The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. When Prince Maha-Panada was born, the people rejoiced, bringing coins to his father, King Suruci, so the prince would never lack anything. He was raised amidst the utmost splendor and was perfect in every way. When the prince reached age sixteen, the king decided to pass the crown to him and wanted to build a new palace for the occasion. After the king sent his seers out to find the best location, the Bodhisatta’s throne grew warm. When he saw the reason, he sent Vissakamma, heaven’s chief builder, to join them. Vissakamma told the others to go eat breakfast; then when he was alone, he struck the earth with his staff, causing a massive palace to rise.
Prince Maha-Panada’s consecration ceremony was held alongside the ceremonies for his marriage and palace blessing; and no expense was spared. After seven years of feasting and celebrating, people began to grumble and wanted the festivities to end. King Suruci told them it could not end until his son laughed. So thousands of acrobats and jugglers were brought before him—even one so clever he had himself chopped into bits and reassembled—but none could spark a smile because Maha-Panada still remembered the entertainment he’d had in heaven. This made people angry, so the Bodhisatta intervened again, sending down one of his divine dancers. He did the half-body dance—where only one hand, foot, eye, and tooth flick and throb about while the others stay stone still—and this put a little grin on the prince’s face. This was sufficient for King Suruci, and he closed the festival, which officially ended his own reign. King Maha-Panada ruled with as much wisdom, generosity, and righteousness as his father.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
Divining that he was ready for a religious conversion, the Buddha took an interest in Bhaddaji, the only son of a tremendously wealthy merchant. Bhaddaji had a house for each of the three seasons and moved his family between them with great spectacle every four months. And every time he moved, the town came out to watch.
After living for three months near Bhaddaji’s city, the Buddha announced to the townspeople that he and his disciples would be leaving the next day, the same day Bhaddaji would move house. The people prepared a beautiful pavilion and gave magnificent gifts as a departing ceremony for the Buddha. Since everybody went to say farewell to the Buddha, nobody came to look upon Bhaddaji’s splendor. When he heard why people weren’t there to see him, Bhaddaji went to listen to the Buddha’s sermon. He stood with his entourage watching the assembly, and once it was done, he immediately became an arahant. The Buddha told Bhaddaji’s father that his son could either become a disciple or immediately enter nirvana; the father said he preferred that his son stay on earth.
The Buddha ordained Bhaddaji, and then set out on an alms pilgrimage. At one village they rode rafts over the Ganges River, and while on the water, the Buddha revealed that Bhaddaji had been King Maha-Panada in an earlier birth, and his enormous palace from that time was in the river below them. Some of the others were doubtful, so the Buddha told Bhaddaji to prove it. He lifted the palace out of the river with just one finger and held it as he floated in the sky. Many of Bhaddaji’s family from that past life loved the palace so much that they had been reborn as fish, frogs, turtles, and the like so they could continue to live in it. When they started diving out of the palace, the Buddha told Bhaddaji to put it back into the river.
After reaching the other riverbank, the Buddha took a seat. The disciples wanted to know more about Bhaddaji’s past life, so the Buddha told this story about how he got the palace.