The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. He was born the king’s only child. From the day he was born he cried anytime he saw a woman, even his mother. So he was cared for entirely by men, with milk given from a breast behind a screen. Nothing changed as the Bodhisatta grew up, and even as a teenager he needed a separate place all his own for meditating, eating, and everything else. His father knew that the Bodhisatta, his only son, did not want to inherit the kingdom, and when he reached age sixteen the king did not know what to do with such a useless son. One of the king’s enchanting dancers told him she could make the Bodhisatta fall in love with her, and the king said if she was able, the Bodhisatta would become king and she his chief queen.
Beginning her plan, the dancer spent the first day singing in her angelic voice outside the Bodhisatta’s bedroom where he could hear but not see her. He requested that she return the next day, and she did. The day after that he had her sing at the entrance to his room, and then finally he invited her to sing in his presence. For the first time, desire arose in him and he was in love. He didn’t want any other man to have her, so he ran wild through the streets with his sword chasing people away. The king had him banished from the city along with the dancer.
They took up residence in a jungle hut along the Ganges River, living on food that he gathered in the forest. One day while the Bodhisatta was out looking for fruits, an ascetic from an island in the sea saw smoke from their house as he flew through the sky, so he came down to see who these people were. The woman invited him to eat, and her charm was so great that he lost his insight and fell in love, remaining at her house all day. When the Bodhisatta finally returned home, the ascetic quickly ran off. Assuming the man was an enemy, the Bodhisatta drew his sword and gave chase.
When the ascetic reached the sea he jumped up as if to fly, but fell into the water. Seeing this, the Bodhisatta understood that this man was an ascetic who had lost his powers. The Bodhisatta called out that all women are cunning and deceitful and men should stay away or they’d burn up like fuel in a fire. Hearing these words restored the ascetic’s powers and he rose up in the air as before and returned to his island home. The Bodhisatta took his own advice and sent the woman back to the palace while he stayed in the forest living out his life alone as an ascetic.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One of the Buddha’s disciples became distracted by desires and could no longer concentrate on his studies or meditation. The Buddha, in helping him recover, told him this story to explain that women’s wiles can sidetrack even highly advanced beings like himself.
The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.