The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. He became aware of a greedy king and decided to cause him shame. He took the form of a young brahmin and told the king there were three prosperous cities that with his help could be conquered easily with just a small army. The king liked his plan and they agreed to head off to battle early the next morning. The Bodhisatta, however, stayed in heaven. And when the king’s men could not find him, the king called of his march to war and this made him depressed. Soon he had a high fever and bloody diarrhea and his personal physicians could not cure him.
A few days later, the Bodhisatta returned to see the king, this time posing as a physician. The king’s own physicians were the most renowned around, and at first the king refused to see the Bodhisatta. But when told he was offering his assistance for free, the king let him in. After showing respect to the king, the Bodhisatta asked him what had caused his sickness. The king described his encounter with the young brahmin and said his disease arose from his greed. The Bodhisatta answered he would be cured by knowledge, not medicine, and he preached about how desire is the root of all evil. After listening to the Bodhisatta, the king was suddenly cured. And with a newfound fear of hell, he became a righteous and generous ruler.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The greedy king was an earlier birth of a brahmin who began felling trees on a riverbank so he could cultivate the land. That morning the Buddha divined that the brahmin was destined to have a spiritual breakthrough, so while collecting alms he went out of his way to chat with him. And the Buddha returned to talk again at each step of the growing process: clearing the roots, plowing, planting, etc. The brahmin figured the Buddha came by so often because he wanted some of the corn after it was harvested, and he promised to give some. The night before the brahmin was going pick his corn, a heavy rain flooded the river and it swept away the entire crop. The brahmin was devastated and lay in bed crying.
The next day the Buddha went to comfort the brahmin. He explained there’s no reason to grieve for what is lost because nothing can change the past. After hearing this lesson, the brahmin reached a new level of understanding.
Back at the monastery, the Buddha heard some of his disciples talking about what he had just done, and he told them this story so they knew he had also cured the man’s grief in the past.