The Bodhisatta was once a king. One night he went walking around the city in disguise and a band of thieves stole his upper robe. He father’s former chaplain, who the Bodhisatta did not know, happened to be outside at the time and saw in the constellations that the king had fallen into the hands of enemies and was then set free soon after. The king was nearby and during his brief encounter with the ruffians he heard the retired chaplain telling his wife about it as it happened.
The next day the Bodhisatta called his astrologers to the palace and asked if they had been observing the skies that night. They said they had and determined that it was a lucky period, so the Bodhisatta dismissed them all. The Bodhisatta then sent for the retired chaplain and offered him a reward for his star-gazing skill. He wanted to check with his family before making a request, so he returned home and asked what they wished for. His wife said she wanted one hundred dairy cows, his son wanted a chariot drawn by lily-white thoroughbreds, his daughter-in-law wanted fancy jewelry, and their maid wanted a mortar and pestle and winnowing basket. The retired chaplain himself decided he wanted to control the revenue from a village. Back at the palace, he said his family could not agree on any one thing. The Bodhisatta said it was no problem and they could all have what they wanted. And the Bodhisatta also hired him to be his chaplain.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The retired chaplain was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples. For twenty years various people served as the Buddha’s personal attendant, but one day the Buddha asked for his disciples to choose one of them to look after him full-time. Ananda was nominated and he said he would do it under eight conditions, four negative and four positive: “I will attend to the Buddha if he will not give me any of his personal robes, not give me any of his own food, not allow me to sleep in his private chamber, and not bring me to places he is invited, but will go with me when I am invited somewhere, will let me introduce foreigners who come to visit, will allow me to discuss my doubts when they arise, and will repeat his teachings if I miss them because I am away.” The Buddha agreed to them all and Ananda served him faithfully for the next twenty-five years, until the Buddha entered nirvana.
After Ananda was chosen, the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the matter and he told them this story so they knew he had also granted wishes to Ananda in the past.