The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. The king was wicked and got rich by oppressing his people. The Bodhisatta wanted to teach him the right way to rule and was waiting until he could give the king a lesson by way of a parable.
A new bedchamber was being built for the king, and one day he saw the roof under construction, with small rafters supporting a large ridge. Fearing the roof would collapse and fall on him, the king would not go into the room. The Bodhisatta finally had his opportunity for a lesson and explained that the rafters working together were strong and held up the ridge, just as a wise man supported by faithful friends never falls from grace. At that moment, someone brought the king a citron, and he gave it to the Bodhisatta to eat. He explained to the king that someone who didn’t know the proper way to eat this fruit would think it tasted terrible, but if you remove the bitter-tasting peel, it is sweet and delicious. Similarly, a wise man who collects taxes without violence earns more money and doesn’t make people hate him. Then the pair walked to a lotus pond and the king pointed out a beautiful flower rising above the water level, not soiled by mud. The Bodhisatta explained that a king should remain pure like that tall lotus, so he cannot be stained by sin.
The king understood these lessons and changed his ways, ruling righteously and generously for the rest of his reign.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time a king came to hear the Buddha preach. He told the king to rule righteously, and that sensual pleasures lead to misery: when people die, their virtuous actions are their only refuge. Then the Buddha told this story as an example of a king in the past being saved by following this advice.
The king from the past was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.