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Sudāna

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Sudāna 須大拏太子 (Skt, Pali; Jpn Shudaina-taishi): The name of Shakyamuni Buddha in a former life as a prince carrying out the practice of almsgiving. The story of Prince Sudāna appears in several Buddhist scriptures, including the Sudāna Sutra, which is part of the Sutra of Collected Birth Stories concerning the Practice of the Six Pāramitās. Prince Sudāna valued almsgiving and unselfishly gave food, clothing, and valuables to those of his kingdom who desired them. He presented the people with anything they wanted—gold, silver, horses, houses, and land. The king, his father, had a white elephant that was powerful enough to defend the kingdom from enemies.

  Enemy rulers attempted to exploit Sudāna’s generosity and his practice of almsgiving to obtain the white elephant. Eight envoys were sent to his country to carry out this mission. They asked Prince Sudāna to give them the white elephant, which he did. The ministers and other officials of the kingdom were apprehensive because they had lost the powerful elephant, and because the prince would not stop giving alms. Finally the king ordered his son Sudāna to leave the country and live in retreat on Mount Dandaka. Sudāna then left with his wife, son, and daughter. On his way to Mount Dandaka, he had three encounters with Brahmans who begged for various items; he granted the requests of each, giving clothes and ornaments to the first, the horse that drew his carriage to the second, and the carriage to the third. He and his family arrived at Mount Dandaka with nothing left.

  One day Sudāna received a visit from a Brahman who wished to have Sudāna’s children. Sudāna granted this wish. The god Shakra then tested his resolve by assuming the form of a Brahman and asking Sudāna to give him his wife. Sudāna granted this wish as well. Shakra thereupon revealed his true identity and praised Sudāna for his resolve. The Brahman who earlier had taken Sudāna’s two children sold them to the king, their grandfather. Hearing about Sudāna from them, the king wished to see his son and sent for him. Finally the king gave Sudāna all of his wealth to support his practice of almsgiving. Sudāna gave treasures and other possessions to the people to support their well-being, and in this way perfected the practice of almsgiving. The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom also mentions Sudāna’s act of offering his two children and then his wife to Brahmans as an example of the practice of almsgiving.

  The story of Prince Sudāna is depicted in relief on the south gateway leading to the Great Stupa in Sanchi, central India, built in the third century b.c.e., and in a surviving relief found among the ruins of the large second-century stupa in Amaravati in southeast India. A mural depicting the story of Sudāna is found among the ruins of a Buddhist monastery in Miran in Central Asia.
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Sudana, crown prince of Yebo, was possessed of such transcendent compassion that he could refuse no boon asked of him, great or small, from beggar or nobleman. Thus did he command the allegiance of Sudhayan, a divine white elephant as unmatched in battle as it was in stature. After Sudhayan vanquished an opposing army of sixty lesser elephants single-trunkedly, no neighboring kingdom dared oppose Yebo openly.

Naturally, Yebo’s rivals resorted to cunning. They bribed a troupe of wandering ascetics to visit Sudana’s court and beseech the prince for his elephant. Even those who knew him best were shocked at his consent, no less at the audacity of the request. The recriminations began before the ascetics had led Sudhayan away: the prince’s generosity had compromised state security. The king himself, who had always struggled with his son’s extreme altruism, could only call this latest gift treacherous folly, and exiled the prince before he could wreak further damage with his open hand.

Saddened but by no means put out, Sudana promptly gave away all his estate save a horse and cart on which to depart with his wife and sons. They had not left the tearful farewell crowd far behind when a lame monk stopped them on the stony road, begging for use of the horse to complete his journey to Yebo. Sudana gave it to him and took up the traces, pulling his family along without complaint.

Further on, Sudana encountered a poor family carrying the few worldly goods they had saved from a fire. He gave them the cart, and his own family struggled onward by foot. The next day, a naked beggar found himself possessed of Sudana’s raiment, while the prince bore his nakedness with dignity.

Alone in the wilds with hungry children and a sainted madman, the princess despaired. Sudana neither placated nor chastised, and showed no surprise at the glistening city that rose up before them as their last strength failed. Revelers greeted them with food and drink, music and clothing. It was an illusion granted by Lord Buddha, nonetheless sustaining, but Sudana would not tarry. A mountain ahead beckoned, one where the celestials themselves were said to gather dharma.

Sudana built a crude hut on the mountain. His sons befriended monkeys and parrots, while his wife gathered fruit and berries. She was thus engaged one day when a band of slave traders passed by the hut, and assumed such an impoverished mountain-dweller would part with his sons for a meager price. To their astonishment, Sudana tied a rope about the boys’ necks and handed the end to a slaver, speaking no word of payment, but thrashing his sons when they refused to march. Karma quickly brought them to Yebo, where they were bought for service in the palace. The king soon recognized his grandsons and sent for the prince, to no avail. Having nothing left to give, Sudana cared nothing more for gain.



One of the eight main Tibetan opera routines with the same story as the Jataka tale (about Buddha Sakyamuni's earlier incarnations) in the Crown Prince Sudana Sutra: In order to relieve people's sufferings, Prince Drimed Kundan distributed the wealth from the treasury to the poor, even to his enemy. The king was so angry with the prince that he sent him into exile. Nevertheless, the prince still liked to do good deeds and offer donations, to the point of offering his wife and his own eyes to others. Based on a block edition.

Source

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