King Vaasava's Marvelous Offering

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

As discussed in The Avadana Sutra, in the past, in Jambudvipa, there was a king named Vaasava. At that time there was a brahman bodhisattva named Velaama who served as the teacher of the king. He taught the king the method for becoming a wheel-turning sage king. Velaama's own wealth was immeasurable. He possessed an abundance of precious jewels. He had these thoughts: "People look upon me as a noble man possessed of immeasurable wealth. If I am to be of benefit to beings, now is precisely the right time. I should perform a great act of giving. Although being wealthy and noble is blissful, everything is impermanent. The tribute offered by the five houses causes a man's mind to be so scattered, agitated and unfocussed as to make it like a monkey which is unable to remain still. A person's life passes more quickly than the disappearance of a bolt of lightning. A person's body is impermanent and is a thicket of the manifold sufferings. On account of these things, one ought to practice giving."

After having these thoughts he wrote out a personal declaration in which he announced to all of the brahmans and monastics throughout Jambudvipa, "We pray that each shall condescend to come and gather at our estate as we desire to present a great offering lasting for a period of twelve years during which boats will cruise on ponds of rice consomme banked with curds. There will be mountains made of rice and noodles and canals created of perilla oil. There will be robes, food, drink, bedding and medicines. Everything will be of the most supremely marvelous quality for over a dozen years during which we desire to make offerings in this way."

There were eighty-four thousand white elephants girded in gold-adorned rhinoceros hide armor. Rare gems were strung together to create a huge gold pavilion ornamented with four kinds of precious things. There were eighty-four thousand horses also clad in gold-adorned rhinoceros hide armor and caparisoned with strands of the four kinds of precious things.

There were eighty-four thousand carriages, each adorned with gold, silver, beryl and crystal, shaded with the skins of lions, tigers and leopards, draped with curtains of paa.ndukambala gems and ornamented with various embellishments.

There were eighty-four thousand precious thrones fitted and adorned with multicolored cushions which were soft and smooth. Arranged at each end of the throne were crimson pillows and embroidered blankets. Marvelous garments and flowing robes were supplied in abundance.

There were eighty-four thousand gold bowls filled with silver nuggets, silver bowls filled with gold nuggets, beryl bowls filled with crystals, and crystal bowls filled with beryl gems.

There were eighty-four thousand dairy cattle. The cows each produced an abundant measure of milk. The horns of the bulls were adorned with gold. They were each dressed in white blankets.

There were eighty-four thousand beautiful women of refined appearance endowed with merit and possessed of virtue. Their bodies were draped in strands of white pearls and precious gems.

This represents only a summary recital of the main features. There were all manner of other arrangements which one could never succeed in detailing.

At that time, King Vaasava and eighty-four thousand kings of lesser states together with their ministers, national heroes and those who served as elders each offered a contribution in encouragement and support which consisted of ten thousand pieces of gold.

After this dharma offering had been arranged and completely set forth, [the god] Shakra Devaanaam Indra came forth and addressed the bodhisattva Velaama by uttering this verse, in which he said:

"The most rarely encountered things in heaven and on earth
Which are able to delight everyone, --
You have now already obtained them
And made gifts of them for the sake of the buddha way."
At that time the gods of the Pure Dwelling Heaven showed themselves and offered praises through the utterance of this verse:

"You have thrown open the gates of the greatest giving.
That for which you have done this is
On account of having pity for [all] beings
And out of seeking for their sake the buddha way."
At this time the gods all had this thought, "We should stop up his gold vase so as to prevent the water from flowing forth. Why? Because there is a benefactor but there is no one to serve as a field of merit."

At that time the demon king said to the god of the Pure Dwelling Heaven, "All of these brahmans have left behind the home life. They uphold the moral precepts purely and have entered upon the Way. Why is it that you now say that there is no one to serve as a field of merit?"

The gods of the Pure Dwelling Heaven said, "This bodhisattva is giving for the sake of the buddha way. All of these people who are now here are possessed of erroneous views. It is for this reason that we say that there is no one to serve as a field of merit."

The demon king said to the gods, "How do you know that this man is giving for the sake of the buddha way?"

At this time one of the Pure Dwelling gods manifest in the body of a brahman. Holding a gold vase and a branch made of gold, he went up to where the Bodhisattva Velaama was and said to him, "In this act of great giving where you are relinquishing what is hard to give up, what is it that you seek? Is it that you desire to become a wheel-turning sage king who has the seven precious things, a thousand sons and dominion over the entire world?"

The Bodhisattva replied by saying, "I do not seek this situation."

"Is it that you seek to become Shakra Devaanaam Indra that you might be lord to eight thousand nayutas of heavenly nymphs?"

He replied, "No."

"Are you seeking to become the lord of the Six Desire Heavens?"

He replied, "No."

Are you seeking to become the Brahma Heaven god who serves as lord over the great trichiliocosm and who is looked on as the patriarchal father of all beings?"

He replied, "No."

"What is it that you seek?"

At this time the Bodhisattva spoke forth a verse, saying:

"I seek that place which is without desire
And which transcends birth, aging, sickness and death.
I desire to bring deliverance to all beings.
I seek the buddha way which is just like this."
The transformationally-produced brahman said, "Benefactor, the buddha way is difficult to achieve. It is beset with great bitterness and suffering. Your mind is soft and accustomed to pleasures. It is certainly the case that you will be unable to seek out and accomplish realization of this way. As I suggested before: to become a wheel-turning sage king or Shakra Devaanaam Indra or King of the Six Desire Heavens or the King of the Brahma Heaven gods, -- these would be easily achievable. There would be nothing so good as to seek these."

The Bodhisattva replied, saying, "Listen to my single minded vow:

Even if one were to cause a wheel of hot steel
To spin around atop my head,
I shall single-mindedly seek the buddha way
And never cherish any regrets.

Were I to be subjected to the three wretched destinies
And to the countless sufferings of the human realm,
I would single-mindedly seek the buddha way
And would never be turned aside by this."
The transformationally-produced brahman said, "Oh Benefactor, it is good indeed, good indeed that you seek buddhahood in this manner." He then uttered a praise, saying,

"Your power of vigor is great.
You show loving-kindness and pity for everyone.
Your wisdom is detached and unobstructed.
Your realization of buddhahood is not far off."
At this time the gods rained down a profusion of blossoms as an offering to the Bodhisattva. The gods of the Pure Dwelling Heaven who had stopped up the water from the vase then disappeared from sight.

At this time the Bodhisattva went before the most senior ranked among the brahmans and attempted to pour forth the water from the gold vase. The water was stopped up and would not flow out. The members of the assembly became overcome with doubt and consternation and wondered, "All of these various kinds of great giving are replete in every way and the benefactor's meritorious qualities are also great. Why now does the water fail to flow forth from the vase?"

The Bodhisattva thought to himself, "This could be due to nothing other than these factors: Have I brought my mind to a state devoid of impurity? Have I achieved a situation where there are no deficiencies in the gifts? What has brought this about?" He personally contemplated the sixteen parts of The Classic on Giving and found that all preparations were pure and free of defects.

At this time the gods spoke to the Bodhisattva, saying, "Do not become overcome by doubt and regret. There is nothing which you have failed to accomplish. It is because these brahmans are characterized by unwholesomeness, error and impurity." They then uttered a verse, saying,

"These men are caught in the net of erroneous views.
Afflictions have destroyed right wisdom.
They have departed from purity in the observation of precepts.
They've indulged in useless asceticism and fallen into unorthodox paths.
It is for these reasons that the water is stopped up and will not pour forth."
After they had said this they suddenly disappeared. At that time the gods of the six desire heavens emitted many different kinds of light which illuminated the entire assembly and then spoke to the Bodhisattva, saying in a verse:

"Practices from within the sea of erroneousness and unwholesomeness
Do not accord with your orthodox way.
Among the recipients of your giving
There are none who compare to you."
After they had spoken these words they suddenly disappeared. At this time, after the Bodhisattva had listened to this verse, he thought to himself, "If it were actually the case that there was no one in the assembly who can serve as my equal, the water would be stopped up and would not flow forth. Could it be that it is on account of this?" He then uttered a verse, saying:

"If there are any in ten directions, either in the heavens or on earth
Who are good and pure people,
I now take refuge in them and in reverence make obeisance.

Holding the vase in the right hand, pouring an ablution on the right hand.
And so now swear that I, this one person
May accept [on their behalf] such a great offering as this."
At that time the water from the vase gushed forth into the air, descended from above and came down as an ablution upon his left hand.

Then, when King Vaasava had witnessed this [miraculous] response, his mind became filled with reverence and he uttered a verse, saying:

"Great lord of the brahmans,
This clear beryl-hued water
Has flowed on down from above
And, falling, has come to rest in your hand."
At that time, there arose thoughts of reverence in the minds of those brahmans in the great assembly. They placed their palms together, made obeisance and took refuge in the Bodhisattva. At this time the Bodhisattva uttered this verse, saying:

"That which I have now given
Is not in quest of any blessings in the sphere of the three realms.
It is for the sake of all beings
And is to be employed in seeking the way of the Buddhas."
After he had spoken this verse, the entire earth with its mountains, rivers and trees quaked and moved in six ways. Velaama had originally been of the opinion that this assembly should be the recipient of the offering and so gave it. Even though he realized that there were none in the assembly who were worthy enough to accept it, he now, out of pity, gave to them [all] those things which he had himself accepted.

It would be appropriate to discuss more extensively at this point all sorts of past-life causes and conditions of dana such as this. This is an example of external giving.