The Bodhisatta was once a king. Before taking the throne, he was just an ordinary householder with a beloved wife of perfect virtue and divine beauty. One time they traveled from their village to see her parents in the city. As they entered the city gate, the king, riding his splendid elephant, saw her walking behind the wagon and became enamored. He sent someone to find out if she had a husband, and when he learned that she did, the king decided to get rid of him.
The king gave a jeweled crest to a man and told him to drop it in the Bodhisatta’s wagon. The king then yelled out, “I have lost a jeweled crest!” and ordered the city gates shut. He sent his men to find the thief, causing an uproar in the city. When the crest was found in the Bodhisatta’s wagon, the king’s men beat and kicked him and dragged him in front of the king, who ordered, “Off with his head!” The Bodhisatta was led through the city, whipped and tormented at every street corner, and then taken out through the south gate for execution.
His wife, weeping and wailing all the while, wished that because she had lived a life of absolute righteousness, some spirit would intervene to save her husband. Her sorrow caused the throne of Indra, king of the gods, to become warm. And when he divined the cause, he came down from heaven and switched the Bodhisatta and king’s places just before the axe fell. Then Indra materialized and consecrated the Bodhisatta and his wife as king and queen, causing everyone to call out with joy at the death of their wicked king. The Bodhisatta reigned with justice and generosity.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The wicked king was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. When he was advised that Devadatta had made plans to kill him, the Buddha told his disciples this story so they knew that Devadatta had also tried and failed to kill him in the past.
The Bodhisatta’s wife and Indra were earlier births of the Buddha’s wife and Anuruddha, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.