The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic who had many followers studying with him in the Himalayas. They spent one rainy season living in leaf huts down in a village, and while they went out to collect alms a mischievous monkey would come into their camp, knocking things around and smashing water jugs. When it came time for the ascetics to return to the wilderness, the villagers announced that the next morning they would provide plenty of alms for their long journey.
The monkey heard about it and decided to trick the villagers into giving him some food too. In the morning he stood near the ascetics and acted like a holy man worshipping the sun. The villagers were impressed and praised the holy monkey’s virtue, believing he had learned by watching the ascetics. But the Bodhisatta told the people they did not know the monkey’s real character and explained why he deserved no praise. Hearing what he had done, the people threw sticks and clods of dirt at the monkey.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The monkey was an earlier birth of one of the Buddha’s disciples who claimed to dedicate himself to seeking salvation, but was known by other disciples to be dishonest. The Buddha told them this story so they knew that this dishonest disciple had also been this way in the past.
The Bodhisatta’s fellow ascetics were earlier births of the Buddha’s disciples.