The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. Before this, he was a wealthy merchant who was righteous and generous. When he died, he left his good-for-nothing son four hundred million coins. The son lived his life for alcohol and debauchery, and before long he had squandered his entire fortune and was homeless. The Bodhisatta loved his son, so when he became aware of his plight, he went to earth and gave him a “wishing cup”—as long as he had it, he would have unlimited money. The son continued to get drunk, and one day, while absentmindedly tossing the cup in the air, he dropped it, and it smashed on the ground. The cup broken, he lived out the rest of his miserable life as a beggar.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The useless son was an earlier birth of a ne’er-do-well nephew of Anathapindika, a wealthy supporter of the Buddha known for his extreme generosity. The nephew had squandered his huge inheritance and came to his uncle for help. Anathapindika gave him one thousand coins, which he spent in no time, and then gave him another five hundred. This too was used up quickly, and then he only got two outfits. When these wore out, he came back for more, but Anathapindika sent him away. Unable to care for himself, the nephew soon lay down next to a wall and died.
When Anathapindika told the Buddha what had happened to his nephew, the Buddha told him this story about how he himself had tried unsuccessfully to help the nephew in a past life.