The Bodhisatta was once a monkey. He and his brother led a troop of eighty thousand living in the Himalayas. Their mother was blind and depended on the pair to take care of her. One time while they were out gathering wild fruit, they sent some back to their mother, but the messenger did not deliver it. Unable to eat, she withered away to skin and bone. After this, the two brothers decided to give up their rule and leave the wilderness so they could better care for her.
A hunter who was harsh, cruel, and violent – and had been warned by his former teacher that he faced destruction if he did not change his ways – lived near the Bodhisatta’s new banyan tree home, and when he saw the Bodhisatta’s mother he came to shoot her. The Bodhisatta climbed down and begged for his mother’s life, “Don’t shoot my mother! Kill me instead!” And he did. When the hunter turned his bow back toward the mother, the Bodhisatta’s brother came down from the tree and also offered his life in exchange for hers. The hunter shot the brother, and then killed the mother too.
He put all three bodies on a pole and headed back to his village. At that moment a lightning bolt struck his home and his wife and two children died in the fire. When he arrived at his scorched house one of its poles fell down and smashed his head, then the earth opened up and swallowed him into the flames of hell.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The hunter was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis and tried to kill him three times. When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing how wicked and cruel Devadatta was, he told them this story so they knew he was this way in previous lives too.
The Bodhisatta’s brother and the hunter’s wise teacher were earlier births of Ananda and Sariputta, two of the Buddha’s top disciples, and his blind mother was an earlier birth of Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha’s foster mother.