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 lied 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 summoned him and gave him his queen for seven days. Back at his house, he took delight with her and they both fell in love and 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 when the king saw him he would ask, “Is there anything harder than that?” The Bodhisatta instructed two other royal advisors how to answer the question and then told the king to look at the festivities outside his window, promising they would turn his sorrow to joy.
When the king saw the sword swallower down a sharp, thirty-three-inch sword he, as predicted, was so impressed he asked one of the advisors, “Is there anything harder than that?” The advisor replied that a sword swallower could be greedy; it is much harder for a man to say he will give something away. Knowing he had given something away 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, as directed by the Bodhisatta, 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. And then 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, he 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 monkhood. The Buddha told the disciple this story so he knew 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.