Venerable JingYuan Discourse: Old Woman Who Sold her Poverty
To All Lamrim Students,
Buddha said the cause of prosperity is generosity. Do you believe that? Can poverty be sold? Please take a look at the following story which is extracted from the Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish.
At that time, in the land of the Apa, there was a wealthy but avaricious and cruel householder who was very harsh to his female slave. He would beat her up even with a slight dissatisfaction. She was always poor to the extent of having not enough food and no proper clothing, even till old age. One day, the old slave carried a water jug to the river side to collect some water. Thinking of her aged life in deprivation, she began to wail loudly.
At that time, the Noble Mahakatyayana approached her and asked : “Why are you so sad and angry?”
The old woman answered: “I am old but need to do heavy labour, and I am so poor that there is not enough food or clothing. I want to die but can’t.”
The monk asked: “If you are poor, why don’t you sell your poverty?”
The old woman answered: “Your Reverence, how can one sell poverty? Who would buy it?”
The monk said: “Poverty can be sold.” When he had said this three times, the old woman asked: “If poverty can be sold, may I know how to sell it? ”
The monk said: “If you want to sell your poverty, you must do as I tell you. First of all, you must take a bath.”
After she had taken her bath, the monk said: “You must make an offering.”
The old woman said: “I have nothing at all. Even this water jug in my hand belongs to my master. What can I use for the offering ?”
The monk passed her an alms bowl and asked her to fill the bowl with clean water from the river, and offer it to him. The monk took it into his hands, said a blessing, and invoked the name of the Buddha. After that, he taught her the precepts, then taught the old woman to think with firm faith, all the Buddha’s virtues.
The monk asked: “Do you have a place to live?
The old woman answered: “No, I will sleep in the grinding room if grinding grains, or in the kitchen if I work there. Otherwise, I will sleep beside the toilet.”
The monk said: “You must guard your mind carefully, work hard and cut off all thoughts of resentment. At night, you wait until everyone is resting, then you go into the master’s house, spread some clean grass, sit on it, and without evil thoughts, think carefully and constantly of the Buddha’s virtues.”
That night, the old woman did as the monk had told her and died after midnight. She was reborn among the gods of the Thirty-Three.
The following morning, the master saw that the old slave had died in the house. He was infuriated to see this as she was never allowed into the house. He sent people to drag her body and throw it to the countryside burial ground.
At that time, there was a god who died after his fortunes had come to an end. His place was replaced by the old woman. The dull-witted god was experiencing great happiness but was not aware of the reason for being reborn as a god. At that time, Sariputra was residing in the realm of the gods of the Thirty-Three. He helped to make known to the god that his past life was that old woman. She was able to come here after her encounter with the Noble monk and receiving his help and guidance.
The god and five hundred goddesses came to the burial ground and made offerings of celestial flowers and incense around the old woman’s corpse. As the whole place was filled with the lights of the gods, people around was attracted by this amazing phenomenon and came to the burial ground. They questioned the gods why they honoured this ugly and dirty old woman, saying: “When she was alive everybody was afraid of seeing her. Now, she was already dead, why do you still make offerings to her ?”. The god told them the causes in her past life.
After hearing this, all the people proceeded to where Noble Monk Mahakatyayana was. The monk taught them the Dharma. The gods attained the pure eye of the Dharma, while the others attained the fruits from the first to the fourth.
- Selling off poverty is indeed very simple! The old woman was able to sell her poverty very quickly after following the instructions given by the Noble monk. Do you believe this?
- The Noble monk guided the old woman to collect water for offering. We have to drink water every day, and Shifu told us to do offering sincerely before drinking. What do you think is the significant meaning for doing so?
- After the woman had taken the precepts, the Noble monk taught the old woman to be mindful, not to have afflictions and to finish her work accordingly. After she had finished her work at night, she sat at a clean place and kept thinking of Buddha’s virtues wholeheartedly. She died that night and became a god by these merits and virtues. Thus it can be seen that the merits of the Eight Precepts of a One Day Vow Holder (八关斋戒) is inconceivable.
- Through strictly following the precepts and generosity, the poor old woman obtained deity fruition with riches and honour. What do you think of this?