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 who the king greatly respected. The carpenters explained the 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 at the tree 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. Other spirits from the forest heard her crying and came to console her, but none had any 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 her tree.
When the carpenters returned the next day, the Bodhisatta transformed himself into a chameleon and climbed into the massive tree’s 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 poor friend in charge of his wealth when he was traveling, and the friend cleverly saved it from thieves.
A band of armed thieves who knew about Anathapindika’s trip surrounded his house to break in. But his poor friend, who was there alone, suspected that thieves were coming, so he stayed up all night waiting. When he heard the thieves arrive, the friend ran around the house making loud noises to convince them there were actually many people there, so they threw down their weapons and left. The next morning, the people who had wanted the poor man banished now glorified him for being so wise. When Anathapindika returned home, he mocked his friends because if he had listened to their advice, he would be a beggar now.
Anathapindika told the Buddha about his escape from misfortune, and the Buddha said 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.