Once upon a time in Jetavana Monastery near Sravasti, there was the main residence of the Buddha, where he gave many of his teachings. It had a lush garden with fragrant flowers, a grand lecture hall, and living quarters for the monastics.
One day, Piluo (碧羅), the prince of devas, saw a brilliant light shining through his palace. He knew this auspicious sign meant the Buddha was about to give a teaching. At once, he quickly got ready and followed the light to its source. When he arrived at Jetavana Monastery, he paid his respects to the Buddha, then sat down on a cushion and waited.
Before starting, the Buddha asked if anyone had questions. Piluo raised his hand and said with joined palms, “Buddha, your compassionate vows have helped many, I cannot praise you enough. However, I do have a question which I hope you can answer.”
The Buddha smiled at the deva prince and replied, “Very well, please ask your question.”
Piluo smiled back and asked, “Thank you, Buddha. Everyone in this world wants to be healthy, and free from sickness and sorrow. Parents want their children and grandchildren to become high-ranking officials, so they never go hungry or without the necessities of life. However, rare are those willing to put in the effort needed. In life, rarely is anything gained for free. How can someone who refuses to work ever expect to reap the harvest? Unfortunately, many experience more pain than pleasure in their lives. How many people have attained the happiness and peace they seek in this vast multiverse? Buddha, you are the Great Enlightened One. Please explain why this is happening.”
The Buddha replied, “This is a good question. I understand that you wish to know how one seeks blessings. Blessings must be sought the right way, otherwise, we rarely receive what we wish for. We must also understand that we bear the consequences of all our good and bad deeds, whether in heaven or on earth. When the time comes for our karmic retribution, we bear it alone, no one else can do it for us. A generous person who performs wholesome deeds shall be blessed. A person who commits unwholesome deeds, on the other hand, will inevitably bring about calamity and disaster. This is the law of cause and effect. Nobody suffers hardship or disaster for no reason. Likewise, nobody is blessed without cause. Blessings and hardships follow us like shadows all our lives.”
Piluo joyfully replied, “Buddha, it is as you say. I am suddenly reminded of my past. Please allow me to share my recollection.
When I was a king on this Earth, I understood that to receive blessings, one must practice generosity. This is why my kingdom was strong and my people were happy and peaceful.
One day, I felt that life was too short. I needed to seize opportunities to give more to my people and be of service to them. It was important for me to sow our blessings for the future.
In the morning, I summoned all my ministers, and said to them, ‘I wish to give generously. So, I need a large drum made that can be heard from a hundred miles away. When the people hear the drum, they shall know to come here and receive my offering. If any of you can build such a drum, you shall be greatly rewarded.’
All the ministers remained silent as this was no easy task. A brave minister broke the silence and said, ‘To help you repay the kindness of our people, I would like to volunteer myself to undertake this task.’
Everyone praised this minister called Kuang Shang (匡上), for his loyalty and devotion. All nodded their heads in agreement that he was the right fit for the job at hand.
As king, I said, ‘This is great news!! I now officially entrust this task to you.’
‘Thank you, your Highness. However, this task could soon prove to be quite an expensive task,’ Kuang Shang said.
‘Wealth is no issue,’ I replied, ordering the royal treasury to be opened, ‘I hereby grant you full access, please take whatever you need.’
Kuang Shang nodded and said, “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
After taking his leave, Kuang Shang reviewed the contents of the royal treasury and arranged for its distribution throughout the kingdom. He dispatched messengers in advance to send word. A royal notice was also issued throughout the kingdom announcing that the King wished to repay his people’s kindness by opening his royal treasury to them. Anyone in need, whether rich or poor, was welcome to come and ask for whatever they needed. As for spiritual practitioners, such as sramanas and brahmins, Kuang Shang instructed his wise emissaries to calculate and deliver the yearly and monthly amounts required according to their needs.
Word spread far and wide. Soon, the entire kingdom was aware of the king’s generosity and made the journey, no matter how far they had to go. Even people from neighboring kingdoms who had heard of it made the trip. As a result, moved by the king’s compassion for people not his own, those neighboring kingdoms now wished to ally.
Every day, the courtyard of the palace was as busy as a marketplace, with men, women, the elderly, and even children coming to receive alms. Before leaving, they bowed in front of the palace, praising, ‘Thank you so much oh merciful king! You love us as if we were your family, and we will always support you and hope to remain under your protection for the rest of our lives.’
A year later, I summoned Kuang Shang and inquired about the drum I had asked for. He replied, ‘Your Majesty, not only has the drum already been built, but it has been ringing all along.’
Lifting an eyebrow in surprise, I asked, ‘If what you say is true, then why do I not hear the drum?’
‘If your majesty would do us the honor of joining me on an inspection tour of the kingdom, you will undoubtedly hear the drum ringing far and wide, not only for hundreds of miles, but thousands,’ Kuang Shang replied, bowing.
Now curious, I ordered my chariot to be made ready and toured my kingdom accompanied by my royal guard. Every town we passed through was flourishing, my people lived in comfort and contentment. Each person I met thanked me and praised me for my compassion. This surprised me, so I asked, ‘How did I not realize we have so many people in our care?? Why do they thank me and greet me with so much joy and affection?’
Kuang Shang replied, ‘I began ringing the drum last year as per your order, first spreading the word of your majesty’s generosity to your people. However, I believed a drum made of dried wood and leather alone could not truly express your virtuous compassion and generosity. Since you permitted me, I took the liberty of using your wealth and sharing it with whoever was in need, including monasteries. We have continuously provided for the monastic community on your behalf, hoping to preserve the Buddha’s teachings. For the kingdom to be strong and our people to be happy, I believe it is of utmost importance to preserve and share the Buddha’s teachings with the world. If our people can purify their hearts and minds with the Dharma, our world will naturally be a Pure Land. On the one hand, we offer material relief to everyone, but it is your benevolence that has truly touched and inspired them. Your Majesty, you have witnessed yourself the contentment of your people and their praises of your kindness. Please tell me, can you now hear the ringing of the large drum you asked me to build for you? Do you feel, hear, and see the ringing of the drum of the Buddha-Dharma, one that knows no boundaries?’
Now truly understanding, I exclaimed, ‘Yes indeed, I hear the drum loud and clear. I am most pleased with this drum you have made for me!’
After hearing the story, the Buddha joyfully said, “Piluo, thank you for sharing your story. Indeed, the ringing of the drum made by Kuang Shang reached far and wide, and its effect is undreamed of. You and I share a similar past. We have encountered many challenges on our journey of practice, but we have also had many people supporting us. When we are kind to others, others will be kind in return. If one wishes for blessings, they must know to practice boundless generosity and be compassionate to all.”
Deeply moved, Piluo simply nodded and said, “Yes, you speak true. Thank you, Buddha.”
When Piluo returned to his palace in heaven, he continued to practice generosity and kindness to all.
This story highlights the importance of practicing generosity. Buddhist sutras note three kinds of people to whom we should be generous:
People who are suffering. We should make every effort to help those who are suffering.
People who have been kind to us. We should repay in abundance the kindness shown to us by our parents, our teachers, and our elders.
The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. All offerings and thoughtfulness given toward the Triple Gem will bring untold merit and benefit to us all.
In this story, though the King understood the importance of giving, it was his wise minister, Kuang Shang, that knew how to best put boundless generosity into practice. First, he made sure the three kinds of people mentioned above were included in the King’s generosity. As a result, the king’s virtuous deeds rang far and wide, inspiring and touching not only his people but others as well.
Just as Venerable Master Hsing Yun says,
“Give people confidence,
Give people joy,
Give people hope,
Give people convenience.
Giving has limitless, profound uses.”
Illustration: Venerable Dao Pu (道璞法師)