“The Poor Woman’s Lamp”

BEN_5153This story is derived from a Buddhist scripture and is known widely as “The Poor Woman’s Lamp”:

In the days of Shakyamuni Buddha there was a state called Magadha in ancient India. The well-known city Rajagriha was the capital where the king of this state resided. An old woman lived nearby. A person of profound faith, she had always yearned to offer something precious to the Buddha, but, as alone and poor as she was, she could not fulfill her desire.

One day on the street the old woman encountered a long procession of carts carrying a large quantity of flax oil. Upon asking, she learned that the oil was a donation which Ajatashatru, the king of the country, was sending to the Buddha. Deeply moved, the old woman also longed to make an offering, but she had no money whatsoever. She decided to cut off her own hair and sell it. With that money she bought a small amount of flax oil and went to offer it to the Buddha. She thought: “With so little oil a lamp will burn only half a night. However, if the Buddha recognizes my faith and feels compassion for me, then the lamp will burn throughout the night.”

Her wish was fulfilled and the lamp continued to burn throughout the night, while all other lamps went out in the strong winds which blew from the direction of Mount Sumeru. When day broke, people tried to blow it out, but, on the contrary, her lamp continued to glow all the more, so brightly as to almost illuminate the entire world. Then Shakyamuni Buddha scolded his disciples who were doing everything possible to extinguish the glowing light:

“Stop! Stop! This old woman made offerings to eighteen million Buddhas in her previous existences and received a prophecy from a Buddha in her last life that she would attain Buddhahood.” Then Shakyamuni Buddha proclaimed that in the future she would certainly become Buddha called Lamp Light Sumeru. Needles to say, upon hearing that, the old woman was overjoyed. By contrast, Ajatashatru, even though he had donated tens of thousand times as much oil as the old woman, could not receive a prophecy of enlightenment because he had an overwhelming sense of arrogance within himself.


Drawing by abbysoekarno,2011.


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