The Bodhisatta was once a naked ascetic. He lived dirty, emaciated, and alone deep in the jungle in his quest to learn the truth of life. He fled when other humans came near and ate small fish, cow dung, and other refuse. In the snows of winter he slept out in the open and in the hot season he slept in the thicket, away from cooling winds, so as to suffer from temperature extremes. He lived like this for his entire adult life, and as he lay dying he had a vision of hell and knew his life had been worthless. After this realization of the truth, he died free of his delusions and was reborn in heaven.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One of the Buddha’s disciples left the sangha to follow another religious teacher who promoted extreme asceticism. While out on a morning alms round, Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, heard this former disciple criticizing the Buddha for not being superhuman and saying his doctrine did not lead to the destruction of sorrow.
When Sariputta told the Buddha what he had heard, the Buddha listed some of his tremendous knowledge and superhuman powers and explained that people who spoke heresy such as this would be cast into hell if they did not renounce it. Then the Buddha told the story of his past life as a repulsive naked ascetic to show that this path was not effective.
The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.