The Bodhisatta was once a deer who was deeply devoted to caring for his parents. The king enjoyed hunting and each day he took all his subjects to the forest to assist him. They hated this disruption to their lives and businesses, so they decided to build a wall around the royal park and drive deer into it to let the king hunt with ease. They encircled a vast stretch of forest with sticks and clubs in hand and walked through beating trees to scare the deer into fleeing toward the park. When people surrounded a thicket where the Bodhisatta rested with his parents, he decided to save their lives by running out alone while his parents remained. The people would see a deer flee and not enter the thicket looking for more. The Bodhisatta, surrounded by the mass of armed people, followed the other terrified deer into the enclosure. The people closed the gate and told the king what they had done, and he agreed to start hunting there.
In order to avoid the suffering of being shot by multiple arrows before dying, the deer all agreed to choose one of themselves at random each day to go stand and be shot. The Bodhisatta’s parents had assumed that, because he was exceptionally strong, he would have leaped over the fence to freedom. But when he did not return after several days, they stopped a brahmin walking down the road toward the park and asked him to send their son a message that they missed him and wanted him to come back. But the Bodhisatta had been eating the king’s food and drinking his water and felt obligated to do something good for the king in return before leaving, and he also wanted to help the other captured deer.
When his turn to be killed came, the Bodhisatta stood strong without a hint of fear as the king drew his bow. But sensing such great virtue, the king could not shoot. The king decided to spare his life, and when the Bodhisatta asked why only him, the king gave immunity to all living creatures. The Bodhisatta preached for a few days to the king about ruling with righteousness and then went back to his parents.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One day the Buddha was told that one of his disciples continued to support his parents. He praised the disciple’s good behavior and told him this story of a time in the past when he himself supported his own parents.
The king and brahmin were earlier births of Ananda and Sariputta, two of the Buddha’s top disciples, and the father and mother were earlier births of the Buddha’s father and birth mother.