The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. The mother of a wealthy merchant once pleaded with him, her only son, to give alms, be virtuous, observe the holy days, and follow the teachings, but he completely rejected religion and righteousness. One full-moon holy day she offered him one thousand coins to keep the vows and go listen to an overnight sermon. For the love of money, he agreed, but that night he slept instead of listening. When he returned home the next morning he rudely demanded the money from his mother, refusing to eat her food until he had it.
Later the merchant decided to sail on a trading voyage to faraway lands. His mother begged him not to go because there were many dangers at sea, and she reminded him that they already had plenty of money, so this new business was unnecessary. When she grabbed his hand to try to stop him from going, he struck her and left.
On his seventh day at sea, the winds died and the ship didn’t move. The crew cast lots to see who had cursed them, and when the greedy merchant drew the lot three times he was set afloat on a raft. Once he was jettisoned, the boat immediately began to sail again.
His raft drifted to an island where there were four spirits of the dead (specifically vimana petas, deities whose blissful earthly lives are regularly interrupted by hell-like tortures) living in a crystal palace and he stayed with them until they needed to leave for their penance. Next, he encountered eight more such spirits in a silver palace, then sixteen in a jewel palace, and finally thirty-two in a gold palace.
Then the merchant came to a city with a massive wall and four gates. He was told it was one of the lesser hells, but to him it appeared beautiful, so he went inside arrogantly believing he would become its king. Right after he entered the gate, a man hauling a wheel as sharp as a razor on his head passed by, but the greedy merchant saw it as a lotus flower. And he also thought the chains around the man’s body were a beautiful robe, the blood dripping down from his head was perfume made from sandalwood powder, and his groaning noise a sweet song. The merchant ordered the man to give him the lotus, and when told what it really was he just figured the man was lying because he wanted to keep it for himself. Told to hand it over a second time, the suffering man gladly gave it to him, thrilled that his punishment had finished and another man who had also hit his mother was here to begin his. The instant the razor wheel fell on his head the merchant felt a piercing and tearing pain, like a pestle crushing mustard seeds. At that moment the Bodhisatta walked by and the merchant cried out asking what he had done to deserve this. The Bodhisatta told him that centuries of misery carrying this wheel on his head was the price of a life of utter greed.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The greedy merchant was an earlier birth of a disobedient disciple of the Buddha, who told him this story of his past so he knew that his disobedience had once led to great suffering.