The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. Four brothers lived together as ascetics in the Himalayas. When the eldest died, he was reborn as Indra, king of the gods, and he used to visit and assist his brothers who were still down on earth. One day Indra asked each of them what they wanted most. One wanted fire, so Indra gave him an axe that would go cut firewood and return to build a fire. The next brother did not like elephants, and there were many around their camp, so Indra gave him a drum that when struck on one side would cause enemies to run away, and when struck on the other would cause enemies to become his friends and serve as an army. The third brother wanted curds, so Indra gave him a bowl that released a river-sized flow of curds when turned over.
Elsewhere, a wild boar living in a ruined village found a magic jewel, and as soon as he picked it up in his mouth, he began to fly. Soaring through the air, he saw an island in the ocean and went to live there. Later, a troublemaker who had been kicked out of his home by his parents was shipwrecked on this island. This wicked man saw the boar sleeping under a mango tree, stole the jewel, and when he found himself rising into the air he landed in the tree. He wanted to eat the boar before flying away from the island, so he dropped a twig down on the boar’s head. When the boar awoke and noticed his jewel was missing, he got agitated. Then seeing the man in the tree, he ran headfirst into the trunk and died. After cooking and consuming the boar, the wicked man flew off through the sky.
From up above, the troublemaker saw the three ascetics’ camp and stopped in for a visit, spending a few days staying with the eldest. When he heard about the axe, the man suggested exchanging it for his flying jewel, and the ascetic agreed. Once he got the axe, the man commanded it to smash the ascetic’s skull and bring the jewel back to him. He then stayed with the second and third ascetics and got the drum and bowl in the same way.
Now possessing immense power, the man flew to the city and told the king to fight or surrender. The king chose to fight, so the man beat his drum and was surrounded by a large army, turned over his bowl and drowned the king’s troops in a river of curds, and ordered the axe to fetch the king’s head. With nobody able to stop him, the man crowned himself king. After this, he settled down and ruled righteously.
One day the new king was fishing in the river with a net and snared a huge, wonderful golden mango that had floated down from a holy Himalayan lake. The king had his gardener plant its seed in the royal park, and he gave the tree his full attention: it was irrigated with milk, perfumed with scented oils, decorated with wreaths and garlands, surrounded by a cloth, and lit by a lamp kept burning next to it at all times. Three years later, it bore fruit as sweet and delicious as the original.
The king sent these mangoes as gifts to other kings, but first he pricked the spot where the seeds would sprout so they could not be planted. One king was very upset by this, so he sent his own gardener to sabotage the special mango tree. This man got hired as the gardener’s assistant. Soon after, because he was able to force fruits and flowers to grow out of season, the king fired his gardener and put this infiltrator in charge. At this point, he planted vines and neem trees around the mango tree, and as their roots intertwined, they turned the mangoes bitter. His work done, the rogue gardener took off and returned home.
When the king tasted one of the tainted mangoes, he spit it out and asked the Bodhisatta what had happened. The Bodhisatta saw the cause and had all the vines and neem trees cut down and their roots pulled up. Then he replaced the soil around the tree, and eventually the mangoes became sweet again.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time the Buddha was discussing the harm that comes with keeping bad company, and he told this story as an example.
The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.