One day Sakyamuni was with his disciples seeking charitable contributions. They came to a fork in the road. One road led to a prosperous town; the other to a town where the inhabitants were poor. When Buddha began walking toward the poor town, a disciple questioned him about the direction he was taking.
“This path leads to a town where the people are poor. They will have little to donate. Should we not take the road to the town where people have wealth instead?”
Buddha replied: “The reason these people are poor is because of deeds they have done in previous lives. We are going there to give them the opportunity to donate. By them doing so they will plant good seeds and will make a bond to Buddhism and true happiness.”
The first time I heard this story, the teacher stopped talking before the part where Sakyamuni explains his reason for going to the poor town. The teacher asked the class if we understood why Sakyamuni decided to go to the poor town instead of the rich town. If he went to the rich town he could receive greater contributions. I could not understand why Buddha took the path to the poor town.
I heard the story again recently and although this time I knew the answer, I was moved by the story itself. To me this story represents the depth and compassion of Buddhism.
Buddha taught about the Law of Cause and Effect of the three worlds. Without an understanding of this law, this story cannot be understood properly.
The law of cause and effect states that: “Good actions bring good results; bad actions bring bad results; my actions bring my results.” The three worlds are the past, present, and future world. The past world is the life we lived before this life; the present world is now; the future world is the life we will enter after this life.
Buddha knew that everyone reaps what they sow. We can know what seed was planted from what appears. Knowing that the town was inhabited by poor people, Buddha understood that these people had gotten what they had sown in previous lives: because they were poor, they had not done enough good deeds in their past lives. Therefore Buddha wanted to give them the opportunity to do a very good deed by contributing to him. By making a contribution to Buddha, they would be making a contribution to Buddhism and a connection to Amida Buddha. So Sakyamuni Buddha was like a means for people to enter on the path to true happiness. Sakaymuni could not directly save people, but by his actions he was guiding people to Amida’s salvation.
Understanding this, and taking pity on them, Buddha wanted them to have happiness so he went to their town to ask them for a donation.
Usually when we do something, we are doing it for our own gain. For this reason Buddha’s actions are full of compassion. His sole motivation was the well-being of others.
Giving is a good deed, and to give others the opportunity to listen to Buddhism, would be a deed of compassion that would be in line with the Buddha’s visit to the poor town.
Frank Costelloe, USA
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #09 | 2011, The Depth and Compassion of Buddhism
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