The First Perfection: Generosity.
Generosity – Dana
Morality – Sila
Renunciation – Neckkhamma
Wisdom – Panna
Effort – Viriya
Patience – Khanti
Truth – Sacca
Determination – Adhitthana
Loving Kindness – Metta
Equanimity – Upekkha
Documented here are the past live stories explaining how the Boddhisatta Gotama attained perfection in each of the ten virtues. It should be noted that the Bodhisatta practiced each of these ten in countless births to a degree that is incomprehensible to most mortals. Generosity was not just the giving away of His wealth and kingdom for the good of the world. It was the giving of His limbs, His life, and, ultimately, His beloved children and wife to reach perfection in generosity. Over aeons and aeons of time the Bodhisatta worked tirelessly, with determination and perseverance, to attain perfection in each of these ten areas.
1. Generosity – Vessantara Jataka (Birth Story)
Many, many years ago in the country we now call India, was a city named Jetuttara. Jetuttara was ruled by a compassionate and righteous king named Sanjaya, who had a son named Vessantara. Prince Vessantara, who was none other than our Bodhisatta, was a marvel of virtue and learning. Not only did he have all the qualities required for a heir-apparent, He was also compassionate and reknowned for his practice of generosity.
The fame of Vessantara’s generosity spread throughout the country. A jealous neighbouring king, hearing that the prince refused no one, sent his men in the garb of Brahmins to ask for His magnificent and royal elephant. Now in those days the royal elephant was not only a valued status symbol that was selected with care, it was also a useful defence in times of war. Prince Vessantara, surprised to hear that a Brahmin needed the royal elephant, suspected that this was the trick of a jealous king. Having never refused anyone in need, he suppressed the thought that giving away the royal elephant was not politically astute by reflecting on the virtues of generosity. Lifting his golden pitcher high, he poured the water of donation on the Brahmin’s hand as was the custom at that time, and handed over the richly decorated royal elephant.
When the people heard of Prince Vessantara’s gift they became very angry. Claiming that He had gone too far in his practice of charity they asked that He be punished for this act which was not in keeping with political wisdom. Prince Vessantara was banished to the wild forest of Mount Vanka.
On hearing of His punishment, the Prince exclaimed, “The ministers do not understand the virtue of generosity. They do not understand that I would give away my eyes, my head, my life, for the good of another.” Then slowly, in sadness, He walked towards his father and His wife, Princess Maddhi, to bid them goodbye. Princess Maddhi, however, felt that life without her Lord would be worse than death. Gathering their two children, Jaliya and Krishnajina, she prepared to go into the wild forest with the Prince.
Giving everything they owned to the poor, the Prince and Princess and their children took to the forest in simple garments such as those worn by an ascetic. They lived off the fruits and herbs of the jungle and lived in harmony with the birds and animals. The children frolicked among the beautiful flowers and splashed in the streams. The Princess gathered fruits and nuts for their meals, whilst the Prince spent his time in meditation. They lived in happiness despite the lack of conventional wealth and comforts.
One day Princess Maddhi had gone into the jungle to gather fruit and the Prince and the little ones were playing amidst the flowers in laughter when a travel-stained old Brahmin approached the Prince. Stating that his wife was now old and required the services of a younger person, he asked for the royal children. These words penetrated the Prince like a stab to the heart. But, reflecting on His aspirations to Buddhahood and the need for perfection in generosity, with a heavy heart, He agreed to the Brahmin’s request.
Seeing the desolation in the eyes of His children, the Prince requested that the Brahmin wait for the Princess’s return so that the children could bid farewell to their mother. The Brahmin refused, fearing that the Prince would change His mind in the presence of the Princess. Though the Prince assured the Brahmin that the Princess was His true helpmate and would support His decision despite her grief, the Brahmin was adamant in his demand.
(At the time of the Dipankara Buddha when the Bodhisatta (then known as Sumedha) received the definite proclamation, a lady of noble birth named Sumitra cut her hair and aspired that she would be His helpmate until He attained Buddhahood. This strong aspiration resulted in her being the Bodhisatta’s consort and helpmate to Buddhahood during the entire period of the Kaya-panidhana kala. Princess Maddi, and later Princess Yashodhara, were none other than Sumitra. Throughout this period she actively helped the Bodhisatta in completing the ten virtues by supporting Him in every act of virtue. In fact, princess Yasodhara’s dying words reflected this devotion as she referred to the fact that she had been the wife of no other but Him during this entire period, and had helped Him to achieve in four infinite periods and one hundred thousand world cycles what other Buddhas take eight and sixteen infinite periods to achieve.)
With tears that mingled with the water, the Prince handed over His children by pouring the water of donation over the Brahmin’s hand. The ever-obedient children slowly took leave of their father by bowing low and saluting Him. The Prince was overwhelmed with grief when he saw the calm acceptance of His decision by His children. The separation from His children burned like a fire within. His head throbbed with pain as though a thousand knives pierced His skull. With the goal of Buddhahood in mind, the Prince subdued His pain and refrained from repenting of His gift.
When Princess Maddhi came back from the forest, her arms laden with fruit, she knew that something was wrong. She did not hear the joyous cries and laughter of her children. They did not come running to her and embrace her as they usually did. Then she saw the Prince, His head bowed down with the weight of his sorrow, His face ashen with the strain of maintaining his resolve of non-repentance. Running towards Him she asked for the children. But the Prince could not speak. He looked at her with sorrowful eyes but no words could pass His lips.
The distraught Princess ran about calling for her children, then fainted with grief. The Boddhisatta supported her body gently and sprinkled her face with cold water. He then spoke with agony of the supreme sacrifice of generosity made for the sake of humanity. The Princess calmed herself and, holding the hand of the Prince, knelt down in prayer to seek the help of the Devas for the welfare of their children. Having vowed to be His helpmate for eons of time, the Princess understood this act of supreme generosity and reflected that she would not have complained even if He had given her away in His quest for Omniscience.
The earth trembled and scented flowers rained over Him. The sound of heavenly music floated in the air as Sakka, the King of the Devas, looked on in awe and hailed the future Buddha. Then wishing to test Him further, Sakka disguised himself as an old man and said, “I have heard of your extraordinary generosity. Yesterday you gave your children away. Today I ask you for your wife who stands beside you like a heavenly goddess.”
The Prince looked at the composed Princess as she walked slowly towards him. Then taking her hand and joining it with the hand of the old man, He poured the water of donation. No anger or complaint was heard from the Princess, as she knew His mind. Through tear-filled eyes she looked on with love at her Lord, in gratitude that she had been able to help Him in His quest for perfection.
A brilliant light surpassing the radiance of the Devas illuminated the earth as Sakka regained His form as the King of the heavens and the Devas descended to earth to hail the future Buddha. Taking the Princess’s hand, the King of the heavens gently gave her back to the Prince saying: “Only those whose hearts are purified would understand this wonder. For the welfare of mankind, to seek perfection in generosity, He has practiced unattachment to its fullest. Hail to the future Buddha.” After informing the Prince and Princess that they would be reunited with their children and King Sanjaya, Sakka the King of the heavens, ascended to His heavenly abode.
Generosity was the first of the ten virtues. But it was the last one that the Bodhisatta completed. On completing the final virtue – generosity – Prince Vessantara exclaimed in joy:
“This earth unconscious though she be,
and ignorant of joy and grief,
Even she then felt alms’ mighty power,
And shook and quaked full seven times.”
After being reunited with His children and King Sanjara, Prince Vessantara reigned over the kingdom of Jetuttara with compassion and righteousness. He had completed the ten virtues required for Buddhahood. At death, Prince Vessantara was born in the Tusita heavens as the God Setaketu to await the opportune time for His final birth as the Supreme Buddha.
Continue to Second Perfection: Morality.