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Supriya's Bowl

From The Broken Tusk by Uma Krishnaswami (Atlanta, GA: August House Publishers Inc.). Used by permission of the publishers.

Hard times starve people's spirits, as well as their bodies.

(Play all instruments.)

So it was once, when the Buddha lived and famine struck the land. The rains failed, and the heat of the sun withered the harvest in the field. All around, the cries of pain and hunger could be heard. (sticks)

In the midst of this misery, some people (all instruments) grew greedy and selfish. The Buddha's followers came to him, bringing stories of sadness and shame.

"One merchant (tambourine) in town stabbed another," said one, "and all for a bag of grain."

"I heard of a woman (tambourine) who sold her last goat to buy some flour. On her way home she was attacked by robbers, and the flour was stolen," said another.

"Saddest of all, Lord Buddha," said a third, "are the stories of children (triangle) dying of hunger on the poor side of town, because the wealthy have hoarded all the grain and milk and sugar."

"Call all the people together," said the Buddha (drum). "Let us see what we can do to help." (all instruments)

So the Buddha's followers called a big meeting.

Hundreds of people came. (all instruments) Rich and poor, well fed and starving—out of respect for the Buddha, they came to hear his words.

The Buddha (drum) said, "Citizens of this fair land, surely there is enough food in the storehouses of the wealthy to feed everyone. If the rich share what they have in the lean season, then you will all survive to enjoy the benefits of the next good harvest."

The poor and the hungry looked hopeful at the Buddha's words, but the rich people grumbled.

"My granary is empty," lied one. (tambourine)

"The poor are lazy. Let them work for me; then they can use the money to buy the food I have stored," said another. (tambourine)

"There are too many poor people," said a third. "Let them go somewhere else." (tambourine)

The Buddha sighed (drum) when his eye fell upon the people with hearts of stone. "Is there no one here," he asked finally, "who will take on the job of helping to feed the poor and homeless in these hard times?"

There was silence. Then a small voice piped up, "I will, Lord Buddha." (finger cymbals)

Out of the crowd stepped a girl, no more than 6 or 7 years old. She was a merchant's child, dressed in fine silk. Flowers were braided in her hair.

"My name is Supriya," said the child, "and I have a bowl to fill with food for the hungry. When can I begin?" (finger cymbals)

The Buddha smiled. (drum) "Small child," he said, "your heart is filled with love, but how will you do this alone?"

Supriya replied, "Not alone, Lord Buddha, but with your help. I'll take this bowl from house to house and ask for food for the poor. I will not be refused. I know it." (drum and finger cymbals)

Looking at the child, with her earnest face and shining eyes, even the most selfish among those present grew ashamed.

"I have a little grain in my storehouse," mumbled one. (tambourine)

"I have some pickled mango from summer's harvest," said another. (tambourine)

"My father was poor once. I'm ashamed to have forgotten," muttered a third. (tambourine)

Then Supriya took her bowl, and every day she went from house to house in the rich part of town. Wherever she went, little by little, the bowl got filled. (finger cymbals)

Sometimes an old grandmother would fill it with rice. (tambourine) Sometimes children would give up their sweets for the day. (triangle) Often, others would join Supriya with their bowls and help her take the food to the people who needed it. (finger cymbals and tambourine)

And sometimes, it is said, when Supriya was tired of walking, she would rest in the shade of the banyan tree. When she awoke, she would find the bowl had magically filled itself.

"Now," said Supriya, "the hungry will eat, and the people of this town will take care of each other." And so they did.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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