During the Sui Dynasty, a well-respected monk, Pu An, was cultivating up in the Nanshan Mountain. People loved him so much that anywhere he appeared, there would be a large crowd.
Poor in material possessions, but rich in spirit, Pu An and many monks came to the Dawan village. The Tian family in this village was so poor that their four daughters had hardly enough fabric to make their skirts properly as a woman’s body was supposed to be covered from head to toe.
The oldest daughter, named Hua Yan, was 20 years old. When she heard Pu An was coming to the village, she wanted to support the monks. When she looked around the house, she found their walls were bare and they had nothing to offer except a piece of fabric which was less than a yard long.
Hua Yan was saddened by her poverty and she was angry. She recognized that she had not accumulated much virtue and that was why she had to suffer so much in order to repay misdeeds from her past lives. She looked up and suddenly saw a small pile of dry grass between the beams. She took it down and looked closely, and she found 10 grains of millet.
Although it was only a small handful of millet grains, she carefully ground off the bran and put them in her piece of fabric to give to the monks. Hua Yan bowed her head and saw that her skirt was too short to go out. So after dark, she quietly went to the vicinity of the monks, put the coarse fabric down, and put the grains into the bowl.
Sincerely offering the grains, she silently prayed: “Because of my past greed, I have to suffer in this life. Now, I beg and pray in front of the Buddha. With these meager items, I want to support the monks. After this, if I have paid off my sins, the millet grains will all turn golden.” After that, Hua Yan wiped away the tears and went home.
The next morning, people saw the grains had all turned golden. After many people inquired, they realized that it was the offering from the poor young girl. For this reason, they praised her for her sincerity. When a kind man heard about this anecdote, he helped the poor Tian family. Eventually, Hua Yan was able to leave home and devoted her whole life to cultivation.
Some people once wondered how this poor woman could eliminate her karma with such a small offering. In this regard, the well-known lay Buddhist Zhou Anshi from the Qing Dynasty said: “Although it is only a yard of cloth and ten grains of millet, for Tian Hua Yan, these were all the possessions her family had.”
There is a similar story in the Bible. A poor widow came to the temple and put her two little coins in the donation box. When Jesus saw it, he said to the crowd that the widow had given more money than anyone else. When other people gave only what they didn’t need, this widow gave all she had. That is why Jesus said that she gave more than anyone else.
Translated by Yi Ming