It seems that a householder of Svatthi prepared a donation of all the requisites for The Buddha and for the Order. At the door of his house he had a pavilion built and gotten ready, and having invited The Buddha and the congregation of the priests, he made them sit down on costly seats which had been spread for them in the pavilion, and gave them an excellent repast of savory dishes. Then he invited them again for the next day, and again for the next, until he had invited them seven times. And on the seventh day he made the donation of all the requisites to The Buddha and to five hundred priests.
Layman, it is fitting that you thus manifest a hearty zeal; for this alms-giving was also the custom of the wise of old time. For the wise of old time surrendered their own lives to chance suppliants, and gave their own flesh to be eaten.
Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was ruling at Benares, the Future Buddha was born as a hare, and dwelt in a wood. Now on one side of this wood was a mountain, on another a river, and on another a border village. And there were three other animals that were his comradesa monkey, a jackal, and an otter. These four wise creatures dwelt together, catching their prey each in his own hunting ground, and at night resorting together. And the wise hare would exhort the other three, and teach them the Doctrine, saying, Give alms, keep the precepts, and observe fast-days. Then the three would approve of his admonition, and go each to his own lair in the thicket, and spend the night.
To-morrow is fast-day. Do you three keep the precepts and observe the day; and as alms given while keeping the precepts bring great reward, if any suppliants present themselves, give them to eat of your own food.
On the next day the otter started out early, and went to the banks of the Ganges to hunt for prey. Now a fisherman had caught seven red-fish and strung them on a vine, and buried them in the sand on the banks of the Ganges, and had then gone on downstream catching fish as he went. The otter smelt the fishy odor, and scraping away the sand, perceived the fish and drew them out. Then he called out three times, Does any one own these? and when he saw no owner, he bit hold of the vine with his teeth, and drew them to his lair in the thicket. There he lay down, remembering that he was keeping the precepts, and thinking, I will eat these at the proper time.
And the jackal also went out to hunt for prey, and found in the hut of a field-watcher two spits of meat, and one iguana, and a jar of sour cream. Then he called out three times, Does any one own these? and when he saw no owner, he placed the cord that served as a handle for the jar of sour cream about his neck, took hold of the spits of meat and of the iguana with his teeth, and brought them home, and placed them in his lair in the thicket. Then he lay down, remembering that he was keeping the precepts, and thinking, I will eat these at the proper time.
And the monkey also, entering the forest, fetched home a bunch of mangoes, and placed them in his lair in the thicket. Then he lay down, remembering that he was keeping the precepts, and thinking, I will eat these at the proper time.
Such fieriness of zeal in keeping the precepts caused the marble throne of Sakka to grow hot. Then, looking carefully, Sakka discovered the cause, and proposed to himself to try the hare. And disguised as a Brahman, he went first to the lair of the otter.
The Future Buddha was delighted. Brahman, said he, you have done well in coming to me for food. To-day I will give alms such as I never gave before; and you will not have broken the precepts by destroying life. Go, my friend, and gather wood, and when you have made a bed of coals, come and tell me. I will sacrifice my life by jumping into the bed of live coals. And as soon as my body is cooked, do you eat of my flesh, and perform the duties of a monk. And he addressed him with the fourth stanza:
When Sakka heard this speech, he made a heap of live coals by his superhuman power, and came and told the Future Buddha. The latter rose from his couch of dabba-grass, and went to the spot. And saying, If there are any insects in my fur, I must not let them die, he shook himself three times. Then throwing his whole body into the jaws of his liberality, he jumped into the bed of coals, as delighted in mind as a royal flamingo when he alights in a cluster of lotuses. The fire, however, was unable to make hot so much as a hair-pore of the Future Buddhas body. He felt as if he had entered the abode of cold above the clouds.
Sakka, your efforts are useless; for if all beings who dwell in the world were to try me in respect of my liberality, they would not discover in me any unwillingness to give. Thus the Future Buddha thundered.
Wise hare, said then Sakka, let your virtue be proclaimed to the end of this world-cycle. And taking a mountain, he squeezed it, and with the juice drew the outline of a hare in the disk of the moon. Then in that wood, and in that thicket, he placed the Future Buddha on some tender dabba-grass, and taking leave of him, departed to his own celestial abode.
When The Teacher had given this instruction, he expounded the truth, and identified the characters of the Birth-Story: [At the close of the exposition of the truths, the householder who had given all the requisites became established in the fruit of conversion.]