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The Poor Labourer’s Offering

The practice of giving is not only a privilege of the rich. As long as one has set one’s heart on doing so, one can similarly engage in the practice. The Buddha had said that the most meritorious act of giving is one that stems from a sincere and joyful heart. And when one rejoices in the good deeds of others, one too, will gain merits for oneself.

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(Photo by Chen Ya Yin)

The Buddha Receives Three Cornmeal Dumplings

In the Buddha’s time, there were many religions in ancient India and the people during that time all held the view that as long as one was a spiritual cultivator, he would be worthy of receiving offerings from the locals. In addition, those who made offerings would also gain blessings. Thus, many spiritual cultivators, regardless of their different religions, were able to receive offerings from the masses.

After the Buddha attained enlightenment, the kings and their officials, and all others who had high societal standing would often organise lavish banquets for the Buddha and his disciples. However, the Buddha felt that the general populace should also have the opportunity to benefit from the Dharma and be able to make offerings personally. Hence he announced, "From now on, regardless of societal status, everybody can come and make offerings."

Once, when the Buddha and a group of his monastic disciples were staying in the city of Rajagriha, some local folks gathered on a street and started talking. They all felt that it was important that they not miss the opportunity to make offerings to the Buddha. A poor labourer was among them and like the rest, he had a strong desire to make offerings and cultivate blessings. Yet, on returning home, he was greeted by the sight of an empty rice pot when he lifted its lid.

"What shall I do? What do I have to offer the Buddha?"

Thinking thus, the poor man searched high and low but only found some corn flour that was fast becoming mouldy. Lifting up a handful to his nose, he was able to detect the smell of mould. But as he had nothing else, he proceeded to mix the flour with water, and shaped the dough into three balls. Then, he wrapped them up in some shell ginger leaves that he had picked and cooked them over a fire. With the three cornmeal dumplings in hand, he arrived at the location of the gathering with great sincerity in his heart. 

When the Buddha arrived together with his disciples, everyone held their offering bowls up high; in them all sorts of delicacies were placed. Everyone was hoping that the Buddha would accept their offering with his very own hands. 

The Buddha noticed that there was a pair of hands bearing food wrapped in leaves. The food was initially raised up high, yet its owner, upon meeting the gaze of the Buddha, dropped his head and also lowered his hands.

The poor man thought thus: "Everyone has brought sumptuous offerings, how can the food I brought be worthy of being offered to the Buddha?"

The Buddha walked over and spoke to him kindly, "Do you not wish to make an offering?"

With tears running down his face, the poor man wondered why, amongst so many sumptuous dishes, the Buddha chose to accept his humble offering.

Many pairs of curious eyes were trained on the poor man, and these people asked him what he had brought as an offering. The poor man replied that it was just cornmeal dumplings that were fast becoming mouldy. Hearing that, everyone wondered how he could have made such an offering to the Buddha.

Word spread quickly, and this matter was even reported to the king and his ministers, yet seeing that the Buddha ate the dumplings with joy and satisfaction, everyone was convinced that the poor man must certainly have gained a lot of merit!

Sharing in the Joy of Giving

Some people brought money to the poor man, begging that he accept their contribution and share some of his merits with them. In bewilderment, the poor man replied that he only had a bit of food to offer the Buddha and no merit to speak of. However, everyone insisted: "If you accept our money, that would mean that we have a share in your offering; in this way we can have a share of your merits!

Feeling confused, the man then sought out the Buddha’s advice and was told that he could indeed accept their money. The man further asked how he could give them a share of his merits. The Buddha replied, “By you accepting their money, they would be able to share in the joy of your deed. Such rejoicing produces merits.”

When one rejoices in the good deeds of others, one too, will gain merits for oneself. Over the years, Tzu Chi volunteers have given of themselves with hearts full of sincerity and gratitude, and that is why I often say that the world of Tzu Chi is a world of Great Love and gratitude.

Tzu Chi volunteers can now be found all over the world, joyfully engaging in the Missions of Charity, Medicine, Education, and Culture. The seeds and power of love have thus spread widely around the world. I hope that such Great Love can ripen into a rich harvest in the global village of Tzu Chi, that more and more people can enjoy the fruits of peace and joy together.

Source: Tzu Chi Taiwan
Translated by Tzu Chi Singapore translation team