The Bodhisatta was once a crown prince. He had a younger brother and sister. When their mother died, their father, a righteous and wise king, picked another of his sixteen thousand wives to be the new queen consort, and they had a son. The king loved this boy, the Bodhisatta’s half-brother, very much and so granted his queen a wish. She waited seven years to claim it, and then asked that when the time came he appoint her son as king instead of the Bodhisatta. This angered the king, and he refused her request. Day after day she asked, and the king, knowing that women are inherently wicked, worried that she would scheme to get the Bodhisatta killed through a forged letter or a bribe. So the king told both his sons they must leave the palace and stay away for twelve years—this being how much longer his fortune-tellers predicted he would live—before returning to rule. Their sister joined them, and all three left with tears of sadness. They went to the Himalayas and lived on wild fruits, the two younger siblings taking care of the elder Bodhisatta.
Saddened from missing his children, the king died after just nine years. The queen ordered the royal umbrella raised over her son, but the palace advisors were loyal, and they refused. Her son, who was also honorable, said he would go get the Bodhisatta so he could take the throne as intended. In the company of a large army, he took the five royal emblems (crown, umbrella, sword, slippers, and fan) and went into the forest, arriving when the Bodhisatta’s brother and sister were away gathering food. Though his half-brother wept as he told of his father’s death, the Bodhisatta did not show any emotion when he heard about it. But he knew that his younger siblings lacked his all-comprehending wisdom and they would be unable to bear the pain, so when they returned, he ordered them to stand in a pond. And, as expected, they fainted into the water when they heard the news. Then they wept and wailed together.
Their half-brother asked the Bodhisatta why he did not grieve. He explained that all things are impermanent and death is inevitable; and since sorrow cannot bring the dead back to life, it serves no purpose. Everyone who heard the Bodhisatta speak such wisdom suddenly lost their grief.
After this, the Bodhisatta refused to return and be king because his father had told him to stay away for twelve years. He told his siblings to go and administer the kingdom until he returned, but they respectfully refused. So the Bodhisatta gave them his straw slippers, and these sat on the throne, ruling during the three-year interim. If someone judged a case incorrectly, the slippers beat upon each other until the decision was changed to the right one.
Finally, his exile complete, the Bodhisatta returned to the city. He made his sister his queen and reigned in righteousness for sixteen thousand years.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One day the Buddha divined that a certain landowner, who was so depressed over the death of his father that he stopped doing all his duties, was ready for a spiritual breakthrough. So after completing his morning alms round, the Buddha went to the man’s house and told him this story to teach him that all things are impermanent and thus sorrow is pointless. The man did understand and reached a breakthrough.
The Bodhisatta’s father and mother were earlier births of the Buddha’s father and birth mother. His sister and half-brother were earlier births of the Buddha’s wife and Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.