Translated By Tara Lau
In the time of Sakyamuni Buddha, an elder in Sravasti named Sudatta searched for a scenic spot to build a fine monastery for Buddha to better promote the Dharma. Sudatta received assistance from Prince Jeta, who donated 80 hectares of land, and together they built a monastery with a total of 1,200 rooms.
While they were measuring the plot, Sariputra smiled to them and said,
“As I observe with my deva eye, when you are still doing the foundation measurements before even breaking soil, your future blessings have already been set.”
The merits and virtues of creating a Buddhist temple are truly great. Here I am going to share with you a few historical stories.
(1)In China, Fan Zhongyan was a loyal minister for the Song dynasty and a talented writer. His “Notes on Yueyang Tower” fully expresses his ambition and loyalty to the people. Its famous quote “Be the first to worry but the last to rejoice”, praised by Confucian scholars, has become a lofty goal for righteous men throughout the centuries. In old age, Fan Zhongyan donated his own residence to be converted into Tianping Temple, for the promotion of Buddhism. Many of his descendants were prosperous and some became accomplished ministers.
(2)According to Avadana Sutra, the stupa of Kassapa Buddha had been in disrepair for a long time when one day, an elder told everyone, “It is a rare opportunity to be living in the time of Buddha, and a rare opportunity too being born in a human body. Although we all possess a human body now, we may yet sink further, so we must not miss this great opportunity to repair the stupa.” Thus he led 93,000 people in mending the structure. Later, upon their deaths, they were all reborn in the heavens to enjoy the blessings. And when Sakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment, they were all born again in the kingdom of Magadha, where King Bimbisara was the elder who had led the repair work on the stupa and all the 93,000 people he had worked with became part the royal family. After hearing the Dharma, they all cultivated bodhicitta and attained their own enlightenment.
(3)The Sutra of An Assortment of Parables says that once, a farmer in India built a small hut for a monk who had attained wisdom. He also removed the thorny undergrowth around it so the monk could sit and rest. When the farmer died, he was reborn in trayastrimsa as a reward for building a dwelling for the monk. There he lived in a gorgeous palace which was 2,000 kilometres around. After his rebirth, he flew back to the sky above the hut and scattered flowers all over it. With deep gratitude he said, “I built a mere cabin for the monk, and had the blessings of being reborn in the devas. I am now spreading flowers in adoration!”
(4)And according to Samyuktaratnapitaka Sutra, another elderly person in Sravasti paid for the construction of a Buddhist temple, and upon his death was reborn in the devas. His wife, who missed him dearly, often went to the Buddhist temple he had built to do cleaning work. One day, he appeared in the sky saying to her, “I am your husband. Because of the virtue of building the temple, I was reborn in the devas. If you continue to clean the temple while keeping a vow to be reborn in the devas, I shall meet you there in future.” When the woman died, she was born into trayastrimsa. And when Sakyamuni Buddha preached the Dharma there, she and her husband became his converts. Buddha personally taught them the Dharma and the couple soon attained the wisdom of Srotapanna.
(5) Famous ancient Chinese poet Bai Juyi and writer Wang Jiefu donated their own residences to be converted into Buddhist temples in their later years.
(6) According to Soushen Ji, Wang Tanzhi donated his home and converted as Anle Temple.
(7) According to Book Of Jin, the governor Tao Fan’s private residence in the early Taiyuan period was converted into Xilin Temple.