The Bodhisatta was once a king. Two farmers each took water with them while out working in their fields. One of the men, while taking a break, drank the other’s water in order to conserve his own. But at the end of the day, he was overcome with grief for having stolen the water. He meditated on the theft and reached enlightenment as a private Buddha (those who reach enlightenment on their own and do not teach the path to others). Magically, he was suddenly wearing a red robe and an alms bowl hung from his shoulder. He rose into the air and gave his friend a sermon, then flew to Nandamula Cave deep in the Himalayas.
Elsewhere, a villager sitting in a market saw a very beautiful woman approaching and was aroused. He felt shame about this, and as he thought about his desire, he reached enlightenment as a private Buddha. He rose into the air, gave a sermon to those around him, and then flew off to the same cave.
A father and son traveling together came to a forest where thieves were known to kidnap pairs of travelers, such as brothers or fathers and sons, so they could keep one and send the other back for a ransom. When he saw thieves approaching, the father told his son to act like they didn’t know each other, and thanks to this little deception, the thieves let them pass. That evening, safely out of the forest, the son felt guilty about his lie, and while thinking about what he had done, he reached enlightenment as a private Buddha. He lectured his father while floating in the air, and then flew off to the cave.
A tax collector prohibited slaughtering animals in his village, but when it was time for an important local ceremony to appease goblins, the people came and asked for permission to slay deer, pigs, fish, and other animals. Because it was an ancient tradition, the man agreed. But when he saw all the carcasses, he felt deep regret. As he repented for his mistake, he reached enlightenment as a private Buddha. He rose into the air, gave a sermon, and flew off to the cave.
A tax collector in a different village prohibited the sale of strong alcohol. But when it came time to celebrate an ancient drinking festival, he granted a waiver. Things got rowdy and drunken fighting led to many broken bones and ripped-off ears. Seeing the widespread misery he had caused, the tax collector was overcome with remorse, and he reached enlightenment as a private Buddha. He gave an airborne sermon and flew off to the cave.
Sometime later, these five private Buddhas went to the gate of the Bodhisatta’s palace asking for alms. The king was impressed by their demeanor and invited them in for a meal. Hearing their stories of how they reached enlightenment inspired the Bodhisatta, and he stopped eating fancy food and spending time with his wives and began meditating. He had never before in his life been so happy, and so, despite his chief queen trying to change his mind and the citizens crying in sorrow, he announced that he was giving up the throne to live as an ascetic. He rose into the air, delivered a sermon, and flew off to the same Himalayan cave.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
Five hundred friends had heard the Buddha discuss dharma, and they renounced the world together to become his disciples. One night thoughts of desire filled their heads, and the Buddha knew about it, so he lectured them, explaining that there is no such thing as a petty sin. Every wrong thought, he said, no matter how small, must be considered. Then he told them this story as an example of how contemplating small sins can lead to great attainment. When the Buddha was finished, all five hundred disciples became arahants.
The chief queen was an earlier birth of the Buddha’s wife.