The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. Before this, he was a righteous, generous king who always faithfully observed the holy days; and he encouraged others to do the same. But his chaplain was wicked. He spoke ill of others, lied, took bribes, and gave unjust verdicts in disputes.
Once, after one of the king’s advisors criticized the chaplain for not keeping the holy-day vows, he began to do so in the middle of the morning. Later that day, the chaplain saw a woman observing the holy day, and he gave her a mango. Soon after this, the chaplain died and was reborn in the Himalayas as a spirit with the form of an adult man, and he lived 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 spades, 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 floating down the river. It was a perfect fruit, so delicious that the Bodhisatta became obsessed and would eat nothing else. He sat on the river bank and resolved not to 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, the goddess transported the Bodhisatta 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 daytime shape and his divine nighttime form. He asked what caused these two types, and the spirit revealed that he had been the Bodhisatta’s former chaplain and confessed his sins from that life. When the Bodhisatta explained why he had come to the mango grove, the spirit promised to float plenty of ripe mangoes down the river. For the rest of his days, the Bodhisatta lived in the contentment of perfect 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.