The Bodhisatta was once a king. He and the son of the royal chaplain were born on the same day. The two grew up in the palace together as very close friends and were sent to Taxila for their education. When their studies were finished they wandered through the land to get new experiences and arrived in a city a week after its king had died without an heir. They walked the streets seeking alms, and at one house the Bodhisatta was given a seat covered by a white cloth and his friend got a seat with a red rug on top, which the friend recognized as an omen that the Bodhisatta would be made king of this city and he himself would be chosen as the commander-in-chief.
Later while the two men relaxed in the royal park, the Bodhisatta taking a nap, the royal chariot was sent out of the palace without a driver, a foolproof method to find someone with sufficient merit to be a great king. When the chariot and the throng of people walking behind it approached the park the Bodhisatta’s friend thought about his future and decided he would rather be an ascetic than a layman, so he hid out of sight. The royal chaplain saw auspicious signs on the Bodhisatta’s feet and had the musicians play loudly to wake him. The chaplain lowered himself in front of the Bodhisatta and told him, “Lord, the kingdom falls to you.” The Bodhisatta accepted the crown and after the coronation, done right there in the park, he completely forgot about his friend.
After the Bodhisatta left, his friend sat down and watched a leaf fall from a tree. Realizing that his body would someday decay just like the leaf opened up his insight into the impermanence of all things and he became a private Buddha (those who reach enlightenment on their own and do not teach the path to others). A robe and a bowl fell from the sky onto his body and he miraculously flew to the Himalayas.
Forty years later, the Bodhisatta remembered his friend and wondered what had happened to him. He let it be known there would be great honor to anyone who could find him, but did not seek him out.
After another decade, the friend divined that the Bodhisatta had thought of him, so he flew to the city to preach to him. The king gave his old friend a kind greeting and listened to him explain the realities of attachments and suffering. His friend then suggested that in his old age it was time for the Bodhisatta to renounce the world. The Bodhisatta replied that while he ruled righteously and gave charity, he was too attached to pleasures to give them up. His friend spoke more about the misery of desires and the blessings of a holy life and urged him to reconsider. Then he flew back to his mountain home. The Bodhisatta pondered his friend’s advice and soon changed his mind. He gave the throne to his son and set of for the Himalayas where he lived out his days as an ascetic in a leaf hut.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time while talking to his disciples about the Great Renunciation, which was the beginning of his path to enlightenment, the Buddha told them this story as an example of a similar renunciation in his past.
The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.