The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. At this time, religion had fallen into decay. Both religious disciples and lay people lived in sin and were destined to hell. When the Bodhisatta noticed that no new deities were being born in his heaven he looked down on the earth and saw the reason why. He wondered how he could fix the problem and decided to scare mankind back onto the path of righteousness.
The Bodhisatta took the form of a forester and transformed his charioteer, the god Matali, into a giant hideous black hound. Descending to the countryside around the city, the Bodhisatta led the hound by a leash yelling out, “The world is doomed to destruction!” People fled in fear at the sight of the vicious hound and the king shut the city gate, but the Bodhisatta just leaped over the walls and continued to terrorize people. The hound roared and lunged at everyone he saw. When they reached the palace, the hound found where the king was hiding and stared him down through a window, letting out one of the three loudest roars ever heard in India.
The king worked up the courage to ask the Bodhisatta what he wanted, and he answered that his hound was hungry. So the king gave him all of the food in the palace. The hound ate it up in one mouthful and roared again. So the king had all of the food for his horses and elephants given to the hound, but still it roared. And then after eating all the food in the city and roaring again, the king realized the hound was actually some sort of demon and asked the Bodhisatta about this. The Bodhisatta said they had come to punish the wicked, and once set loose his hound would eat them all. The Bodhisatta discussed their evil ways and then revealed his true self. Floating in the air in a blaze of light, the Bodhisatta warned people they were all destined for hell and he preached the truth, restoring mankind’s faith in religion for another thousand years.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One day some of the Buddha’s disciples sat around discussing how great the Buddha was: how he kept a simple life, was kind to all (even nagas and garudas), converted many people, and always lived for the benefit of the world. When the Buddha heard their discussion he told this story so they knew he had also acted in the interest of others in the past.
Matali was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.