The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic with many followers. There were lots of snakes around their remote forest home, and many of his fellow ascetics died from snakebites. The Bodhisatta called an assembly and told the others that if they showed kindness to the four royal races of snakes, no snakes would harm them. Then he reminded them they should love all creatures on earth; two feet, four feet, more, or none. The other ascetics followed the Bodhisatta’s advice, and all snakes around their home departed.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
While one of the Buddha’s disciples sat in his quarters chopping sticks, a snake crawled out of a rotten log and bit him on the toe. He died instantly. The Buddha told other disciples that if this unfortunate disciple had shown kindness to the four royal races of snakes, he would not have been bitten. Then he told this story to illustrate the point.
The Bodhisatta’s followers were earlier births of the Buddha’s followers.