The City Beggar Woman

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Toh 205

The City Beggar Woman

This short Mahāyāna sūtra tells of a beggar woman from the city of Śrāvastī whose modest offering of a lamp at Prince Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍada’s park, is contrasted with the lavish offering of lamps being made at the same time by Prasenajit, who was the king of Kośala and a major benefactor of the Buddha Śākyamuni and his community. While King Prasenajit’s extravagant donations fill a thousand large lamps with oil and burn so bright that a wide area around the monastery is illuminated, the beggar woman has only a tiny amount of oil with which to make her modest offering. As she lights the lamp, she does so with the sincere prayer that she too may one day achieve enlightenment and become a teacher of the Dharma, just like the Buddha. Her small lamp burns bright through the night and cannot be extinguished, no matter what Maudgalyāyana does as he tries to douse it. When the beggar woman returns the next day and sees her lamp still burning, she is filled with joy, whereupon the Buddha gives one of his magnificent smiles that lights up the cosmos. Asked by Ānanda to divulge the reason for his smile, the Buddha prophesies the almswoman’s fortuitous future rebirths and her eventual awakening as a buddha. He then reprises the whole tale in a series of verses.

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The City Beggar Woman


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This is a free publication from 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, a non-profit organization sharing the gift of wisdom with the world.

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.