The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. Before this, he was a king, and during the evening of a full-moon holy day he saw an eclipse. It made him realize that one day he would face a decline due to trouble beyond his control, just as the moon loses its light when Rahu seizes it. So he turned over his kingdom to his advisors and began a simple life of meditation in the Himalayas, where he would never need to control or criticize anyone ever again.
Another king had a close working relationship with the Bodhisatta, though they had never met. When some traveling merchants told him the Bodhisatta had renounced the world to live as an ascetic, he was inspired to do the same and also took off for the Himalayas, leaving behind his family and his great wealth.
Eventually the two former kings met and became acquaintances, and the second king served the Bodhisatta as his junior. They never discussed their past lives until much later when there was another lunar eclipse and the Bodhisatta recalled the day he had decided to become an ascetic. The junior ascetic then realized who the Bodhisatta was and shared his own story, and the pair’s friendship grew even closer.
One time the two former kings went down to a village to get salt and vinegar, and the people there were so impressed by the pair they built huts for them to stay in and each morning brought them food and a packet of salt. One day the people gave them food without salt, but the junior ascetic had saved some from an earlier day and offered some to the Bodhisatta. The Bodhisatta rebuked him for his attachment to the salt, saying that though he had given up a vast kingdom, hoarding salt showed he had not yet fully shed his desires.
Upset at being scolded, the junior ascetic insisted the Bodhisatta was also at fault because wise men should leave harsh words unspoken, and he had specifically given up his throne so he wouldn’t need to give orders anymore. But the Bodhisatta answered that he was speaking out of a love of righteousness and in the hope of helping his friend follow the proper path, much like a potter putting the finishing touches on a vessel after the raw clay has already been fired. Hearing the Bodhisatta’s wisdom, the junior ascetic apologized, and the two remained close friends, living peaceful lives in the Himalayas for the rest of their days.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One of the Buddha’s top disciples, Pilinda Vaccha, had great magical powers. Once during an alms round, he met a girl from a very poor family who was crying because she had no ornaments to wear during a feast day. Pilinda gave her a roll of grass to put on her head, and it turned into solid gold. When the king’s advisors heard that this peasant girl had a solid gold wreath, they informed the king and he threw the family in prison on suspicion of theft. When Pilinda heard about this, he visited the king and turned the palace into gold to prove the family’s innocence. They were released.
Because Pilinda was known to suffer frequent illnesses, the king and others gave him a load of various medicines as an offering. Pilinda distributed them to any disciples who wanted some. When the Buddha heard people criticizing his disciples for hoarding things in their quarters, he created a new rule that allowed disciples to keep medicine for up to seven days. Then the Buddha told this story to show that he had also criticized someone for hoarding in the past.
The junior ascetic was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.