New Publication: The Account of the Noble Deeds of Śrīsena


Toh 349

In this discourse, the Buddha Śākyamuni describes his past life as King Śrīsena of Ariṣṭa, a bodhisattva renowned for his unstinting generosity and spiritual resolve. In that life, a sage orders his disciple to ask King Śrīsena for his beautiful wife, Jayaprabhā. Out of compassion, King Śrīsena gives his wife to the disciple. Śakra, lord of the gods, then claims that King Śrīsena is also able to give away his own body. The other gods have doubts about this, so to prove his point, Śakra disguises himself as an old brahmin whose lower body has been eaten by a tiger, and then asks King Śrīsena to gift him his own lower body. With altruistic motivation, King Śrīsena agrees to the request and orders carpenters to saw him in half. He offers the bottom half to the brahmin, whose body is magically made whole again. King Śrīsena claims he has felt no regrets and by the power of his words, his own body is restored. During this ordeal, Śakra has kept the king alive and carefully monitored his reactions. Observing nothing but pure altruism, Śakra then confirms that the king is a true bodhisattva who is capable of the highest acts of generosity. With this past life story, the Buddha illustrates the kinds of personal sacrifice a bodhisattva will make to attain awakening, even when these go against the protestations of those closest to him.

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The Account of the Noble Deeds of Śrīsena

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The cultivation of generosity, or dāna—giving voluntarily with a view that something wholesome will come of it—is considered to be a fundamental Buddhist practice by all schools. The nature and quantity of the gift itself is often considered less important.