The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. One day the son of the king’s chaplain came to assist the king and fell in love at first sight with the gorgeous queen. He returned home lovesick and lay in bed without eating. After many days had passed, the king asked why the chaplain’s son had not returned for such a long time. When told of the son’s infatuation, the king gave him his queen for seven days. Back at his house, the chaplain’s son took delight with her, and she fell in love with him too. Before the week was up, the pair fled far away to a neighboring kingdom. The king ordered them brought back, but their path was like that of a ship, and nobody could find where they had gone.
The heartbroken king became very ill, and his doctors could not heal him. The Bodhisatta assumed the king’s ailment was mental, not physical, so he schemed to cure him by arranging a small gathering of performers in the palace yard. It included a sword-swallower because he knew that when the king saw this performance he would ask if there was anything more difficult than it. The Bodhisatta instructed two of his colleagues how to answer the question, and then he told the king to look at the festivities outside his window, promising they would turn his sorrow into joy.
When the king saw the sword-swallower down a sharp, meter-long sword he, as predicted, was so impressed that he asked one of the advisors, “Is there anything more difficult than that?” The advisor, as directed by the Bodhisatta, replied that it is much harder for a man to say he will give something away. Knowing that he had offered something to the chaplain’s son, the king’s sorrow became a little lighter. Then he asked his other advisor if there was anything harder than this, and he replied that saying you will give something away and then actually doing it is even harder. Again the king took pride in having done this with his queen, and his sorrow became lighter. Then he asked the Bodhisatta, his wisest advisor, if there was anything more difficult than giving something up completely, and he answered that not regretting giving the gift was harder still. Hearing this, the king realized his lack of self-control was undignified—if she really loved him, his queen would not have run away. His remaining sorrow rolled away like a drop of water falling off a lotus leaf. Fully recovered, the king gave the Bodhisatta great praise and much wealth in thanks.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The king and queen were earlier births of one of the Buddha’s disciples and his former wife. This disciple began to miss his former life and was considering leaving the sangha. The Buddha told the disciple this story so he knew that his wife had caused him misery in the past. After talking to the Buddha, this disciple gained new understanding and chose to stay.
The other two advisors were earlier births of Sariputta and Moggallana, two of the Buddha’s top disciples.