The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. At this time, religion had fallen into decay. Both religious disciples and laypeople lived in sin and were destined for 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. He wondered how he could fix the problem and decided to scare humanity back onto the path of righteousness.
The Bodhisatta took the form of a forester and transformed his charioteer, Matali, into a giant hideous dog. Descending to the countryside around the city, the Bodhisatta led the dog by a leash, yelling out, “The world is doomed to destruction!” People fled in fear at the sight of the vicious dog, and the king shut the city gates, but the Bodhisatta just leaped over the walls and continued to terrorize people. The dog roared and lunged at everyone he saw. When they reached the palace, the dog 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 dog was hungry. So the king gave him all the food in the palace. The dog ate it up in one mouthful and roared again. Then the king had all the food for his horses and elephants fed to the dog, but still it roared. And after eating all the food in the city and roaring again, the king realized the dog 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 dog would eat everyone. The Bodhisatta discussed humanity’s 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 humanity’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 them this story so they knew that 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.