The Bodhisatta was once an untouchable. His wife was pregnant and got an insatiable craving for a mango, but it wasn’t mango season. He offered to get her some other fruit, but she insisted she must have a mango, or else she would die. The Bodhisatta loved his wife and thought hard about where he could find a mango for her. Then he remembered there was a special mango tree in the royal park that bore fruit year-round. So the Bodhisatta snuck into the park late at night and climbed up into the tree, stepping branch to branch seeking a ripe fruit. Before he found one, twilight broke and he knew if he came down, he would be seen and arrested. So he went high up to sit in a fork of the tree to wait out the day and go home in the dark of the next night.
During the day the king came to study sacred texts with his chaplain under the mango tree. The king sat in a high seat and the chaplain took the seat below him. The Bodhisatta was aghast at the two wicked men – a holy teacher should always sit above his pupils – and this made him feel shame over his own sin. He swung down from the tree and boldly rebuked the pair for their misdeeds. The king was extremely impressed by his knowledge and said he would have given the Bodhisatta his crown if he wasn’t from a low caste. So the best he could do was share the throne, the king ruling during the day and the Bodhisatta ruling at night, and he placed a garland of red flowers around his neck. And from then on the king always took the lower seat when studying with his chaplain.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
Six disobedient disciples of the Buddha known for flouting the rules were caught teaching from a low seat while their students sat above them. When the Buddha confronted them, he told this story so they knew he had dealt with a similar situation in the past.
The king was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.