The Bodhisatta was once a merchant. He was named Wise and a business partner was named Wisest. One time after they took a large caravan of merchandise to sell outside the city, Wisest demanded he get a double share of their profits because his name showed he was the better of the pair. They had each provided half the goods and half the oxen, so the Bodhisatta rejected this idea and they began to quarrel.
Wisest had his father hide in a hollow tree and then he proposed to Wise that they let a tree fairy decide the matter. When they made their appeal to the “fairy,” the father answered, “Wise should receive one share, and Wisest two.” But the Bodhisatta was not convinced and he placed straw in the tree and set it on fire. As the flames rose, the father climbed out and declared that Wise was actually the wisest. They then split the profits equally.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
Two merchants took a long, difficult journey to sell their goods. When they returned, one of them felt certain his partner would soon die of indigestion because he had eaten very poorly on the trip, and now back at home he would feast on foods he loved. So he delayed dividing the profit, hoping he would be able to give one share to his partner’s orphans and keep two shares for himself.
As the delay dragged out, the honest partner went to seek advice from the Buddha about this problem. Wisest was an earlier birth of the cheating merchant and the Buddha told this story so the honest merchant knew that Wisest had also been a cheat in the past.