The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. Before this, he was the son of the king’s chaplain and was educated along with the crown prince. The two men were very close friends, and when the prince became king, the Bodhisatta knew he would be given great power. But he didn’t want this and so went off to the Himalayas to live as an ascetic. He subdued his senses and lived in such grim austerity that the throne of Indra, king of the gods, was shaken. When Indra saw the Bodhisatta’s intense virtue he worried that the Bodhisatta would replace him, so Indra schemed to destroy his righteousness.
At midnight Indra appeared in the king’s bedchamber, floating in the air and radiating light, and told the king he could become immortal and rule all of India if he got the Bodhisatta to make an animal sacrifice. The king eagerly agreed to try, and the next morning he sent an advisor out to the forest to make the Bodhisatta an offer—perform an animal sacrifice in exchange for all the land he desired. Without hesitation, the Bodhisatta refused.
After the Bodhisatta said no, Indra returned to the palace and told the king to offer his daughter, who was as lovely as a celestial nymph, as a wife to the Bodhisatta if he agreed to do the sacrifice. When he saw her, Indra said, he would be struck with lust and be unable to resist. The next day the king sent his daughter with his advisor back to the forest and Indra’s prediction proved correct. The moment the Bodhisatta saw the princess, he lost his moral sense, and trembling with the power of passion he agreed to do the sacrifice.
Back at the palace, the king greeted his old friend and prepared the ceremony. The next morning, they went to the sacrificial pit where hundreds of four-footed beasts stood in a line awaiting their fate. People gathered there and urged the Bodhisatta to reconsider, but he didn’t listen. As the Bodhisatta raised his sword up high to strike the royal elephant in the neck, it let out a terrified cry. Then through fear of death, all the other animals did the same. This commotion caused the Bodhisatta to reflect on his life, and filled with remorse he didn’t kill it.
The eager king added his entire kingdom and a pile of the seven precious jewels to his offer, but the Bodhisatta had recovered his mystic insight and refused. He sat cross-legged in the air and gave the king a sermon on proper behavior and encouraged him to spend the rest of his life doing good deeds, starting with destroying the sacrificial pit. And then the Bodhisatta flew back home and never again succumbed to temptation.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One of the Buddha’s disciples began to long for the worldly life he had given up. To convince him to stay, the Buddha told him this story of a time when he himself had lost his direction and slid into sin. After hearing it, the disciple reached enlightenment.
The king’s advisor was an earlier birth of Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.