Conversion of the "Supporter of the Orphans and Destitute"

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

At this time there was a great householder whose name was “Friend of the Orphaned and Destitute”; he was very rich and widely charitable in helping the poor and needy. Now this man, coming far away from the north, even from the country of Kosala, stopped at the house of a friend whose name was Sheu-lo. Hearing that Buddha was in the world and dwelling in the bamboo grove near at hand, understanding moreover his renown and illustrious qualities, he set out that very night for the grove. Tathâgata, well aware of his character, and that he was prepared to bring forth purity and faith, according to the case, called him by his true name, and for his sake addressed him in words of religion:—“Having rejoiced in the true law, and being humbly desirous for a pure and believing heart, thou hast overcome desire for sleep, and art here to pay me reverence. Now then will I for your sake discharge fully the duties of a first meeting. In your former births the root of virtue planted firm in pure and rare expectancy, hearing now the name of Buddha, you rejoiced because you are a vessel fit for righteousness, humble in mind, but large in gracious deeds, abundant in your charity to the poor and helpless. The name you possess widespread and famous, the just reward of former merit, the deeds you now perform are done of charity: done with the fullest purpose and of single heart. Now, therefore, take from me the charity of perfect rest, and for this end accept my rules of purity. My rules are full of grace, able to rescue from destruction, and cause a man to ascend to heaven and share in all its pleasures. But yet to seek for these is a great evil, for lustful longing in its increase brings much sorrow. Practise then the art of ‘giving up’ all search, for ‘giving up’ desire is the joy of perfect rest. Know then! that age, disease, and death, these are the great sorrows of the world. Rightly considering the world, we put away birth and old age, disease and death; but now because we see that men at large inherit sorrow caused by age, disease, and death, we gather that when born in heaven, the case is also thus; for there is no continuance there for any, and where there is no continuance there is sorrow, and having sorrow there is no ‘true self.’ And if the state of ‘no continuance’ and of sorrow is opposed to ‘self,’ what room is there for such idea or ground for self? Know then! that ‘sorrow’ is this very sorrow and its repetition is ‘accumulation’; destroy this sorrow and there is joy, the way is in the calm and quiet place. The restless busy nature of the world, this I declare is at the root of pain. Stop then the end by choking up the source. Desire not either life or its opposite; the raging fire of birth, old age, and death burns up the world on every side. Seeing the constant toil of birth and death we ought to strive to attain a passive state: the final goal of Sammata, the place of immortality and rest. All is empty! neither ‘self,’ nor place for ‘self,’ but all the world is like a phantasy; this is the way to regard ourselves, as but a heap of composite qualities.”

The nobleman, hearing the spoken law, forthwith attained the first degree of holiness: he emptied as it were, the sea of birth and death, one drop alone remaining. By practising, apart from men, the banishment of all desire, he soon attained the one impersonal condition, not as common folk do now-a-day who speculate upon the mode of true deliverance; for he who does not banish sorrow-causing samskâras does but involve himself in every kind of question; and though he reaches to the highest form of being, yet grasps not the one and only truth. Erroneous thoughts as to the joy of heaven are still entwined by the fast cords of lust. The nobleman attending to the spoken law the cloud of darkness opened before the shining splendor. Thus he attained true sight, erroneous views forever dissipated; even as the furious winds of autumn sway to and fro and scatter all the heaped-up clouds. He argued not that Isvara was cause, nor did he advocate some cause heretical, nor yet again did he affirm there was no cause for the beginning of the world. “If the world was made by Isvara deva, there should be neither young nor old, first nor after, nor the five ways of birth; and when once born there should be no destruction. Nor should there be such thing as sorrow or calamity, nor doing wrong nor doing right; for all, both pure and impure deeds, these must come from Isvara deva. Again, if Isvara deva made the world there should be never doubt about the fact, even as a son born of his father ever confesses him and pays him reverence. Men when pressed by sore calamity ought not to rebel against him, but rather reverence him completely, as the self-existent. Nor ought they to adore more gods than one. Again, if Isvara be the maker he should not be called the self-existent, because in that he is the maker now he always should have been the maker; but if ever making, then ever self-remembering, and therefore not the self-existent one—and if he made without a purpose then is he like the sucking child; but if he made having an ever prompting purpose, then is he not, with such a purpose, self-existent? Sorrow and joy spring up in all that lives, these at least are not the works of Isvara; for if he causes grief and joy, he must himself have love and hate; but if he loves unduly, or has hatred, he cannot properly be named the self-existent. Again, if Isvara be the maker, all living things should silently submit, patient beneath the maker’s power, and then what use to practise virtue? Twere equal, then, the doing right or wrong: there should be no reward of works; the works themselves being his making, then all things are the same with him, the maker, but if all things are one with him, then our deeds, and we who do them, are also self-existent. But if Isvara be uncreated, then all things, being one with him, are uncreated. But if you say there is another cause beside him as creator, then Isvara is not the ‘end of all’; Isvara, who ought to be inexhaustible, is not so, and therefore all that lives may after all be uncreated—without a maker. Thus, you see, the thought of Isvara is overthrown in this discussion; and all such contradictory assertions should be exposed; if not, the blame is ours. Again, if it be said self-nature is the maker, this is as faulty as the first assertion; nor has either of the Hetuvidyâ sâstras asserted such a thing as this, till now. That which depends on nothing cannot as a cause make that which is; but all things round us come from a cause, as the plant comes from the seed; we cannot therefore say that all things are produced by self-nature. Again, all things which exist spring not from one nature as a cause; and yet you say self-nature is but one: it cannot then be cause of all. If you say that that self-nature pervades and fills all places, if it pervades and fills all things, then certainly it cannot make them too; for there would be nothing, then, to make, and therefore this cannot be the cause. If, again, it fills all places and yet makes all things that exist, then it should throughout ‘all time’ have made forever that which is. But if you say it made things thus, then there is nothing to be made ‘in time’; know then, for certain, self-nature cannot be the cause of all. Again, they say that that self-nature excludes all modifications, therefore all things made by it ought likewise to be free from modifications. But we see, in fact, that all things in the world are fettered throughout by modifications; therefore, again, we say that self-nature cannot be the cause of all. If, again, you say that that self-nature is different from such qualities, we answer, since self-nature must have ever caused, it cannot differ in its nature from itself; but if the world be different from these qualities, then self-nature cannot be the cause. Again, if self-nature be unchangeable, so things should also be without decay; if we regard self-nature as the cause, then cause and consequence of reason should be one; but because we see decay in all things, we know that they at least are caused. Again, if self-nature be the cause, why should we seek to find ‘escape’? for we ourselves possess this nature; patient then should we endure both birth and death. For let us take the case that one may find ‘escape,’ self-nature still will reconstruct the evil of birth. If self-nature in itself be blind, yet ‘tis the maker of the world that sees. On this account, again, it cannot be the maker, because, in this case, cause and effect would differ in their character, but in all the world around us, cause and effect go hand in hand. Again, if self-nature have no aim, it cannot cause that which has such purpose. We know on seeing smoke there must be fire, and cause and result are ever classed together thus. We are forbidden, then, to say an unthinking cause can make a thing that has intelligence. The gold of which the cup is made is gold throughout from first to last, self-nature, then, that makes these things, from first to last must permeate all it makes. Once more, if ‘time’ is maker of the world, ‘twere needless then to seek ‘escape,’ for ‘time’ is constant and unchangeable: let us in patience bear the ‘intervals’ of time. The world in its successions has no limits, the ‘intervals’ of time are boundless also. Those then who practise a religious life need not rely on ‘methods’ or ‘expedients.’ The To-lo-piu Kiu-na, the one strange Sâstra in the world, although it has so many theories, yet still, be it known, it is opposed to any single cause. But if, again, you say that ‘self’ is maker, then surely self should make things pleasingly; but now things are not pleasing for oneself, how then is it said that self is maker? But if he did not wish to make things so, then he who wishes for things pleasing, is opposed to self, the maker. Sorrow and joy are not self-existing, how can these be made by self? But if we allow that self was maker, there should not be, at least, an evil karman; but yet our deeds produce results both good and evil; know then that ‘self’ cannot be maker. But perhaps you say ‘self’ is the maker according to occasion, and then the occasion ought to be for good alone. But as good and evil both result from ‘cause,’ it cannot be that ‘self’ has made it so. But if you adopt the argument—there is no maker—then it is useless practising expedients; all things are fixed and certain of themselves: what good to try to make them otherwise? Deeds of every kind, done in the world, do, notwithstanding, bring forth every kind of fruit; therefore we argue all things that exist are not without some cause or other. There is both ‘mind’ and ‘want of mind’—all things come from fixed causation; the world and all therein is not the result of ‘nothing’ as a cause.” The nobleman, his heart receiving light, perceived throughout the most excellent system of truth. Simple, and of wisdom born; thus firmly settled in the true doctrine he lowly bent in worship at the feet of Buddha and with closed hands made his request:—

“I dwell indeed at Srâvasti, a land rich in produce, and enjoying peace; Prasenagit is the great king thereof, the offspring of the ‘lion’ family; his high renown and fame spread everywhere, reverenced by all both far and near. Now am I wishful there to found a Vihâra, I pray you of your tenderness accept it from me. I know the heart of Buddha has no preferences, nor does he seek a resting-place from labor, but on behalf of all that lives refuse not my request.”

Buddha, knowing the householder’s heart, that his great charity was now the moving cause—untainted and unselfish charity, nobly considerate of the heart of all that lives—he said:

“Now you have seen the true doctrine, your guileless heart loves to exercise its charity: for wealth and money are inconstant treasures, ‘twere better quickly to bestow such things on others. For when a treasury has been burnt, whatever precious things may have escaped the fire, the wise man, knowing their inconstancy, gives freely, doing acts of kindness with his saved possessions. But the niggard guards them carefully, fearing to lose them, worn by anxiety, but never fearing ‘inconstancy,’ and that accumulated sorrow, when he loses all! There is a proper time and a proper mode in charity; just as the vigorous warrior goes to battle, so is the man ‘able to give’—he also is an able warrior; a champion strong and wise in action. The charitable man is loved by all, well-known and far-renowned! his friendship prized by the gentle and the good, in death his heart at rest and full of joy! He suffers no repentance, no tormenting fear, nor is he born a wretched ghost or demon! this is the opening flower of his reward, the fruit that follows—hard to conjecture! In all the six conditions born there is no sweet companion like pure charity; if born a Deva or a man, then charity brings worship and renown on every hand; if born among the lower creatures, the result of charity will follow in contentment got; wisdom leads the way to fixed composure without dependence and without number, and if we even reach the immortal path, still by continuous acts of charity we fulfil ourselves in consequence of kindly charity done elsewhere. Training ourselves in the eightfold path of recollection, in every thought the heart is filled with joy; firm fixed in holy contemplation, by meditation still we add to wisdom, able to see aright the cause of birth and death; having beheld aright the cause of these, then follows in due order perfect deliverance. The charitable man discarding earthly wealth, nobly excludes the power of covetous desire; loving and compassionate now, he gives with reverence and banishes all hatred, envy, anger. So plainly may we see the fruit of charity, putting away all covetous and unbelieving ways, the bands of sorrow all destroyed: this is the fruit of kindly charity. Know then! the charitable man has found the cause of final rescue; even as the man who plants the sapling thereby secures the shade, the flowers, the fruit of the tree full grown; the result of charity is even so, its reward is joy and the great Nirvâna. The charity which un-stores wealth leads to returns of well-stored fruit. Giving away our food we get more strength, giving away our clothes we get more beauty, founding religious rest-places we reap the perfect fruit of the best charity. There is a way of giving, seeking pleasure by it; there is a way of giving, coveting to get more; some also give away to get a name for charity, others to get the happiness of heaven, others to avoid the pain of being poor hereafter, but yours, O friend! is a charity without such thoughts: the highest and the best degree of charity, without self-interest or thought of getting more. What your heart inclines you now to do, let it be quickly done and well completed! The uncertain and the lustful heart goes wandering here and there, but the pure eyes of virtue opening, the heart comes back and rests!” The nobleman accepting Buddha’s teaching, his kindly heart receiving yet more light.

He invited Upatishya, his excellent friend, to accompany him on his return to Kosala; and then going round to select a pleasant site, he saw the garden of the heir-apparent, Geta, the groves and limpid streams most pure. Proceeding where the prince was dwelling, he asked for leave to buy the ground; the prince, because he valued it so much, at first was not inclined to sell, but said at last:—“If you can cover it with gold then, but not else, you may possess it.”

The nobleman, his heart rejoicing, forthwith began to spread his gold. Then Geta said: “I will not give, why then spread you your gold?” The nobleman replied, “Not give; why then said you, ‘Fill it with yellow gold’?” And thus they differed and contended both, till they resorted to the magistrate.

Meanwhile the people whispered much about his unwonted charity, and Geta too, knowing the man’s sincerity, asked more about the matter: what his reasons were. On his reply, “I wish to found a Vihâra, and offer it to the Tathâgata and all his Bhikshu followers,” the prince, hearing the name of Buddha, received at once illumination, and only took one-half the gold, desiring to share in the foundation: “Yours is the land,” he said, “but mine the trees; these will I give to Buddha as my share in the offering.” Then the noble took the land, Geta the trees, and settled both in trust on Sâriputra. Then they began to build the hall, laboring night and day to finish it. Lofty it rose and choicely decorated, as one of the four kings’ palaces, in just proportions, following the directions which Buddha had declared the right ones. Never yet so great a miracle as this! the priests shone in the streets of Srâvasti! Tathâgata, seeing the divine shelter, with all his holy ones resorted to the place to rest. No followers there to bow in prostrate service, his followers rich in wisdom only. The nobleman reaping his reward, at the end of life ascended up to heaven, leaving to sons and grandsons a good foundation, through successive generations, to plough the field of merit.

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