How The Buddha Redirected A Precious Offering

Being the fundamental source
of physical kindness in our lives,
our parents should first to be repaid,
by sharing the Dharma learnt with them.

– Shilashanti

As recounted by the Pure Land Tradition’s 2nd Patriarch Great Master Shàndǎo (净土宗二祖善导大师) in his ‘Commentary On The Contemplation Sūtra In Four Fascicles: Preface Part’s Meaning’ (观经四帖疏: 序分义), is the following thought-provoking story, with notes on its important lessons

The Buddha, is the utmost of world-transcending blessing fields [i.e. fields of meritorious virtues]. However, when the Buddha was in the world, he happened to encounter that certain year’s famine, with people all starving to death, with their white bones criss-crossing everywhere. All Bhikṣus and others, when requesting food, was difficult to attain any. (佛者,即是出世福田之极也。然佛在世时,遇值时年饥俭,人皆饿死,白骨纵横。诸比丘等,乞食难得。)

At that time, the World-Honoured One, after awaiting for the Bhikṣus [i.e. monastics] and others to leave, alone personally entered the city to request for food, from dawn until noon, from door to door, calling and requesting. Without those giving food, the Buddha still with an empty alms bowl, then returned. The next day again going, also returning without attaining food, the day after again going, also likewise not attaining food. (于时世尊待比丘等去后,独自入城乞食,从旦至中,门门唤乞,无与食者,佛还空钵而归。明日复去,又还不得,后日复去,又亦不得。)

Suddenly, there was one Bhikṣu on a path, who met the Buddha, whose countenance was different from his usual, as if having the appearance of hunger. He then asked [the] Buddha, ‘World-Honoured One! Have you today, already completed eating?’ The Buddha said, ‘Bhikṣu! As I have passed three days since, requesting food, without attaining one spoonful, I am now hungry and empty, without energy to be able to, together with you speak.’ (忽有一比丘,道逢见佛,颜色异常,似有饥相,即问佛言:「世尊!今已食竟耶?」佛言:「比丘!我经三日已来,乞食不得 一匙,我今饥虚,无力能共汝语。」)

The Bhikṣu, having heard the Buddha’s words already, with sorrowful tears not able to be self-restrained, then personally thought these words, ‘The Buddha is the unsurpassable blessing field, whom sentient beings should protect. With my these three robes sold away, for buying to obtain one alms bowl of rice, to offer to the Buddha, right now is the time to do so.’ Having given rise to this thought already, he then bought and attained an alms bowl of rice, hurriedly taking and offering it to the Buddha. (比丘闻佛语已,悲泪不能自胜,即自念言:「佛是无上福田,众生覆护。我此三衣卖却,买取一钵饭,奉上于佛,今正是时也。」作是念已,即买得一钵饭,急将上佛。)

The Buddha knew this, but purposely asked, ‘Bhikṣu! With this year’s famine, as people are all starving to death, you now, from what place attained this one alms bowl of purely coloured rice?’ The Bhikṣu, according to as before, spoke in detail to the World-Honoured One. The Buddha again said, ‘Bhikṣu! As the three robes, are the same as pennants’ forms, of all Buddhas of the three periods, these robes’ causes and conditions are of utmost honour, utmost importance and utmost kindness. Of you now, who exchanged them to attain this rice for me, I greatly understand your good intention, but I will not consume this food.’ (佛知而故问言:「比丘!时年饥俭,人皆饿死,汝今何处得此一钵纯色饭来?」比丘如前具白世尊。佛又言:「比丘!三衣者,即是三世诸佛之幢相,此衣因缘极尊、极重、极恩,汝今易得此饭与我者,大领汝好心,我不消此饭也。」)

The Bhikṣu repeating, to the Buddha said, ‘If the Buddha is the three realms’ blessing field, the utmost within all of the noble, yet saying he will not consume it, other than the Buddha, who is able to consume it?’ The Buddha said, ‘Bhikṣu! Do you have a Father and Mother or not?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ The Buddha said, ‘You should take this offering to your Father and Mother.’ (比丘重白佛言:「佛是三界福田,圣中之极,尚言不消者,除佛已外,谁能消耶?」佛言:「比丘!汝有父母已不?」答言:「有。」「汝将供养父母去。」)

The Bhikṣu said, ‘If even the Buddha yet said that he will not consume it, of my Father and Mother, how are they able to consume it?’ The Buddha said, ‘They are suitable to consume it. Why is this so? As your Father and Mother were able to give birth to your body, to you, they have great and deep kindness. For this reason, they are suitable to consume it.’ (比丘言:「佛尚云不消,我父母岂能消耶?」佛言:「得消。何以故?父母能生汝身,于汝有大重恩,为此得消。」)

The Buddha asked, ‘Bhikṣu! Of your Father and Mother, do they have the mind of faith in the Buddha or not?’ The Bhikṣu said, ‘They both are without the mind of faith.’ The Buddha said, ‘Now they will have the mind of faith. Seeing you giving the rice, greatly giving rise to joy, due to this then, they will give rise to the mind of faith. First teaching them to receive the Threefold Refuge, then will they be able to consume this rice.’ Then, the Bhikṣu, having already received the Buddha’s teaching, with sorrow and respect then left. With this meaning thus, there is great necessity to have filial support of our Fathers and Mothers. (佛又问:「比丘!汝父母有信佛心不?」比丘言:「都无信心。」佛言:「今有信心。见汝与饭,大生欢喜,因此即发信心。先教受三归依,即能消此饭也。」时比丘既受佛教,愍仰而去。以此义故,大须孝养父母。)

Also, the Buddha’s Mother, Queen Māyā, after giving birth to the Buddha-to-be, passing seven days after, then died, and was born in Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. The Buddha, after accomplishing the path, reaching the fourth month’s fifteenth day, then ascended towards Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, in one summer for his Mother spoke the Dharma, for repaying her kindness of carrying him in her womb for ten months. Being the Buddha, yet he personally repaid kindness with filial support of his Father and Mother, what more ordinary beings? How can they then not be with filial support? Thus know that our Fathers and Mothers’ kindness is deep and utmost heavy. (又佛母摩耶生佛,经七日已即死,生忉利天。佛后成道,至四月十五日,即向忉利天,一夏为母说法,为报十月怀胎之恩。佛尚自酬恩孝养父母,何况凡夫而不孝养。故知父母恩深极重也。)


[1] As the Buddha is a supremely fertile blessing field, for sowing seeds of reverence and generosity, that are able to reap much merits, there should be many people anxious to make offerings to him. However, during famine, with most not having enough food for themselves, this was naturally not so.

[2] As the Buddha is completely enlightened, he should know how to not give conditions to ripen past negative karmic seeds, so as to not face any difficulties, and how to give conditions to ripen past positive karmic seeds, so as to overcome any difficulties. However, he sometimes manifests, or chooses to appear to go through some difficulties, so as to offer important contextual lessons for others present. Even when facing such challenges, he is in reality free from any suffering.

[3] Out of compassion and generosity, the Buddha repeatedly let all others go on their alms-seeking rounds first, even if this might lead to him attaining less, or even no food. As the Buddha is constantly in the bliss of meditative concentration, he is able to draw nourishment from it directly, without need for physical food. Thus, his hunger was clearly manifested, going on alms rounds, to offer others conditions for creating merits by making offerings to him.

[4] In order to have a complete dialogue, for those present, and others later to learn fully from in the sūtras, the Buddha often asks about what he already knows. With his omniscience, knowing that the Bhikṣu has hungry parents, the Buddha asked him to offer them the food instead. This is again the Buddha practising great compassion and generosity.

[5] Listed as first of the four ‘sub-blessings’ within the first of the Three Blessings (三福), the Buddha taught that filial piety towards our parents is of foremost importance. Making timely offerings to our deserving parents, especially when they are clearly in need, is just as urgent as making offerings to the Buddha. Thus, in the teaching of the Four Heavy [Sources Of] Kindness (四重恩), in the following order of our parents (父母恩), country (or society: 国土恩), the Triple Gem (of the Buddhas, Dharma and Saṃgha: 三宝恩), and all sentient beings (众生恩), our parents are listed first.

[6] Our parents’ conceiving, carrying, birthing and caring of us, offered us conditions to have this precious human rebirth, with which we are able to learn and practise the Dharma. This kindness is thus extremely great and deep. Even if they had no clear intentions or actions to link us to the Dharma, without their supportive conditions, this would not be possible.

[7] As a great skilful means, to create positive karmic affinity between the Bhikṣu’s parents and the Buddha, along with the Triple Gem, the Buddha redirected a precious offering meant for him, to spur his parents’ rise of faith, and thus be directly deserving of the food.

[8] Also as taught by the Buddha, to truly repay the kindness of our parents, we should share the Dharma with them, so as to spiritually benefit them. In contrast, worldly benefits cannot fully repay their kindness. As the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng (净土宗十三祖印光大师) taught, to fully repay them, our parents should be guided to Amitābha Buddha’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land, through which swift Buddhahood is guaranteed. Setting the best example personally, even after her rebirth, the Buddha sought his Mother, so as to share the Dharma with her, teaching her about mindfulness of Buddha in the Kṣitigarbha Sūtra (地藏经). He also guided his Father, King Śuddhodana, to reach Pure Land.]

Being the fundamental source
of spiritual kindness in our lives,
the Buddha should first to be repaid,
by practising the Dharma learnt from him.

– Shilashanti

Related Articles:

What Is The First Blessing?

How Guanyin Bodhisattva Rejects, Accepts & Gives

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