Now on that occasion Princess Sumana — with an entourage of 500 ladies-in-waiting riding on 500 carriages — went to where the Buddha was staying. On arrival, having bowed down, she sat to one side. As she was sitting there, she said to the Blessed One, "Suppose there were two disciples of the Blessed One, equal in conviction, virtue, and discernment, but one was a giver of alms and the other was not. At the break-up of the body, after death, they would reappear in a good destination, in the heavenly world. Having become devas, would there be any distinction, any difference between the two?"
"Yes, there would," said the Blessed One. "The one who was a giver of alms, on becoming a deva, would surpass the other in five areas: in divine life span, divine beauty, divine pleasure, divine status, and divine power..."
"And if they were to fall from there and reappear in this world: Having become human beings, would there be any distinction, any difference between the two?"
"Yes, there would," said the Blessed One. "The one who was a giver of alms, on becoming a human being, would surpass the other in five areas: in human life span, human beauty, human pleasure, human status, and human power..."
"And if they were to go forth from home into the homeless life of a monk: Having gone forth, would there be any distinction, any difference between the two?"
"Yes, there would," said the Blessed One. "The one who was a giver of alms, on going forth, would surpass the other in five areas: He would often be asked to make use of robes; it would be rare that he wouldn't be asked. He would often be asked to take food... to make use of shelter... to make use of medicine; it would be rare that he wouldn't be asked. His companions in the holy life would often treat him with pleasing actions... pleasing words... pleasing thoughts... and present him with pleasing gifts, and rarely with unpleasing..."
"And if both were to attain arahantship, would there be any distinction, any difference between their attainments of arahantship?"
"In that case, I tell you that there would be no difference between the two as to their release."
"It's awesome, lord, and astounding. Just this is reason enough to give alms, to make merit, in that it benefits one as a deva, as a human being, and as a monk."