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Marie L. Shedlock

The Man Who Worked To Give Alms

Once upon a time the Buddha was born as a merchant named Vissaya (and being endowed with the Five Virtues) he was liberal and fond of alms-giving. He had alms halls built at the four city gates, in the heart of the city, and at the door of his own house. At these points he set on foot alms-giving and every day 600,000 men went forth to beg and the food of the beggar and the merchant was exactly the same. And as he thus stirred up the people of India by his gifts, Sakka, the King of the gods, grew suspicious and thought, "This Vissaya gives alms and by scattering his gifts everywhere is stirring up all India. By means of his alms-giving, methinks he will dethrone me and himself become Sakka. I will destroy his wealth, and make him a poor man, and so bring it about that he shall no longer give alms." So Sakka caused his oil, honey, molasses and the like, and all his treasure of grain to disappear, as well as his slaves and work people. Those who were deprived of his gifts came and said, "My Lord, the alms hall has disappeared. We do not find anything in the various places set up by you." "Take money hence," he said. "Do not cut off the giving of alms." And calling his wife, he bade her keep up her charity. She searched the whole house, and not finding a single bit of money, she said, "My Lord, except the clothes we wear, I see nothing. The whole house is empty." Opening the seven jewel treasuries they found nothing,and save the merchant and his wife no one else was seen, neither slaves nor hirelings. The merchant, again addressing his wife, said, "My dear, we cannot possibly cut off our charities. Search the whole house till you find something."

At that moment a certain grass-mower threw down his sickle and pole and the rope for binding the grass in the doorway, and ran away. The merchant's wife found them and said: "My Lord, this is all I see," and brought and gave them to him. Said he: "All these years I have never mown grass before, but today I will mow grass, and take and sell it, and by this means dispense the fitting alms."

So, through fear of having to cut off his charities, he took the sickle, and the pole and the rope, and going forth from the city came to a place of much grass, and mowing it, tied it up in two bundles, saying, "One shall belong to us, and with the other I will give alms."

This he did for six days, and because there was not enough to feed all who came for alms, on the seventh day, he and his wife went fasting. Then his strength gave out. No sooner did the heat of the sun strike upon his head than his eyes began to swim in his head, and he became unconscious and falling down he scattered the grass. Sakka was moving about, observing what the merchant did. And that god, standing in mid-air, cried: "Refrain from giving, and thou shalt have joy for ever."

"Who art thou?" cried the merchant.

"I am Sakka." And the merchant said:

"Sakka reached his high office by taking upon himself moral duties, and giving alms."

"Why dost thou give alms?" asked Sakka, still wishing to test him.

"It is not because I desire Sakkahood nor Brahmaship, but through giving there cometh knowledge of all things."

"Great merchant," cried Sakka, "henceforth do thou every day give alms." And all his wealth was restored to him.