The Bodhisatta was once a fairy living in a humble clump of kusha grass. The king’s palace had one large pillar holding up the roof and it needed to be replaced. The royal carpenters searched far and wide for a suitable tree, and the only one they could find was home to a tree fairy the king greatly respected. The carpenters explained this situation to the king and he told them to make the proper sacrifices before cutting the tree down; he would find a new tree fairy to worship. The carpenters performed a ceremony and said they would be back the next day with their axes.
The tree fairy was devastated about losing her home and had no idea where else she and her children could live. When the spirits of the forest heard her crying, they came to see what the problem was, but none had an idea how to stop the carpenters. When the Bodhisatta heard the bad news about his close friend he told her not to worry, he would save the tree.
The next day, when the carpenters came, he transformed himself into a chameleon and climbed into the branches. Rapidly moving his head around, he made this part of the tree appear rotten and full of holes, thus not usable for the palace pillar. Her home saved, the tree fairy joyfully sang the Bodhisatta’s praises to all the other tree fairies and advised them not to look down on grass fairies and other beings of lower rank; be friends with any and all wise beings because everybody has their own particular skills.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
Friends and family of Anathapindika, a wealthy supporter of the Buddha known for his extreme generosity, tried to convince him to stop being friends with a poor man because they were not equals. Anathapindika not only rebuked them for suggesting such a thing, he left his friend in charge of his wealth when he was away, and the friend cleverly saved it from thieves. The Buddha told Anathapindika that no matter what level two people were in life, a true friend should be held as a superior no matter their social status because they can always be relied upon. Then the Buddha told this story so Anathapindika knew that he himself had also once saved a superior friend’s home.
The tree fairy was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.