A Boy's Offering
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Once upon a time, the Buddha and his disciple Ananda travelled to Sravasti, a city in ancient India. The Buddha often walked between places, teaching and connecting with the people. This time, the Buddha and Ananda were there for alms offering, which is a form of cultivation where the monastics went door-to-door to beg for food. This was a common practice in the Buddha’s time. It was an opportunity for the community to practice generosity by making offerings, and in return they learned the Buddha’s teachings.
As the Buddha and Ananda went around for the alms offering, they saw a group of children playing on the side of the road. The children were using dirt to build castles, houses, and they even made treasures and crops that were kept in the houses.
A little boy named Jaya, very focused on fashioning crops out of dirt, looked up and saw the Buddha slowly walking closer. Immediately, he thought to himself, “I wish to make an offering to the Buddha.” With his bare hands, he grabbed a handful of the crops he had made and walked towards the Buddha.
As Jaya was about to make his offering, he realized he was not tall enough. So, he asked his friend next to him, “Will you let me stand on your shoulders, so I can make an offering to the Buddha?”
His friend happily replied, “Okay, go ahead!” Jaya then carefully stood on his shoulders, balancing himself before he reached out and made the offering to the Buddha.
Seeing Jaya’s efforts, the Buddha stretched out his hands and happily accepted the offering. Ananda, observing what had just happened, was very confused. He thought to himself, “Offering dirt to the Buddha is rather disrespectful. How can one even think of offering such a thing to the Buddha?” As they continued to make their way around the neighborhood, begging for alms, this question continued to circle in Ananda’s mind.
When they returned to the monastery, Ananda finally asked, “Buddha, while we were on our alms rounds today, why did you accept the offering made of dirt from that boy?”
The Buddha answered, “Ananda, this boy’s offering came from his heart, we should not look down on him. He offered the dirt to me with a pure mind without discrimination. A hundred years after my death, that boy will reap the benefit of the sincere offering he made today. He will become a King called Ashoka, and the other boy that helped him shall be his closest minister. In the future, they will be the leaders of this country, they will care for the people, and they will honor and respect the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Moreover, they will share my relics and build many pagodas all over this country to preserve my teachings.”
This story highlights that what we reap depends on how we sow. Whether we attract wholesome or unwholesome karma will depend on our mind. When Jaya wanted to make an offering to the Buddha, it came from a pure heart. In that moment, the dirt in Jaya’s hands was not dirt, it was what he made. In his mind, all he could think about was making an offering to the Buddha. This also teaches us to not be idle in waiting for the right moment. Sometimes, we focus only on how much or how large what we want to offer is. However, it is most important that we are aware of our true intentions in the act of giving.
For example, the purpose of donating one million dollars may be driven from wanting recognition, demanding to have our name engraved on a plaque and on the wall of benefactors. However, someone may simply wish to donate a loaf of bread, in the hope that those who receive it can feel a sense of joy. In this scenario, the merits of donating the bread far surpass those of donating a million dollars. While there is a difference between one million dollars and a loaf of bread, the intention behind the donations differ even more. As a result, this means that there will also be a vast difference in the merits gained. In other words, we must be clear of our intentions, as wholesome, true intentions will lead us on a path towards greatness.
Just as Venerable Master Hsing Yun says,
“There is no merit in giving millions when you wish for a reward.
A grain of rice given without attachment is the same as a thousand bushels.”