The Bodhisatta was once an untouchable – and then a deer, osprey, ascetic, and god in heaven. His name was Citta, and he grew up very close to his cousin, Sambhuta. One day the daughters of a merchant and a chaplain were on their way to relax in the royal park when they saw the two men doing street performances at the city gates. Believing that seeing untouchables was an evil omen, they flushed their eyes with perfumed water and returned home. The people with these women, enraged at being deprived of a day of free food and liquor in the park, beat the two men senseless. Deeply upset, the men decided that to have a happy life they should leave and go someplace where nobody knew they were untouchables. So they went to Taxila in the guise of brahmins and studied religion with a famous teacher.
One morning the teacher was unable to accept an invite to a man’s home to receive an offering of food. He appointed the Bodhisatta, one of his top students, to take the others there and give the blessing in his place.
When the food was served, the hosts told them to wait and let it cool for a moment, but Sambhuta ignored their warming and the rice burned his mouth. He yelled out, “Hot!” and the Bodhisatta told him, “Spit it out!” In the shock of the moment, they both spoke in their untouchable dialect. Back at the school, other students beat the pair and they were banished from the city. They went off to the forest to live as ascetics and died not long after.
Next they were born as deer and were always together, cuddling head to head and horn to horn when they slept, until a hunter killed them with a spear. Then they were born as osprey and again were inseparable, lying together head to head and beak to beak, until they were snatched by a man for food.
In the next birth, the Bodhisatta was born the son of a chaplain and Sambhuta was born as a prince; and they could remember their past lives together. As adults, the Bodhisatta went off to the Himalayas to live as an ascetic and his cousin became king.
The Bodhisatta wanted the king to become an ascetic too, and after waiting fifty years until it was the right time he flew down with his supernatural powers to the royal park. He heard a young boy singing the king’s coronation hymn (all the citizens sang it because they loved their king so much), which included the lines, “Sambhuta is doing great…Who knows if Citta is too?” And with this, the Bodhisatta devised a plan. He taught the boy a new verse of the song and told him to sing it for the king, promising that the king would be pleased.
The boy ran home and his mother dressed him up spick and span then took him to the palace where the king agreed to listen to his new lyrics. After the king sang the original, the boy answered the song’s question with the new verse: “Behold my lord, Citta is at the park gate; and like you, he is doing great.” The king asked the boy where he got this verse and then raced off in the royal chariots to his park.
The king saw the Bodhisatta and sat down at his side, expressing his joy and respect to his dear friend. He offered to build him a palace and give him half his kingdom. But the Bodhisatta refused the offer, saying wealth does not bring happiness, and reminded the king that all things are impermanent. Inspired by this advice, the king gave his eldest son the throne and went off to live as an ascetic with the Bodhisatta. And after death, they were born together in heaven.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
Two of the Buddha’s disciples were best friends. They lived together, shared everything and couldn’t bear being apart. When the Buddha heard some other disciples praising the men’s relationship, he said a friendship in one life was nothing special and told them this story so they knew that he himself had once kept an unbroken bond across five lifetimes.
The Bodhisatta’s companion through the lives was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.