The Bodhisatta was once a tree fairy living in a castor-oil tree. During a festival, the villagers all took offerings to the particular tree fairies they worshipped and the Bodhisatta received garlands, perfumes, and fancy cakes. One poor man came with a cake made only of rice husk powder and water; he felt ashamed and assumed his humble offering would be rejected, so he figured it was best to eat it himself. But the Bodhisatta materialized and told the man he appreciated all offerings that were appropriate for the person giving them. The man gave his cake and the Bodhisatta ate it, then asked why he worshipped him. The man answered that he hoped to have his poverty eased and the Bodhisatta told him to worry no more because there were pots of treasure buried there. If he took the treasure to the palace, the king would be so pleased he would make the poor man his treasurer; and it happened just as the Bodhisatta predicted.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
A group of families went to give alms to the Buddha and his disciples, and one very poor man was determined that his bran cake, though ever so humble, would go to the Buddha himself. He got a spot right in front of the Buddha and was the first to step forward to put his offering in the master’s alms bowl. The Buddha ate his cake and refused anything else that morning. All the other people were impressed and said they would give the poor man great sums of money if he passed on his merit to them. The man asked the Buddha what he should do, and he advised him to take the money. He got rich and the king appointed him treasurer.
The poor man giving alms to the Buddha was an earlier birth of the poor man making an offering to the tree fairy. That evening when the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the day’s events, he told them this story so they knew it was not the first time he had eaten the man’s humble cake and that the other time also resulted in him becoming wealthy and being appointed royal treasurer.