Shakyamuni as the Bodhisattva "Able to Give"

From Nagarjuna's Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom
(Dharmamitra Translation)

When the bodhisattva first brings forth the thought [directed towards buddhahood], his merit is not yet vast. At that time he is desirous of cultivating the two kinds of giving in order to fulfill the aspirations of all beings. Because of a shortage of things [to give] he earnestly seeks for valuables and Dharma in order to be able to adequately supply them.

This is illustrated by the case of Shakyamuni Buddha in a previous lifetime when he was a great physician king who worked to cure every manner of disease without any concern for fame or profit. It was done out of pity for all beings. The sick were extremely many. His powers were inadequate to rescue everyone. He was concerned about and mindful of everyone and yet matters did not correspond [in their outcome] to his mind's aspirations. He became so distressed and agitated that he died.

He was then reborn in the Traayastri.m'sa Heaven. He thought to himself, "Now I've been reborn in the heavens. All I'm doing is consuming my reward of blessings without any sort of long term benefit arising thereby. " He then used a skillful means to put an end to that personal existence. Having relinquished this long life in the heavens he was reborn as a dragon prince in the palace of Saagara, the dragon king. His body grew to full maturity. His parents were extremely attached in their love for him. He desired to die and so went to the king of the golden-winged [garu.da] birds. The bird then immediately seized this young dragon and devoured him in the top of a 'saalmalii tree. The father and mother wailed and cried in grief-stricken distress.

Having died, the young dragon was then reborn in Jambudvipa as a prince in the house of the king of a great country. He was named "Able to Give." From the moment he was born he was able to speak. He asked all of the retainers, "Now, what all does this country contain. Bring it all forth so that it can be used to make gifts. Everyone became amazed and fearful. They all withdrew from him and ran off. His mother felt kindness and love for him and so looked after him by herself. He said to his mother, "I am not a raa.k.sasa [ghost]. Why has everyone run off? In my prevous lives I have always taken pleasure in giving. I have been a donor to everyone."

When his mother heard his words she reported them to everyone else. The other people all returned. The mother took pleasure in raising him. By the time he had grown older he had given away everything he owned. He then went to his father, the king, and requested things to give. His father gave him his share. Again, he gave it all away. He observed that the people of Jambudvipa were all poverty-stricken and ever subject to bitter suffering. He thought to supply them with gifts but the valuables were inadequate. He then began to weep and inquired of everyone, "By what means may I cause everyone to become entirely replete with valuables?"

The wise elders said, "We have heard of the existence of a precious wish-fulfilling pearl. If you were able to obtain this pearl then no matter what your heart desired there would be noting which would not be obtained with certainty."

When the Bodhisattva had heard this words he spoke to his mother and father, saying, "I desire to go out upon the great sea and seek for the precious wish-fulfilling pearl worn on the head of the dragon king."

His father and mother replied, "We have only you, our one son. If you go out upon the great sea the many difficulties will be difficult to overcome. If there should come a morning when we have lost you, what use would we have for living? It's not necessary for you to go. We still have things in our treasury which we can supply you with."

The son said, "There is a limit to the contents of the treasury. My intentions are measureless. I wish to bestow enough wealth to satisfy everyone so that they will never be found wanting. I pray that you will give your permission so that I may succeed in according with my original aspiration to cause everyone in Jambudvipa to be completely provided for."

His parents knew that his determination was immense. They did not dare to restrain him and so subsequently relented and allowed him to go. At that time there were five hundred merchants who, because his meritorious qualities were vast, took pleasure in following him wherever he went. They knew the day when he was due to depart and so gathered at the port. The Bodhisattva had previously heard that Saagara, the dragon king, had a precious wish-fulfilling pearl. He inquired of everyone, "Who knows the route across the sea to his dragon palace?" There was a blind man named Daasa who had been to sea seven times and who knew all of the sea routes. The Bodhisattva ordered him to travel with him.

He replied, "As I have grown old both of my eyes have lost their acuity. Although I have been to sea many times, I cannot go this time."

The Bodhisattva said, "In going forth this time I do not do it for my own sake. I seek the precious wish-fulfilling pearl for the universal benefit of everyone. I desire to completely supply all beings so that they are caused to never again be found wanting. Then I wish to instruct them in the causes and conditions of the dharma of the Way. You are a wise man. How can you withdraw? How, in the absence of your powers, could my vow possibly succeed?"

When Daasa had heard his entreaty he happily and with identical aspiration said to the Bodhisattva, "I'll now go out with you onto the great sea. I most certainly will not survive. You should lay my body to rest on the island of gold sands in the midst of the ocean."

When the provisions for the journey had all been loaded they loosened the last of the seven lines. The ship took off like a camel and arrived at the island of numerous gems. The host of merchants all tried to outdo each other in gathering up the seven precious jewels. When they had all satisfied themselves they asked the Bodhisattva, "Why do you not gather them?"

The Bodhisattva replied, "It is the precious wish-fulfilling pearl which I seek. I have no use for these things of finite value. You all should know when enough is enough and should know too what is an appropriate amount so that the ship will not become overloaded and so that you won't fail to avoid disaster."

At this time the group of merchants said to the Bodhisattva, "Venerable, invoke a spell for us to insure our safety." They then withdrew.

At this point Daasa instructed the Bodhisattva, "Hold aside the dinghy. We will want to go off on this other route. When we have been driven by the wind for seven days we will arrive at a treacherous place on the southern shore of the vast sea. There should be a steep cliff with branches from a date tree forest overhanging the water. If a strong wind blows the ship will be overturned and capsized. By reaching up and grabbing hold of the date branches you may be able to save yourself. As I have no sight I will likely die at that point. Beyond this precipitous shoreline there will be the isle of gold sand. You can take my body and lay it to rest in the midst of those sands. Those gold sands are pure. This is my desire.

And so it was just as he had foretold. The wind came and they set off. Having come to the steep cliffs, it was just as Daasa had described. The bodhisattva reached up, grabbed onto the date branches and so avoided disaster. He interred Daasa's body in the ground of gold. From this point he went on alone according to his earlier instructions. He floated in deep water for seven days. He then walked for seven days in water the depth of his throat. Then he moved for seven days through water up to his waist. After that he walked for seven days through water up to his knees. Then he walked through mud for seven days. Then he came upon marvelous lotus flowers which were fresh and pure and soft. He thought to himself, "These blossoms are soft and fragile. I should enter into the empty space samadhi." And so he made his body light and walked upon the lotus blossoms for another seven days. Then he came upon poisonous snakes and thought to himself, "These poisonous serpents are extremely fearsome." He then entered the samadhi of loving kindness. He then walked upon the heads of the poisonous snakes for seven days. The snakes all extended their heads up to receive the bodhisattva and so allowed him to tread upon them as he passed. After he had passed through this difficulty he saw that there was a jeweled city with seven barriers. There were seven successive moats. Each of the moats was filled with poisonous snakes and had three huge dragons guarding the gate.

The dragons saw that the bodhisattva was possessed of a handsome and fine appearance, that he was a bearer of refined features and solemn deportment, and that he had been able to successfully pass through numerous difficulties in arriving at this place. They thought to themselves, "It is not the case that this is an ordinary man. It is certainly the case that he is a bodhisattva, a man possessed of much merit." They then immediately allowed him to advance directly to enter the palace. It had not been so long from the time when the mate of the dragon king had lost her son and so she continued as before to grieve and weep. She observed the arrival of the Bodhisattva. The mate of the dragon king possessed superknowledges and so knew that this was her son. [She was so affected by this realization that] milk flowed forth from her two breasts. She gave the order allowing him to sit down and then asked him, "You are my son. After you left me and you died, where were you reborn?"

The Bodhisattva was also able to know his previous lives. He knew that these were his parents and so replied, "I was reborn on the continent of Jambudvipa as a prince to the king of a great country. On account of feeling pity for the poverty-stricken people afflicted by the intense sufferings of hunger and cold who are therefore unable to enjoy their own freedom I have come here seeking the precious wish-fulfilling pearl."

His mother replied, "Your father wears this precious pearl as a crown. It would be difficult to acquire it. Surely he will take you into the treasury of jewels where he will certainly desire to give you whatever you desire. You should reply by saying, 'I have no need of any of the other various jewels. I only desire the precious pearl atop the head of the Great King. If I may receive such kindness I pray that you will bestow it upon me.' It may be that you can acquire it in this way."

He then went to see his father. His father was overcome with nostalgia and delight and experienced boundless rejoicing. He thought with pity on his son's coming from afar, having to undergo extreme difficulties and now arriving at this place. He showed him his marvelous jewels and said, "I will give you whatever you want. Take whatever you need."

The Bodhisattva said, "I came from afar wishing to see the Great King. I am seeking to obtain the precious wish-fulfilling pearl on the King's head. If I may receive such kindness, may it be that you will bestow it upon me. If I am not given that then I have no need of any other thing."

The Dragon King replied, saying, "I have only this single pearl which I always wear as crown. The people of Jambudvipa possess only scant merit and are of such base character that they should not be allowed to see it."

The Bodhisattva replied, "It is on account of this that I have come from afar undergoing extreme difficulties and risking death. It is for the sake of the people of Jambudvipa who have only scant merit, who are poverty-stricken and possessed of base character. I wish to use the precious wish-fulfilling pearl to provide for them all that they desire so that I may then use the causes and conditions of the buddha way to teach and transform them."

The dragon king gave him the pearl and placed a condition on it by saying, "I will now give you this pearl. But when you are about to depart from the world you must first return it to me."

He replied, "With all respect, it shall be as the King instructs." When the Bodhisattva had acquired the pearl he flew up into space and with the ease of extending and withdrawing his arm, he instantly arrived in Jambudvipa.

When the human royal parents observed his auspicious return they were delighted and danced about with joy. They hugged him and then asked, "Well, what did you acquire?"

He replied, "I have gotten the precious wish-fulfilling pearl."

They asked, "Where is it now?"

He told them, "It's in the corner of my robe."

His parents said, "How could it be so small?"

He explained, "It's [power] resides in its supernatural qualities. It is not a function of its size." He told his parents, "It should be ordered that, both inside and outside of the city, the grounds are to be swept clean and incense is to be burned. Banners should be hung and canopies set up. Everyone should observe the standards of pure diet and take on the moral precepts."

The next morning at dawn he used a tall wooden pole as a monument and attached the pearl on the top of it. At that time the Bodhisattva swore an oath, "If it is the case that I am to be able to complete the Buddha path and bring everyone to deliverance then this pearl should, in accordance with my vow, bring forth all kinds of precious things so that whatever anyone needs, it will manifest in utter repletion."

At that time dark clouds covered the entire sky and rained down every type of precious thing including clothes, drink, food, bedding, and medicines. Whatever people needed was amply available. This was constantly the case, never ceasing until the end of his life.

Instances such as this illustrate what is meant by a bodhisattva's practice of giving serving to bring forth the paramita of vigor.