The Bodhisatta was once a king. His mother was infertile, and she fell out of favor with her husband, a wealthy merchant, because of it. Eventually, frustrated by all the gossip about her not having children, she faked being pregnant, and after nine months she said she wanted to return home and give birth at her father’s house. While traveling there, she found a baby (the Bodhisatta) abandoned under a banyan tree, and with the help of her lady-in-waiting she faked giving birth, claiming the child as her own.
The Bodhisatta was raised with two other children born on the same day. The three grew up together in the palace as very close friends and were sent to Taxila to complete their education. When they finished their studies, they wandered through the land to get new experiences.
One morning, one of the Bodhisatta’s companions awoke early and heard a conversation between two chickens roosting in the tree above them. The one at the top had defecated on the back of a chicken perched below him. The offending chicken apologized, but the soiled chicken remained angry and proclaimed that he was very important, boasting that anyone who killed and ate him would get one thousand coins that morning. The upper chicken scoffed and said anyone who ate his fat would become a king, his middle meat would become commander-in-chief, and his meat by the bones would become treasurer. The man quickly and quietly climbed the tree and grabbed the uppermost chicken, killing and cooking it for his friends. He served the fat to the Bodhisatta, the middle meat to his other friend, and ate the meat near the bones himself.
After the early riser told the Bodhisatta and his friend about their fortuitous fates, they walked to the city and took a nap in the royal park. It was a week after the king had died without an heir, and his chaplain sent the royal chariot out of the palace without a driver—a foolproof method to find someone with sufficient merit to be a great king. The horses walked to the park and stopped in front of the Bodhisatta. The chaplain examined his feet and saw the marks of royalty, which showed he was destined to not only be a king, but to rule all of India. The chaplain ordered all the gongs and cymbals struck to wake the men up, then he got on one knee to offer the kingdom to the Bodhisatta. He accepted the crown then and there and brought his friends to the palace as commander-in-chief and treasurer. He ruled righteously.
One day the Bodhisatta thought of his parents and told his commander-in-chief to bring them to the city, but he felt this task wasn’t his responsibility and refused. So the Bodhisatta told his treasurer to do it, and he agreed. He went back to their hometown and invited the Bodhisatta’s parents, as well as his and the commander-in-chief’s, but none wanted to leave, and the treasurer returned to the palace alone.
The treasurer first stopped to see the commander-in-chief, who resented the treasurer for not choosing to make him king on that fateful day. Full of spite, he ordered his men to beat the treasurer severely. The injured treasurer went immediately to report this to the Bodhisatta, who greeted him warmly with fancy clothes, fine foods, a shave, and such things. Hearing what had happened, the Bodhisatta was furious at the commander-in-chief for becoming a worthless traitor and ordered him speared to death. But the treasurer begged him to show mercy, so the Bodhisatta forgave him. As a reward for the treasurer’s good character, the Bodhisatta put him in charge of all the merchant guilds.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The commander-in-chief was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. One day some of the Buddha’s other disciples told Devadatta he ought to be grateful to the Buddha for all he had learned from him. But Devadatta picked up a blade of grass and said the Buddha had not even done this much good for him.
When the Buddha later overheard these disciples discussing it, he told them Devadatta had also been ungrateful and treacherous in the past, and told this story as an example.
The treasurer was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.