“I Have Nothing to Donate,” Lamented the Old Woman, and She Reached for One Thing Before She Knew It
The Story of Buddha and his Disciples Sudatta, who was a real person living in Shakyamuni Buddha’s era, was referred to as "Anathapindika," meaning "feeder of the destitute." This is because of his strong drive to give to others, which led him to give food to many poor people who had no relatives to depend on. "Giving" comes first among the "Six Paramitas" (six good deeds that bring us happiness). It means doing kind acts such as giving people money, materials, consideration, acts of service, or kind words. As the saying goes, "He who gives to another bestows on himself." If we are kind to others, the effect of our good deeds will surely come back around to ourselves and we will become happy. Anathapindika was deeply impressed with Shakyamuni Buddha’s lectures. He planned to build a temple that he could invite him to. After finding the best place for the temple, he persuaded the landowner, Prince Jeta, to sell him the land.
Anathapindika thought, “I can build the temple with my own money and wealth, but I want to encourage others to take this precious chance to practice the good deed of 'giving' too.” He therefore put up a signboard addressed to the townspeople. “I want to build a temple and donate it to Shakyamuni Buddha, who has attained supreme enlightenment. I'd like to invite contributions from anyone who is willing to participate in this construction project. Let us all share in this opportunity to practice giving!” People were brimming with excitement at being able to participate in the great endeavor to construct the temple. At that time, one old woman lived in the suburbs of the town. She spent a long time weaving beautiful clothes. Delighted with the fine craft, she started to walk around in the town in her beautiful dress. Then she found people excited about the construction of the temple. She asked a person nearby what was going on, and he answered, “Mr. Anathapindika has invited us to join in with a temple construction project. Even a poor person like myself can take part in this wonderful endeavor! How exciting! Let us donate as much as we can!” The old woman thought, “I thought giving meant rich people giving things they don't need to poor people, but even someone like me can practice giving...” However, she had nothing to donate in her house, except for one thing: her favorite dress.
“I too want to give something.”
She was at a loss what to do. She heard a messenger of Anathapindika asking for donations from outside her window. Then, her hands were somehow drawn to her dress and she threw it out the window. The beautiful dress floated in the air and fell to the messenger walking outside. He was surprised and looked into the window. The old woman was standing there silently. “Did you throw this?” "Yes. This dress is the only thing I have that's worth giving to others. It is the second most important thing to me, next to my life. However, this is a precious chance to donate, so I too wanted to donate something..." Anathapindika heard of the old woman's precious act of giving, which she had done after much internal conflict. He was deeply impressed and visited her house with clothes he had worn and some other gifts. “It is virtuous when rich people donate a great amount of money, but it is also truly virtuous that you donated though you are in poverty. What is important is to donate from your heart.” Upon hearing this praise, the old woman was filled with the joy of giving for the first time in her life. Thanks to the contributions of many people, the grand temple was completed. It was named “Monastery of Anathapindika in Jetavana” by Shakyamuni Buddha. The name “Monastery of Anathapindika” honors the fact that Anathapindika donated the land, and “Jetavana” means the grove Prince Jeta donated. For short, the temple is referred to as “Jetavana Temple”. Many sutras were taught at Jetavana Temple, including the Amida Sutra, and that contributed greatly to the prosperity of Buddhism.