The Bodhisatta was once a brahmin’s son. One day while traveling, he and his father arrived at a city after the gates had been shut, and the only building they could spend the night in was haunted. The goblin king Vessavana, in thanks for twelve years of serving him, had given a goblin permission to eat people who entered this building if they failed to give a “Long life to you!” blessing after a sneeze.
After the Bodhisatta and his father settled in, the goblin raised a cloud of fine dust, causing the father to sneeze. The Bodhisatta said nothing, so the eager goblin crawled down from the rafters to eat him. But the Bodhisatta saw him coming and guessed the reason, so he told his father, “I pray that you live one hundred years and twenty more,” successfully thwarting the goblin’s attack. But the father did not return the blessing, so the goblin headed toward him. When the father saw this, he said, “I pray that you also live one hundred years and twenty more,” saving his own life.
No longer in danger, the Bodhisatta asked the goblin to tell him his life story. He explained to the goblin that his miserable, cruel life resulted from his bad deeds in previous lives. But if he stopped killing people, he could break the cycle and avoid the same fate in the future. The goblin was humbled by this lesson and became a docile creature. The next day, after hearing how the goblin had been subdued, the king made the Bodhisatta his commander-in-chief and the goblin a tax collector.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time while the Buddha was talking with some of his disciples, he sneezed. Everyone sitting before him cried out, “Long life to the Buddha!” in response, and their loud noise interrupted the conversation. The Buddha mocked their superstition and enacted a rule prohibiting them from speaking blessings after a sneeze. From that point on, anytime the disciples sneezed, laypeople still gave them a long-life blessing, but the disciples followed their new rule and did not respond. This annoyed the people. The disciples explained this to the Buddha, and he relaxed the rule for the sake of politeness, allowing his disciples to answer sneeze blessings with, “The same to you.” The disciples asked the Buddha when people began this habit, and the Buddha told them this story.
The father and king were earlier births of Maha Kassapa and Ananda, two of the Buddha’s top disciples.