The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. Before this he was a wealthy, powerful businessman, and when he decided to renounce the world, he threw open the doors of his house and let people come take everything. Along with his sister, who also decided to become an ascetic, he headed out to a forest and lived in a leaf hut.
Over time many others from the city followed them and became ascetics in the same location, and people gave them all great honor and many gifts. But the Bodhisatta was not interested in admiration and wanted to be alone, so without telling anyone he walked away and found a new home. And here he was so respected that local people gave him abundant alms, so again he left and this time settled on a remote, oppressively hot island, living on fruit when he could find it and just leaves sprinkled with water when he couldn’t.
The Bodhisatta’s virtue was so pure that the throne of Indra, king of the gods, grew warm. And when he saw the reason, Indra wanted to know if the Bodhisatta’s goal for living this austere life was to replace him in heaven, so he went down to Earth in the form of a brahmin to test him. That morning as the Bodhisatta was about to eat his wet leaves, Indra appeared at his hut. The Bodhisatta was filled with joy for the chance to offer alms and gave away his entire bowl of leaves. Indra returned the next day and once more the Bodhisatta gave away his whole meal, and then again on the third day. That afternoon, though weak from not eating for three days, the Bodhisatta sat in heartfelt joy reflecting over the gifts he had given.
Indra still did not know the Bodhisatta’s intention for giving so generously and so appeared before him in blazing divine glory to ask. The Bodhisatta answered that his only goal was nirvana, the end of the cycle of rebirth. Indra was so pleased by this answer that he granted the Bodhisatta a wish, with which he asked to never be tempted by treasures or family. Impressed, Indra offered more wishes, and the Bodhisatta asked to not grow old and infirm, to never have to talk to any foolish people, to have conversations with wise men, to be free from lust, to meet people seeking alms, and finally he asked Indra to leave and never return because he had everything he needed already and didn’t want to be distracted in his quest. Indra apologized and agreed, and the Bodhisatta remained in bliss on his island home for the rest of his earthly life.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
Over seven days, a lay supporter of the Buddha gave many gifts to him and his disciples. The Buddha praised his generosity and explained that gifts should be given to holy men no matter whether the donor has wealth or lives in the forest with nothing, and he told this story to explain.
Indra was an earlier birth of Anuruddha, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.