Part 14 Anathapindika’s Offering
The Master was in Rajagriha when a rich merchant named Anathapindika arrived from Shravasti. Anathapindika was a religious man, and when he heard that a Buddha was living in the Bamboo Grove, he was eager to see him. He set out one morning, and as he entered the Grove, a divine voice led him to where the Master was seated. He was greeted with words of kindness; he presented the community with a magnificent gift, and the Master promised to visit him in Shravasti.
When he returned home, Anathapindika began to wonder where he could receive the Blessed One. His gardens did not seem worthy of such a guest. The most beautiful park in the city belonged to Prince Jeta, and Anathapindika decided to buy it. “I will sell the park,” Jeta said to him, “if you cover the ground with gold coins.” Anathapindika accepted the terms. He had chariot-loads of gold coins carried to the park, and presently only a small strip of ground remained uncovered. Then Jeta joyfully exclaimed: “The park is yours, merchant; I will gladly give you the strip that is still uncovered.”
Anathapindika had the park made ready for the Master; then he sent his most faithful servant to the Bamboo Grove, to inform him that he was now prepared to receive him in Shravasti. “O Venerable One,” said the messenger, “my master falls at your feet. He hopes you have been spared anxiety and sickness, and that you are not loath to keep the promise you made to him. You are awaited in Shravasti, O Venerable One.” The Blessed One had not forgotten the promise he had made to the merchant Anathapindika; he wished to abide by it, and he said to the messenger, “I will go.”
He allowed a few days to pass; then he took his cloak and his alms-bowl, and followed by a great number of disciples, he set out for Shravasti. The messenger went ahead, to tell the merchant he was coming. Anathapindika decided to go and meet the Master. His wife, his son and his daughter accompanied him, and they were attended by the wealthiest inhabitants of the city. And when they saw the Buddha, they were dazzled by his splendor; he seemed to be walking on a path of molten gold.
They escorted him to Jeta’s park, and Anathapindika said to him: “My Lord, what shall I do with this park?” “Give it to the community, now and for all time,” replied the Master. Anathapindika ordered a servant to bring him a golden bowl full of water. He poured the water over the Master’s hands, and he said: “I give this park to the community, ruled by the Buddha, now and for all time.” “Good!” said the Master. “I accept the gift. This park will be a happy refuge; here we shall live in peace, and find shelter from the heat and from the cold. The intelligent man, the man who does not neglect his own interests, should give the monks a proper home; he should give them food and drink; he should give them clothes. The monks, in return, will teach him the law, and he who knows the law is delivered from evil and attains nirvana.”
The Buddha and his disciples established themselves in Jeta’s park, Anathapindika was happy; but, one day, a solemn thought occurred to him. “I am being loudly praised,” he said to himself, “and yet what is so admirable about my actions? I present gifts to the Buddha and to the monks, and for this I am entitled to a future reward; but my virtue benefits me alone! I must get others to share in the privilege. I shall go through the streets of the city, and from those whom I meet, I shall get donations for the Buddha and for the monks. Many will thus participate in the good I shall be doing.”
He went to Prasenajit, king of Shravasti, who was a wise and upright man. He told him what he had decided to do, and the king approved. A herald was sent through the city with this royal proclamation: “Listen well, inhabitants of Shravasti! Seven days from this day, the merchant Anathapindika, riding an elephant, will go through the streets of the city. He will ask all of you for alms, which he will then offer to the Buddha and to his disciples. Let each one of you give him whatever he can afford.” On the day announced, Anathapindika mounted his finest elephant and rode through the streets, asking every one for donations for the Master and for the community. They crowded around him: this one gave gold, that one silver; one woman took off her necklace, another her bracelet, a third an anklet; and even the humblest gifts were accepted.
Anathapindika: A banker (setthi) of Shravasti who became famous because of his unparalleled generosity to the Buddha. His first meeting with the Buddha was during the first year after the Enlightenment, in Rajagriha, whither he had come on business. His wife was the sister of a setthi of Rajagriha, and when he arrived he found the setthi preparing a meal for the Buddha and his monks on so splendid a scale that he thought that a wedding was in progress or that the king had been invited. On learning the truth he became eager to visit the Buddha, and did so very early the next morning. The Buddha talked to him on various aspects of his teaching. Anathapindika was immediately converted. He invited the Buddha to a meal the next day. After the meal he invited the Buddha to spend the rainy season at Shravasti, and the Buddha accepted. Anathapindika looked out for a quiet spot near Shravasti where the Buddha and the monks might dwell, and his eye fell on the park of Jetakumara. He bought the park at great expense and erected therein the famous Jetavanarama. As a result of this and of his numerous other benefactions in the cause of the Sasana, he came to be recognised as the chief of alms-givers. His personal name was Sudatta, but he was always called Anathapindika (feeder of the destitute) because of his munificence.
Pasenadi: Also Prasenajit. King of Kosala and contemporary of the Buddha. He was the son of Maha Kosala, and was educated at Takkasila where, among his companions, were the Licchavi Mahali and the Malla prince Bandhula. On his return home his father was so pleased with his proficiency in the various arts that he forthwith made him king. As ruler, Pasenadi gave himself wholeheartedly to his administrative duties and valued the companionship of wise and good men. Quite early in the Buddha’s ministry, Pasenadi became his follower and close friend, and his devotion to the Buddha lasted till his death.
Shravasti: Also Savatthi. The capital town of Kosala in India and one of the six great Indian cities during the lifetime of the Buddha. It was forty five leagues north west of Rajagriha, on the banks of the Aciravati. The road from Rajagriha to Shravasti passed through Vesali, and the Parayanavagga gives the resting places between the two cities – Setavya, Kapilavatthu, Kusinara, Pava and Bhoganagara. Further on, there was a road running southwards from Shravasti through Saketa to Kosambi. The city was called Savatthi because the sage Savattha lived there. The Buddha passed the greater part of his monastic life in Shravasti. His first visit there was at the invitation of Anathapindika. It is said that he spent twenty five rainy seasons in the city – nineteen of them in Jetavana and six in the Pubbarama. Shravasti also contained the monastery of Rajakarama, built by Pasenadi, opposite Jetavana. Outside the city gate of Shravasti was a fisherman’s village of five hundred families. The chief patrons of the Buddha in Shravasti were Anathapindika, Visakha, Suppavasa and Pasenadi.
Kosala: A country inhabited by the Kosala, to the north-west of Magadha and next to Kasi. It is mentioned second in the list of sixteen Mahajanapadas. In the Buddha’s time it was a powerful kingdom ruled over by Pasenadi, who was succeeded by his son Vidudabha. By this time Kasi was under the subjection of Kosala, for we find that when Bimbisara, king of Magadha, married Kosaladevi, daughter of Mahakosala and sister of Pasenadi, a village in Kasi was given as part of the dowry.In the sixth century BCE, the Sakyan territory of Kapilavatthu was subject to Kosala. At the time of the Buddha Savatthi was the capital. Next in importance was Saketa, which, in ancient days, had sometimes been the capital. There was also Ayojjha, on the banks of the Sarayu, which in the sixth century BCE was quite unimportant. The river Sarayu divided Kosala into two parts – Uttara Kosala and Dakkhina Kosala.
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Mountains of Travel Photos, shows the cover of a storybook ‘Anathapindika and Other Stories’. The scene shows Anathapindika having the ground of Jetavana covered up with gold coins brought by the cartloads, in order to purchase it from Jetakumara. The book was written by Shravasti Dhammika and illustrated by Susan Harmer. It forms the second part of the two-volume ‘Great Buddhist Stories’ by the duo.