The Bodhisatta was once a student. He studied with a world-renowned teacher in Taxila and was the top of his class. When his teacher’s eldest son died everyone cried except the Bodhisatta. The other students asked about his lack of sadness and the Bodhisatta replied that the boy couldn’t really be dead because people only die after they have grown old, not in their tender years. This is how it had always been in his family.
When the teacher heard about this marvelous thing he went to the Bodhisatta’s village to find out if it was true so he could follow their example. He told the Bodhisatta to teach the other students while he was away. The teacher went to the Bodhisatta’s house and introduced himself to the Bodhisatta’s father. After a proper greeting the two sat down to talk and the teacher told him the Bodhisatta had died. His father clapped his hands and laughed and told the teacher he must be mistaken because his son was too young to die. When the teacher showed a bag of goat bones as proof, the father called him a liar and everyone in the room laughed.
The teacher, now knowing beyond any doubt that what the Bodhisatta said was true, asked what caused people in this family line to never die young. It was living a virtuous life, the father answered: never lying, avoiding bad people, giving alms, being faithful to their wives, and educating their children. Practicing righteousness, he added, brings happiness and good fortune. Pleased at hearing these words, the teacher apologized for his ruse and asked the father to write them down. When the Bodhisatta finished his lessons he left Taxila with many followers.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The Bodhisatta’s father and mother were earlier births of the Buddha’s father and birth mother. One time after reaching enlightenment the Buddha returned home to visit his family. His father told him that one time during the Buddha’s pre-enlightenment years, when he was seeking Buddhahood through extreme self-denial, some gods came and announced that he had died of starvation. But his father knew that his son would not die before reaching enlightenment, so he didn’t believe them. After hearing this, the Buddha told his father this story so he knew that in the past he had also not believed his son was dead.
The teacher was an earlier birth of Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, and the Bodhisatta’s followers were the Buddha’s followers.