HBV Newsletter — September 2020

Is Giving a Cause of Decline?
During one of his constant tours, the Buddha, with a large number of Bhikkhus, arrived in the city of Nalanda in the state of Kosala and was lodging in the Mango Grove. During that time, Nalanda was experiencing a famine. Trees and plants produced little fruit and crop. Food was not as abundant as before.This situation was not a problem for those spiritual leaders who starved themselves as a part of their religious practice, but the Buddha would not do so.  The Buddha, following the middle path, ate moderately, and he expected his ordained disciples also to eat moderately.

The Buddha’s and his ordained disciples’ regular routine was to go for alms once a day.  Wherever they stayed, they took an alms bowl and went from house to house every morning.  Once they received enough food, they returned to the dwelling and ate. When invited by a particular family for lunch, the Buddha and the Bhikkhus visited that house instead of going for alms from house to house.

Now that the Buddha and a large number of Bhikkhus had visited Nalanda during a famine, and that they were to go for alms every day, some opponents of the Buddha thought that they had an excellent opportunity to refute and discredit the Buddha.  They claimed that the Buddha, if he were kind to people, should not have visited Nalanda with a large number of monks during a famine.

After much preplanning, the Buddha’s opponents sent to the Mango Grove one headman of the city, asking him to challenge the Buddha in an argument.

After initial greetings, the headman sat down and asked his first question: “Sir, don’t you in many ways praise sympathy for families, protection of families, and compassion for families?”

“Yes, headman, I do, of course,” the Buddha replied.

“Then, why are you touring [here in Nalanda] with a large number of Bhikkhus at a time of a famine, scarcity, and drought?  You are [actually] working for the suffering and destruction of families [instead of their wellbeing]”

The Buddha replied that he had never known a family that had gone bankrupt because of giving away cooked alms. He indicated that giving itself is a sign of progress instead of being a sign of decline.

Elaborating further, the Buddha gave the following eight causes for the decline of families: confiscation of wealth by the king, robbery, fire damage and water damage to the property, failure to save wealth properly, mismanagement of wealth, having a wastrel in the family, and the universal law of impermanence.

Samyutta Nikaya 1V: 42. 9; The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: 1345-1346