VISAKHA, a wealthy woman in Savatthi who had many children and grandchildren, had given to the order the Pubbarama or Eastern Garden, and was the first in Northern Kosala to become a matron of the lay sisters.
When the Blessed One stayed at Savatthi, Visakha went up to the place where the Blessed One was, and tendered him an invitation to take his meal at her house, which the Blessed One accepted. And a heavy rain fell during the night and the next morning; and the bhikkhus doffed their robes to keep them dry and let the rain fall upon their bodies.
When on the next day the Blessed One had finished his meal, she took her seat at his side and spoke thus: "Eight are the boons, Lord, which I beg of the Blessed One."
Said the Blessed One: "The Tathagatas, O Visakha, grant no boons until they know what they are." Visakha replied: "Befitting, Lord, and unobjectionable are the boons I ask."
Having received permission to make known her requests, Visakha said: "I desire, Lord, through all my life long to bestow robes for the rainy season on the Sangha, and food for incoming bhikkhus, and food for outgoing bhikkhus, and food for the sick, and food for those who wait upon the sick, and medicine for the sick and a constant supply of rice milk for the Sangha, and bathing robes for the bhikkhunis, the sisters." Said the Buddha: "But what circumstance is it, O Visakha, that thou hast in view in asking these eight boons of the Tathagata?"
Visakha replied: "I gave command, Lord, to my maidservant, saying, 'Go, and announce to the brotherhood that the meal is ready.' And the maid went, but when she came to the vihara, she observed that the bhikkhus had doffed their robes while it was raining, and she thought: 'These are not bhikkhus, but naked ascetics letting the rain fall on them. So she returned to me and reported accordingly, and I had to send her a second time. Impure, Lord, is nakedness, and revolting. It was this circumstance, Lord, that I had in view in desiring to provide the Sangha my life long with special garments for use in the rainy season.
"As to my second wish, Lord, an incoming bhikkhu, not being able to take the direct roads, and not knowing the place where food can be procured, comes on his way tired out by seeking for alms. It was this circumstance, Lord, that I had in view in desiring to provide the Sangha my life long with food for incoming bhikkhus. Thirdly, Lord, an outgoing bhikkhu, while seeking about for alms, may be left behind, or may arrive too late at the place whither he desires to go, and will set out on the road in weariness.
"Fourthly, Lord, if a sick bhikkhu does not obtain suitable food, his sickness may increase upon him, and he may die. Fifthly, Lord, a bhikkhu who is waiting upon the sick will lose his opportunity of going out to seek food for himself. Sixthly, Lord, if a sick bhikkhu does not obtain suitable medicines, his sickness may increase upon him, and he may die.
"Seventhly, Lord, I have heard that the Blessed One has praised rice-milk, because it gives readiness of mind, dispels hunger and thirst; it is wholesome for the healthy as nourishment, and for the sick as a medicine. Therefore I desire to provide the Sangha my life long with a constant supply of rice-milk.
"Finally, Lord, the bhikkhunis are in the habit of bathing in the river Achiravati with the courtesans, at the same landing-place, and naked. And the courtesans, Lord, ridicule the bhikkhunis, saying, 'What is the good, ladies, of your maintaining chastity when you are young? When you are old, maintain chastity then; thus will you obtain both worldly pleasure and religious consolation.' Impure, Lord, is nakedness for a woman, disgusting, and revolting. These are the circumstances, Lord, that I had in view."
The Blessed One said: "But what was the advantage you had in view for yourself, O Visakha, in asking the eight boons of the Tathagatha?"
Visakha replied: "Bhikkhus who have spent the rainy seasons in various places will come, Lord, to Savatthi to visit the Blessed One. And on coming to the Blessed One they will ask, saying: 'Such and such a bhikkhu, Lord, has died. What, now, is his destiny?' Then will the Blessed One explain that he has attained the fruits of conversion; that he has attained arahatship or has entered Nirvana, as the case may be.
"And I, going up to them, will ask, "Was that brother, Sirs, one of those who had formerly been at Savatthi?' If reply to me, He has formerly been at Savatthi then shall I arrive at the conclusion, For a certainty did that brother enjoy either the robes for the rainy season, or the food for the incoming bhikkhus, or the food for the outgoing bhikkhus, or the food for the sick, or the food for those that wait upon the sick, or the medicine for the sick, or the constant supply of rice-milk.'
"Then will gladness spring up within me; thus gladdened, joy will come to me; and so rejoicing all my mind will be at peace. Being thus at peace I shall experience a blissful feeling of content; and in that bliss my heart will be at rest. That will be to me an exercise of my moral sense, an exercise of my moral powers, an exercise of the seven kinds of wisdom! This Lord, was the advantage I had in view for myself in asking those eight boons of the Blessed One."
The Blessed One said: "It is well, it is well, Visakha. Thou hast done well in asking these eight boons of the Tathagata with such advantages in view. Charity bestowed upon those who are worthy of it is like good seed sown on a good soil that yields an abundance of fruits. But alms given to those who are yet under the tyrannical yoke of the passions are like seed deposited in a bad soil. The passions of the receiver of the alms choke, as it were, the growth of merits." And the Blessed One gave this thanks to Visakha:
"O noble woman of an upright life,
Disciple of the Blessed One, thou givest
Unstintedly in purity of heart.
"Thou spreadest joy, assuagest pain,
And verily thy gift will be a blessing
As well to many others as to thee."