The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. The full account of this lifetime is told in the Maha-Ummagga Jataka (#546) while the Dakarakkhasa Jataka only relates this single incident from that story.
The Bodhisatta worried that his king, King Culani, wanted to kill him, so he gave a gift of flowers and perfumes to Bheri, a wise, virtuous ascetic who took her meals in the palace, to find out what the king thought of him. To get her answer, Bheri took the king aside and asked him the Water Demon Question, “If there were seven of you voyaging on the ocean and a demon demanded a human sacrifice, in which order would you give people up?” The king answered, “First I would give my mother, next my wife, next my brother, fourth my friend, fifth my brahmin, sixth myself, but I would not give up the Bodhisatta under any circumstance.”
Pleased that the king genuinely cherished the Bodhisatta, Bheri gathered a large company of people from the inner palace to ask him the question again so others would understand the Bodhisatta’s exceptional merit as clearly as they saw the moon shining in the sky. This time, after King Culani answered for all to hear, Bheri asked for an explanation. First to die in this hypothetical situation was the queen mother who, Bheri said, was smart and useful, unlike most mothers, and also when the king was a child she saved his life by faking his death, letting him escape from an evil step-father. She had her virtues, the king replied, but she had even more faults including wearing inappropriate jewelry and being rude to the people who worked for her.
Next on the list was Queen Nanda, who Bheri said was prudent, polite, wise, devoted, and calm. King Culani said her faults were greed and leading him into temptation by her sensuality. His younger brother, Bheri said, brought Culani back to be king after killing their step-father instead of seizing the throne himself. The king said his brother was arrogant. Bheri said the king’s friend was his closest companion since childhood and they’d shared everything through their lives. The king said his friend didn’t respect personal boundaries. The chaplain, said Bheri, possessed great merit and used his mastery of omens and dreams to frequently help the king. The king said the chaplain stared at him with open eyes and puckered brows. Then Bheri asked King Culani to explain why he would give his own life to protect the Bodhisatta. He said in all the years he knew him, the Bodhisatta had never done even the most trifling thing wrong and he knew everything from the past and the future: He would not give a man without sin to the water demon.
Wanting even more people to hear of the Bodhisatta’s greatness, Bheri arranged to have the king answer the Water Demon Question one more time, in the palace courtyard where everybody could come listen. And by hearing the king’s praise, they were drawn toward good in this world and happiness in the next.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One day some of the Buddha’s disciples were discussing his supreme wisdom. In particular, how he had humbled and converted a vast multitude of brahmins, ascetics, thieves, goblins, gods, and more. When the Buddha heard them talking about it, he told them this story so they knew he’d had perfect knowledge in the past too.
King Culani was an earlier birth of Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, and Bheri was an earlier birth of Uppalavanna, one of the Buddha’s top female disciples.