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The background story of verses 53

At one time, the Buddha was staying at the Pubbārāma monastery, the palace of Migāramātā in Sāvatti, which was donated to the Buddha by Lady Visākhā, the chief benefactress of the Buddha.

Visākha was the daughter of very wealthy parents living in the Magadha Kingdom of King Bimbisāra. At the age of seven years, she happened to listen to the Buddha’s teaching when the Buddha visited her grandfather’s house for a meal and attained the supra mundane stage of Stream Enterer (Sotapañña). When she grew up to be of marriageable age, she married a young man named Punnavaddhana and moved to live in Sāvatti. Her father-in-law Migāra was a disciple of the Niganthas, and hence, Visākhā was not allowed to make any offerings to the Buddha or the order of monks. However, she was able to convert him to be a disciple of the Buddha, after which he considered her to be a mother figure to him. Hence, she also became known as Migaramātā (mother of Migāra). Since Migāra also became a disciple of the Buddha, Lady Visākhā was allowed to invite the Buddha and the monks to her house to offer alms food.

It is said that Lady Visākhā gave birth to ten sons and ten daughters, each of whom also had ten sons and ten daughters. At the time of Lady Visākhā’s marriage, her father has given her an immensely valuable gem-studded cloak as a wedding present. One day, when she went to the Jetavana monastery to see the Buddha, she removed her gem-studded cloak and gave it to her maid to keep it safe. When they left the Jetavana monastery that evening, the maid forgot to take the cloak. Venerable Ānanda, the chief attendant of the Buddha, found the cloak at the monastery and sent a message to Lady Visākha to collect it. As Venerable Ānanda had already touched it, she refused to take the gem-studded cloak back and decided to donate it to Venerable Ānanda, who declined to accept her donation. Then, she decided to sell it and donate the proceeds. However, because no one in Sāvatti could afford to buy it, Lady Visākhā bought it herself and used the money to build a monastery on the eastern side of Sāvatti. The monastery was named Pubbārāma (monastery on the eastern side), and it also came to be known as the Palace of Migāramātā.

On the day the Pubbārāma was donated to the Buddha, Lady Visākhā gathered her family at the Pubbārāma and told them that all her wishes had been fulfilled and that she had nothing more to desire. Then she went around the monastery reciting five verses of exultation. When some monks noticed her going around the monastery singing, which they had not witnessed before, they wondered whether she had gone off her head and reported it to the Buddha. Then the Buddha said to the monks:

“Today, Visākhā had all her wishes of the past and the present existences fulfilled and on account of that sense of achievement, she was feeling elated and contended. She was just reciting some verses of exultation and she has certainly not gone off her head. Visākhā, throughout her previous births, had always been a generous donor and an ardent promoter of the doctrine of the previous Buddhas. She was most strongly inclined to do good deeds and had done much good in her previous births, just as an expert florist makes many garlands from a collection of flowers.”

Then the Buddha recited the following verse which is recorded as the 53rd verse of the Dhammapada.

Yathā pi puppharāsimhā,

  kayirā mālāgune bahū,

  evaṁ jātena maccena,

  kattabbaṁ kusalaṁ bahuṁ.”

“Just as from a collection of flowers,

  an expert florist can make many garlands,

  so also, many good deeds can be done,

  by one subject to birth and death.”

  • The story of Visākha shows us how the paramis of generosity brings enormous amounts of Kusalas. In the days of the Lord Buddhas of the past, she was just a simple devotee who performed acts of generosity(Dana) and promoted the Dhamma. It is because of these Kusulas that she was able to become a sotāpanna at the age of 7 which is extremely rare among lay people. There are several stories of samanera (novice monks) who were arahant or anagami at 7 years old but for lay people, it is extremely rare to expect magga phala at such a young age. By supporting the Sasana for example by offering the Bhikkhus the 4 necessities (Accommodation, Alms, clothing, and medicine), by participating in ceremonies like Kathina (offering a robe at the end of the rains retreat to the Bhikkhus) and Wesak, and by teaching the Dhamma to others, It is very possible to achieve results like lay Visākha.