Sudāna ［須大拏太子］ (, Pali; 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.