The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. Before this, he was a righteous, generous king who always faithfully observed the holy-day precepts; and he encouraged others to do the same. But his personal chaplain was wicked: he spoke ill of others, lied, took bribes, and gave unjust verdicts in disputes.
One time after one of the king’s advisors criticized the chaplain for not keeping the holy day, he did so for the rest of the day. Later the chaplain saw a woman observing the holy day and he gave her a mango. Soon after doing these good things he died and was reborn in the Himalayas as a spirit with the form of an adult man in a golden palace amidst a glorious mango grove. (The mango grove being a result of giving the woman the mango.) He was attended by sixteen thousand nymphs and reveled in song and dance all night long. This was his reward for observing half a holy day. But because he accepted bribes and committed other sins, from dawn to sunset his beautiful body transformed into a hideous creature as tall as a palm tree. He had just one finger per hand and with fingernails as big as shovels he had to tear the flesh off his back and eat it, all the while screaming in pain.
Shortly after his chaplain died, the Bodhisatta renounced his throne and retired to an ascetic life in a leaf hut along the Ganges River. He lived only on the food he could gather and one day he found a large ripe mango from the former chaplain’s grove that had floated down the river. It was a perfect fruit, so delicious the Bodhisatta became obsessed and would eat nothing else. He went back to the shore and resolved to not leave until another floated his way. Seven days he stayed, becoming ill from hunger, wind, and heat, but no more mangoes came.
Noticing the Bodhisatta’s suffering, a river goddess divined that he was a slave to his appetite due to so many years of eating only the best foods in the palace. She wanted to alleviate his suffering, so she came and urged him to cease his indulgence. He said he could not, and if she didn’t help him, people would blame her for his death. So with her powers she transported him to the grove where the special mangoes grew and he ate his fill.
While wandering about, the Bodhisatta saw the spirit in both his dreadful day-time shape and his divine nighttime shape. He asked what caused these two forms and the spirit revealed that he had been the Bodhisatta’s former chaplain and confessed his sins from that life. Then the Bodhisatta told why he had come to the mango grove and the spirit said he would float ripe mangoes down the river and so the Bodhisatta returned home and lived in the contentment of magic mangoes and mystic meditation.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time some lay followers of the Buddha came to hear him preach and he praised them for observing the holy days. He told them this story to show that doing so can bring great rewards.
The river goddess was an earlier birth of Uppalavanna, one of the Buddha’s top female disciples.