by Rimban Katsuya Kusunoki
Before Sakyamuni Buddha was enlightened, he had been reborn as different beings many times to fulfill the Buddhist Practice. The Jataka Tales tell the stories while Sakyamuni Buddha had reincarnated. I would like to introduce “The King Shibi and an Eagle” in the Jataka Tales and have you think about what Dana (Giving) is to you.
There was a King whose name was Shibi. One day a pigeon flew into his palace and said, “King Shibi, please save me from the Eagle. The Eagle trying to catch me.” Then, the eagle flew in to catch the pigeon.
“King Shibi, give me the pigeon. The pigeon is my game,” demanded Eagle.
“Eagle, why do you threaten this pigeon?” countered King Shibi. “All beings call you the king of birds and show their respect to you as a strong and wise
bird. The pigeon became frightened and asked for help. I cannot give you the pigeon.”
“All beings eat something to survive,” responded Eagle. Human beings can live without having money, material, and properties, but no one can live without
food. I die if I don’t get anything to eat. If I die, my wife and child would die also. If you save the pigeon, someone else will die. Is this what a King is supposed
“OK, I understand. You want something to eat, don’t you? I will prepare some food for you.”
“King Shibi, Eagles don’t eat vegetable and fruit. Eagles don’t eat pork and beef. Eagles eat pigeons. This is how we live.”
“OK. I have a deal. I will give you the meat of my body. I will give you the same amount of my meat equal to the pigeon”.
Then, King Shibi asked his vassal to bring a balance scale and to put the pigeon on one side of the scale. Then, he cut off his arm and put it on the other side of the scale. But the scale was still leaning toward the side of the pigeon. He cut his off his leg and put it on the scale, but it was not enough. He kept adding the meat of his body to the scale, but the scale did not balance. Eventually, he put his entire body on the scale; then the scale finally became balanced.
This is a famous Jataka tale, “The King Shibi and an Eagle.” Sakyamuni Buddha is a reincarnation of the King Shibi. The Indian gods turn into the pigeon and into the eagle in order to find out how much determination King Shibi had to fulfill the Buddhist practice. This story also tells us that all lives are equally precious. What do you think about this tale?
It is also a metaphor to tell us what Dana (giving) is. Dana is one of the important Buddhist practices. There are two important understandings about Dana. One is that Dana is the practice of selfless giving and the other is that Dana is the practice of giving without calculation. In the tale, the King Shibi first calculated and compared the amount of meat, but the balance scale was not balanced. Then he stopped calculating and offered his entire body. The balance scale was finally balanced.
It was true Dana. The balanced scale also implies that the King Shibi’s Dana was fulfilled. We may think that his action is just self-injury and not cherishing his body and life. It is because we measure Dana using our yardstick, our standard, and our common sense. We misunderstand Dana if we measure Dana using our calculation. Dana has much bigger and deeper meaning than we understand. A person must be completely selfless and have zero calculation to achieve the practice of Dana. True Dana costs us our lives. It is truly a strict and difficult practice. I don’t think any of us can fulfill the practice of Dana.
Dana that we commonly know is self-centered giving, with calculation. As Shin Buddhist followers, we should know that it is only just a small and imitative Dana that we can practice. With this understanding, then, we think of what we can do for others. There are many things we can do for others. We can support someone who needs help. We can donate money or material for others. We can also share the teachings of Buddha with others. We cannot give up our lives as a one-time sacrifice like the King Shibi did as Dana. But we can still learn the spirit of Dana. We can grow the spirit of Dana in our hearts little by little our entire life. It is not Dana, at all, if we grow to become vain and arrogant.
We first understand what Dana is and know that we can practice just small and imitative Dana. Although we can only practice small Dana, we do our best to support others. Then, whatever we do, we always ask ourselves if we are learning the spirit of Dana and if it is growing in our hearts. This is the Jodo Shinshu, Shin Buddhist Dana. Based on this understanding, please think about “Dana for World Peace”.
From the January Issue of the Wheel of the Sangha newsletter