The Bodhisatta was once a lion. A hare lived in a grove of both palm and bael trees. One day it thought, “If this earth should break up, where shall I go?” and at that exact moment a bael fruit fell out of a tree onto a palm leaf with a loud thud. The hare imagined the earth was collapsing and took off running as fast as he could without even looking behind him. Another hare saw him running and joined him, asking what caused his panic. He answered that the earth was breaking up and so the second hare, also not looking back, kept going. A hundred thousand hares and other animals also heard the news and joined the massive stampede.
When the Bodhisatta saw the animals fleeing and heard the cause, he knew the earth was not breaking apart and that these animals would surely rush into the ocean and perish if he did not stop them. So he ran in front and halted everyone with his frightening roar. He asked the crowd who had seen the earth collapsing, and was told that the elephants knew about it. But they said they hadn’t seen anything, they’d only heard about it from the lions. The lions also knew nothing, having heard about it from the tigers. The tigers heard from the rhinoceroses, the rhinoceroses heard from the wild ox, the wild ox from the buffaloes, the buffaloes from the elk, the elk from the boars, the boars from the deer, the deer from the hares, and the hares pointed out the first of them to spread the news.
The Bodhisatta approached the first hare and asked what he had seen. He answered that he hadn’t seen anything, but he had heard it very clearly. The Bodhisatta was now sure he knew what had really happened and told the hare to jump on his back; they were going to investigate whether the earth really was coming to an end or not. He told the huge herd of animals to stay put and wait for him to return, then he ran to the hare’s home. The hare pointed out the exact spot the sound had come from and they saw that the ground was normal and intact, with a ripe fruit lying on the ground. The Bodhisatta rushed back to the animals and told them the good news.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One morning some of the Buddha’s disciples saw some false ascetics lying on beds of thorns and doing other similar sufferings. After they returned to the monastery, the disciples asked the Buddha whether any good came from doing these things. The Buddha answered that there was no benefit at all; it was just like the noise that the hare heard. They did not understand the reference, so he told them this story to explain.
The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.