The Bodhisatta was once a parrot. He lived in a grove of fig trees in the Himalayas and was the leader of many other parrots. He was very happy in his tree, and when the fruit was gone he ate leaves and bark because he did not want to live elsewhere. The Bodhisatta’s contentment was so great that the home of Indra, king of the gods, shook. Indra wanted to test the Bodhisatta’s virtue, so he caused the tree to dry up until it was nothing but a dead, withered stump full of holes eroding into dust with each gust of wind. The Bodhisatta, however, remained atop the stump, eating the dust.
Indra was mightily impressed. Taking the form of a royal goose, he sat in a nearby tree and asked the Bodhisatta why, when all other birds flee fruitless trees, he stayed behind. The Bodhisatta answered that he was grateful to the tree for giving him food in the past and would not abandon a friend, even when it died. A pleased Indra offered the Bodhisatta a wish, and he asked for the tree to be given life again. So Indra took his heavenly form, and with a splash of water from the Ganges River, made it so.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
A brahmin converted after hearing the Buddha preach, and at his request, the Buddha spent that rainy season in his town. Due to a famine, there was not much food available, and the demon Mara, enemy of all that is good, caused the brahmin to forget his duty to care for the Buddha and his disciples. But despite this hardship, the Buddha prohibited his disciples from going elsewhere or using their supernatural powers to get food, choosing instead to eat ground flour made from roots.
Later, when the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing that rainy season’s hardship, he told them it was no marvel that he overcame all desires, and he told them this story so they knew that he had once done the same in the past.
Indra was an earlier birth of Anuruddha, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.