anything ignoble. May there never be a time when I act like a miser. Beggars undergo great suffering-almost like death. As begging is their only hope, who could strike a mendicant with the hail stones of refusal? Indeed, who could accept any jewel, any wealth, even the realm of the gods, and not use it to relieve the misery of those grown pale with the task of begging? When one does not give, one strengthens greed. In strengthening generosity, one guards against such a danger.
“Wealth is as fickle as a flash of lightning. It may strike anyone, and when it does, it brings only pain and disaster; whereas only happiness and joy spring from giving alms. Knowing this, how could the noble cling to greed? Good Shakra, I thank you for your kind words and sympathy, but my heart is too accustomed to the joy brought by giving. How could I find delight in any other way? And do not be angry on my account; the fortress of my character is not easy to breech.”
Shakra replied: “Householder, you speak as if you were still a powerful and wealthy man, attended by many servants, with treasury and granary overflowing, your future assured. Your conduct does not suit your condition. It is time you recovered your riches. Take up a line of work suitable for a man of your position! Soon you will gather riches as great as the sun-and with these riches you can eclipse your rival’s fortunes. You will then be in a position to enjoy fortune’s favor like the embrace of a lover. Having obtained the respect
Pg 39 – even of kings, you can display your opulence to the people, and gladden your friends with a gift or two. If, at that point, You should feel inclined to charitable actions, well, who then would blame you?
“But love of charity without the means to perform it is as foolish as a bird with half-grown wings attempting to fly. Your desire to give will ruin you; only through practicing restraint, pursuing humble aims, and giving up almsgiving can you acquire wealth. Without wealth what can you give? What can be wrong in not giving, after all, when you have nothing to give?”
But the Bodhisattva replied: “Shakra, there is no time for that you suggest! Furthermore, even those who care more for their own interest than for the interest of others will find that by practicing charity they will benefit much more than they ever could from wealth. Great satisfaction arises by subduing greed through charitable actions. Keeping this always in mind, one sees how foolish it is to care for riches, for Fey will never lead one to the heavenly realms. Charity alone will earn one a holy reputation and suppress the tendencies toward greed. Knowing this, who would not practice charity?
“Anyone moved by compassion, anyone who desires to protect beings surrounded by old age and death, would give away his very self as alms. Such a person has no use for ordinary happiness; the sufferings of others forbid him such enjoyment. For one such as this, what use is even the glory you possess in the heaven realms?
“Hear this also, O Lord of Gods: The span of life is as uncertain as the duration of wealth. When one considers this, it is clearly senseless to care for gain when giving alms. By the time a single carriage has beaten a track on the ground,
Pg 40 – a second will go by with more confidence. For this reason, I will not move from this good way, nor will I shift my carriage to the wrong path.
“Should I once more acquire great wealth, it would certainly please the mendicants. For now, however, even in my lowly condition, I shall give alms as well as I can. May I never be lax in keeping my vow of charity!”
With these words Shakra was finally satisfied. “Well said! Well said!” he cried, and looking upon the Bodhisattva with admiration and love, he explained: “Most people chase after wealth by any conceivable means, no matter how low and rough and hurtful, no matter how harmful to their reputations. Mindless of danger, attached to pleasure, they blind themselves with their selfishness. But you do not worry about your lost wealth or your lack of pleasures. Nor are you lured by my temptations, being intent on increasing the good fortune of others. And so you show the greatness of your nature!
“How your lofty heart shines! How completely you have removed the darkness of selfish feelings! Though your wealth is gone, your desire to give has not lessened with the hope of recovering it. So greatly do you suffer at the suffering of others, so great is the power of your compassion and your desire to benefit the world, it is no wonder I have been unable to deter you. Just so little are the Himalayas shaken by the wind!
“It was I who hid your wealth, but only so that by trial your fame might increase. Only by trial can a gem, no matter how beautiful, gain the great value of a famous jewel. Forgive me, and henceforth pour your gifts on mendicants as freely as rainclouds fill pools. By my favor, never again shall you lose your wealth.”
Pg 41 – After obtaining the pardon of the Invincible One, Shakra returned his estate to him, and then vanished on the spot.
From this story one can see how the virtuous will not change their practice of giving either out of fear of losing their fortune or from a desire to gain more.