The Bodhisatta was once a wealthy merchant. He and his younger brother went away on business and earned one thousand coins. On their way home, while waiting along the Ganges River for a boat to arrive, they had a meal. The Bodhisatta threw his leftover food into the river for the fish and gave the merit he earned from this to the river spirit. Because he was the Bodhisatta, it was a lot of merit and her divine power increased.
His brother was a wicked person and wanted to steal the Bodhisatta’s share of the money, so he packed up a parcel of gravel that looked exactly like their money bundle. Later, when they were on the boat at mid-river, the brother pretended to stumble and dropped what he thought was the gravel overboard and said the money was lost. The Bodhisatta had no idea about the scheme and so forgave his brother for losing it.
But the brother had unknowingly tossed the money. The river spirit, decided to take care of the Bodhisatta and ordered a large fish to swallow the money parcel. She then had the fish caught near the Bodhisatta’s home and made the fisherman try to sell it for one thousand coins and seven annas, a price that people laughed at. But when the fishermen went to the Bodhisatta’s door he offered it for just seven annas, which the Bodhisatta paid.
When his wife cut the fish open she found the coins in its belly and they were amazed. Then the river spirit appeared in the air and thanked him for sharing his merit and explained how she had taken care of the Bodhisatta’s money. She also told how the brother had tried to steal it and suggested that such a terrible person not get any money. But the Bodhisatta didn’t agree and gave his brother five hundred coins.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The Bodhisatta’s brother was an earlier birth of a dishonest merchant. During a conversation with the merchant, the Buddha told him this story as a way to get him to start living a virtuous life.