The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. He became aware of a greedy king and wanted to shame him. 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 by just a small army. The king liked the brahmin’s plan, and they agreed to head off to battle early the next morning. The Bodhisatta, however, returned to heaven. And when the king’s men could not find him, the king called off 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 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 that he would cure him with knowledge, not medicine, and he preached about how desire is the root of all evil. After listening to the Bodhisatta, the king was suddenly well again. And with a newfound fear of hell, the king 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 same morning, the Buddha divined that the brahmin was destined for 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, and so on. The brahmin figured the Buddha came by so often because he wanted some of the grain after it was harvested, and he promised to give him some. The night before the brahmin was going to harvest his field, heavy rain flooded the river and 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 that 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 that he had also cured the man’s grief in the past.