The Causes and Conditions for Exhausting Past Blessings Without Producing New Merits
(Ekottarika Āgama, Vol. 13)
I, Ananda, once heard of an incident. The Buddha was in the Jetavana monastery in Shravasti City. An elderly man called Bharti living in Shravasti had died of a severe illness. As he had no child to inherit his estate, the government claimed it.
At that time, King Pasenadi arrived at the Buddha’s place, and after making the most respectful salutation of bowing down with his head at the Buddha’s feet, he sat down at one side of the Buddha. The World-Honored One then asked him, “Your Majesty! Why do you look so dusty as you come to see me?” King Pasenadi replied, “In the city of Shravasti, there was a rich and noble man named Bharti who died today. He had nobody to inherit his estate. Thus, I went to collect his entire estate and to put it in the state treasury. His estate included pure gold weighing 80,000 catty and various other exotic treasures! When Bharti was still alive, however, he ate poor-quality food that was very coarse and never ate a delicacy or a fine meal, he wore tattered and dirty clothes, and he rode thin and weak horses. It was incomprehensible! Why was that so?”
The World-Honored One replied to King Pasenadi, “Indeed, Your Majesty! Such a greedy and stingy person will not be blessed with food and clothing even though he has countless treasures. He does not give money to his parents, wife, servants or slaves, relatives, friends, or virtuous mentors; nor does he know how to make offerings to monastics, laymen, or other venerable men. If a wise man obtains such abundant treasures, he will use them to generously help others and give alms wisely. He will make physical, verbal, and mental offerings to monastics, laymen, or pure and virtuous people and extensively help and support all other needy sentient beings without the slightest thought of greed and miserliness.”
At this point, King Pasenadi asked, “Where could this elderly Bharti have been reborn after his death?” The World-Honored One replied, “After his death, he must have fallen into the ‘crying hell.’ Why? Because he had ruined all his wholesome roots.”
King Pasenadi asked again, “Did the elderly Bhati ruin his wholesome roots of virtue?” The World-Honored One replied, “Yes, Your Majesty! As you have said, the elderly Bhati’s wholesome roots had been ruined, he had exhausted all the blessings he had accumulated from his past lives, and he had not produced any new merit in this life.”
King Pasenadi asked again, “Did the elderly Bhati have any tiny bit of blessing left?” The World-Honored One replied, “No, Your Majesty! Not even the slightest residual blessing remained. He was like a farmer who only knew how to harvest and did not plow and sow his field. He gradually became impoverished until he died.
What was the reason for this? It was that the elderly Bhati only enjoyed the estate he had earned or planted in the past and did not create any new merit. He lived solely on the blessings he had obtained in his past life and did not create new merits. Thus, when he had exhausted all his blessings, he fell into the hell of tears.”
After listening to the Buddha’s explanations, King Pasenadi, with great fear and terror in his heart, wiped his tears and asked, “What kinds of merits and virtues had the elderly Bhati done in his past that he was born into a wealthy family? What misdeeds had he done to deserve such unwholesome karma of not having the blessing to enjoy his enormous wealth, even the pleasures of the five desires?”
The World-Honored One then told King Pasenadi, “A long time ago, during the era of Buddha Kassapa, the elderly Bhati was a peasant’s son in Shravasti City. When Buddha Kassapa passed away, a pratyekabuddha appeared in the world and went to an elderly man’s house to beg for food. When the elderly man saw the pratyekabuddha standing outside the door, a thought came to his mind: ‘Such a spiritually pure sage in the world is very rare. I should thus give him the best food and drink.’ Having made up his mind, the elderly man then brought out the best food and offered it to the pratyekabuddha. After receiving the offering, the sage immediately took to the air and flew away. Upon witnessing the unimpeded supernatural power of the pratyekabuddha, the elderly man immediately made a vow. ‘I wish the virtues of this offering would serve as the basis of my good wish so I would not fall into the three evil paths in my future lifetimes and would have abundant valuable treasures in my life.’ However, the elderly man felt remorseful at the next second and thought: ‘I should have given the best food to my servants instead of giving it to the monk.’ Who was the elderly peasant at that time? He was none other than the elderly Bhati now.
Due to these karmic retributions of his past deeds, although the elderly Bhati had great wealth in his lifetime, he was not able to enjoy the best food and drinks; nor was he able to experience the joy of the five senses. He only consumed the blessings he had accumulated from his past life and did not produce new merits through almsgiving. For this reason, Your Majesty! A wise person who has obtained such rich treasures would wholeheartedly offer them to all sentient beings and would not be stingy. With the merits and virtues of giving, one will receive boundless wealth in the future. Therefore, Your Majesty! Those who are wise would strive to practice the dharma of almsgiving.”
Having listened to the Buddha’s teachings, King Pasenadi said to the Buddha, “From now on, I shall give generously to the Buddhists in all the four assemblies, including monks and laymen, but not to mundane non-Buddhists or learners.”
The World-Honored One said to King Pasenadi, “Your Majesty! Please don’t think like that. Why? All sentient beings are able to keep themselves alive because of the nourishment that they get from food and drinks. Without such, they will lose their lives.” The World-Honored One then spoke these verses:
“We should always have the thought of almsgiving and give widely to all sentient beings;
We should not forsake charity or the practice of giving due to our greed and stinginess;
In this way, we will surely encounter virtuous sages and enlightened mentors in our future lifetimes;
Through these encounters (causes and conditions), we can liberate ourselves from the stream of samsara.”
Meanwhile, King Pasenadi again replied to the Buddha, “I am now even more joyful and fortunate to be able to hear the Tathāgata’s teachings. Why? Because I finally understand that all sentient beings depend on food to survive and cannot survive without food.” King Pasenadi continued, “From now on, I will give generously and will make offerings to all sentient beings, without the slightest greed and miserliness!” At this point, when the World-Honored One had given King Pasenadi another subtle and wondrous teaching, King Pasenadi rose from his seat, once again making the most respectful salutation of bowing down with his head at the Buddha’s feet, and then left. Thereafter, King Pasenadi accepted and faithfully practiced the Buddha’s teachings with great joy.
This article is an excerpt from Electronic Journal of True Enlightenment, Issue 70