There was once a lone widow who was very destitute and having gone to the mountain she beheld hermits holding a religious assembly. Then the woman was filled with joy, and uttering praises, said, “It is well, holy priests! but while others give precious things such as the ocean caves produce, I have nothing to offer.”
Having spoken thus and having searched herself in vain for something to give, she recollected that sometime before she had found in a dung-heap two coppers, so taking these she offered them as a gift to the priesthood in charity.
The superior of the priests, a saint who could read the hearts of men, disregarding the rich gifts of others and beholding the deep faith dwelling in the heart of this poor widow, and wishing the priesthood to esteem rightly her religious merit, burst forth with a full voice in a canto. He raised his right hand and said, “Reverend priests attend!” and then he went on:
“The poor coppers of this widow
To all purpose are more worth
Than all the treasures of the oceans
And the wealth of the broad earth.As an act of pure devotion
She has done a pious deed;
She has attained salvation,
Being free from selfish greed.”
The woman was mightily strengthened in her mind by this thought, and said, “It is even as the Teacher says: what I have done is as much as if a rich man were to give up all his wealth.”
And the teacher said: “Doing good deeds is like hoarding up treasures,” and he expounded this truth in a parable:
“Three merchants set out on their travels each with his wealth; one of them gained much, the second returned with his wealth, and the third one came home after having lost his wealth. What is true in common life applies also to religion.
“The wealth is the state a man has reached, the gain is heaven; the loss of his wealth means that a man will be reborn in a lower state, as a denizen of hell or as an animal. These are the courses that are open to the sinner.
“He who brings back his wealth is like to one who is born again as a man. Those who through the exercise of various virtues become pious householders will be born again as men, for all beings will reap the fruit of their actions. But he who increases his wealth is like to one who practices eminent virtues. The virtuous, excellent man attains in heaven to the glorious state of the gods.”