Shattering the vessel

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Shattering the vessel

Post by Jechbi » Sat Aug 08, 2009 5:52 pm

Just came across this beautiful little book (Note: Link will open .pdf file).

It includes this tale:
Bilalapadaka, The Selfish Rich Man

ONE OF THE MEN in Bilalapadaka’s neighborhood liked
to do charitable deeds. One day, he arranged to have
the Buddha and his disciples over to his house for a meal.
Being a generous person, he wished to give everyone a chance
to share the joy and merit of giving and so invited all of his
neighbors to join in, even the rich but selfish Bilalapadaka.
The day before the merit-making event was to take place,
the promoter of charity bustled from house to house, happily
collecting whatever food his neighbors wished to contribute
toward the meal.
Bilalapadaka, upon seeing his neighbor going around
for donations, softly cursed under his breath, “What a miserable
fellow! Why did he invite so many bhikkhus if he
could not afford to provide for them properly by himself?
Now he has to go around begging!”
When his neighbor came to his door, Bilalapadaka
donated only a little salt, honey, and butter, which although
gladly accepted, were kept separately from what the others
had already given. The rich man was confused and wondered
why his contribution was purposely kept aside. He
thought maybe his neighbor intended to humiliate him by
showing everyone how little a man of so much had offered.
So he sent one of his servants to investigate.
Back at his house, the man took the things that
Bilalapadaka had donated and divided them among the
pots of rice, curries, and sweetmeats in order to enhance
their flavor. When the servant reported this to Bilalapadaka,
Bilalapadaka still doubted his neighbor’s true intention. So
the next day he went to his house with a dagger hidden
under his cloak and planned to kill his neighbor should he
utter even a single word that would put him to shame.
But the man practising charity said to the Buddha,
“Venerable Sir, the almsfood is not offered to you by me
alone but with the help of many others in the neighborhood.
Small or large, each contribution was given in faith
and generosity, so may we all gain equal merit.”
Bilalapadaka became ashamed when he heard what his
generous neighbor said to the Buddha, for he realized then
what a great mistake he had committed. He went and asked
his neighbor to forgive him.
When the Buddha heard Bilalapadaka’s words of remorse
and learned the reason for them, he said to the people assembled
there, “No matter how small a good deed you may get to
do, don’t think that it is not important, for if you habitually
do small deeds, in the long run they will become big ones.”

Do not think lightly of doing good, saying
“A little will not affect me.” Just as a water
jar is filled up by falling rain, drop by drop,
the wise one is filled up with merit by accumulating
it little by little.

--3 Verse 122
This same notion comes up in discussions about development of the perfections. I recall a Goenka discourse in which he discusses how the Buddha, over many eons, slowly added to each "vessel" of perfection with drop-by-drop of virtue, wisdom, lovingkindness, and so on. When I first heard this discourse, the thought popped into my mind, why keep these in a vessel? Why not shatter the vessels and allow the contents to spill out freely, for the benefit of all?

But I think that's the point of the teaching of anatta, that the vessel is not self. I like the notion of vessels in the Dhammapada tale of Bilalapadaka: We each contribute in our own way, in the context of our own ability, sometimes grudgingly, sometimes imperfectly. And each vessel is filled with kammic gifts "not offered to you by me alone but with the help of many others in the neighborhood." What a beautiful thought.

Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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