The Bodhisatta was once an elephant and a herd of eighty thousand followed him as their leader. A man who sold ivory to craftsmen in the city started to wear the yellow robe of a private Buddha (those who reach enlightenment on their own and do not teach the path to others) and stand alongside the Bodhisatta’s elephant herd as it walked place to place. He then killed the last elephant in line.
Eventually the elephants noticed their numbers were declining and they informed the Bodhisatta. He suspected that the private Buddha they passed regularly was the culprit, so the next day he walked at the end of the line. And when the man drew his weapon and charged, the Bodhisatta was ready to pick him up in his trunk and smash him dead on the ground. But out of respect for the sacred yellow robe, he changed his mind and instead rebuked the man for his disrespect and deception. The Bodhisatta finished his talk by warning the man that if he ever showed himself again, he would be killed for sure. After hearing these words, the man never returned.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The elephant hunter was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. One time a traveling merchant brought a magnificent perfumed yellow robe to give as alms, and he asked the people of the city to decide who to give it to. Although the elder Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, was staying near the city at that time, they voted to give it to Devadatta since he lived there full-time.
Later, when visiting the Buddha, some disciples told him they had seen Devadatta wearing the mark of a saint, and the Buddha told them this story so they knew it was not the first time he had worn a yellow robe without deserving it.