The Bodhisatta was once a prince. He studied the three Vedas and the eighteen accomplishments in Taxila, and mastered them all; especially archery. When his father, the king, was on his deathbed, he announced that he had chosen the Bodhisatta to replace him. But the Bodhisatta had no interest in power or glory and he refused the throne, so his younger brother became king instead. Later, some slaves convinced the king that the Bodhisatta had changed his mind and now wanted to rule, so the king sent some of his men to arrest him. Word of this reached the Bodhisatta, so he cursed his brother and fled to safety in another kingdom.
Based solely on reputation, this other king hired the Bodhisatta as an archer for one hundred thousand coins per year. One day, while relaxing in his royal park, the king spotted a cluster of mangoes high up in a tree and he told some of his archers to shoot it down. Annoyed at the high salary given to the Bodhisatta, they suggested the king call him to do it so they could see if he was actually any good. The king took their advice and summoned the Bodhisatta to the park.
The Bodhisatta put on a fancy outfit of red cloth and golden armor, then asked the king if he wanted the arrow to bring down the fruit with an upward shot or by the arrow dropping down from above. The intrigued king said he had never seen a falling arrow bring down a target, so he requested this. The Bodhisatta told the king his arrow would soar up to the Heaven of the Four Great Kings, so he must be patient. He let the arrow fly and then shot a second, faster arrow that struck a feather of the first, turning it back down toward the earth. It fell so fast it made the sound of thunder, scaring all the bystanders, and cut right through the mango stalk. The Bodhisatta caught the arrow in one hand and the mangoes in the other. The king and all the onlookers were so astonished they showered the Bodhisatta with riches worth tens of millions.
Meanwhile, seven other kings had learned that the Bodhisatta had left his home, so they set out to conquer the kingdom. The Bodhisatta’s brother was terrified, knowing that without the help of his older brother, his kingdom would fall and he would die. He sent men to beg for the Bodhisatta’s help, and he agreed. When he returned, the Bodhisatta assured his brother that everything would be fine. Then he wrote a message—”I have returned home and will kill all of you with a single arrow. Those who wish to live should escape now.”—on an arrow and shot it onto a golden dish at the dinner table where all seven kings were eating. When they read the message, they were half-dead with fright and all fled back to their realms.
The kingdom saved, the Bodhisatta renounced the world to live as an ascetic.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time while talking to his disciples about the Great Renunciation, which was the beginning of his path to enlightenment, the Buddha told them this story so they knew that he had also forsaken the throne for a religious quest in the past.
The Bodhisatta’s younger brother was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.