The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. A young brahmin had been sent to Taxila to study archery and he became a master, equaling the skill of his teacher, who was so impressed he gave the archer his daughter to marry. As the archer traveled back home with his new wife they came to a forest where a wild elephant was rampaging and local people told him it was too dangerous to pass through. But the archer ignored them, and when the elephant charged him he shot an arrow straight through its head, killing it.
The archer continued on and came to a spot where fifty robbers were working the road and people warned him not to go there. Again the archer ignored the local advice and encountered the robbers. Their leader was a good judge of character and could tell that the archer was noble and heroic, so he told his men not to attack. The archer sent his wife to go ask the robbers for some of the venison they were eating, but they ignored their leader’s demand to treat them well and gave her raw meat instead of roasted. The archer responded to the insult by shooting forty-nine of the robbers, but he ran out of arrows before he could shoot their leader because he had used one arrow on the elephant. Instead he knocked the leader down and sat on his chest. He asked his wife to get his sword, but she had fallen in love at first sight with the robber chief and gave it to him instead. The robber cut off the archer’s head then he and the woman took off together.
As they traveled, the woman told the robber her story and he figured someone of her ilk would do the same thing to him someday, so he decided to get rid of her. When they came upon a flooded stream where a crocodile lived, the robber needed to help the woman across. She told him to put all her jewelry in a bag and take it across first, then come back for her. But after he got to the other side he ran away and she slumped down on the ground screaming in anguish.
The Bodhisatta looked down on the world and saw the woman weeping. He decided to go mock and rebuke her. He took the form of a jackal and had Matali, his charioteer, and Pancasikha, one of heaven’s top musicians, change into a fish and a bird respectively. The Bodhisatta stood with a piece of meat in his mouth where the woman could see him. Then to illustrate the woman’s stupidity, the fish jumped out of the steam, the Bodhisatta dropped his meat to pick up the fish, the fish jumped back into the stream, and the bird flew off with the meat. The woman laughed at what she had just seen and called the Bodhisatta a fool. He answered that it’s easy to see another person’s faults, but hard to see one’s own: “What is the cost of losing both a husband and a lover?” Understanding his point, the woman vowed to find another husband and remain faithful to him. The Bodhisatta was doubtful, saying if she did it once, she would do it again.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The archer and his wife were earlier births of one of the Buddha’s disciples and his former wife. This disciple began to miss his former life and with the wife’s encouragement was considering leaving the monkhood. The Buddha told the disciple this story so he knew that in the past his wife had caused him to be beheaded. After talking to the Buddha this disciple gained new understanding and chose to stay.