The Bodhisatta was once a tree fairy. He lived in a giant flame-of-the-forest tree and a black lion often came to rest under it when he was out hunting. One day a strong wind snapped a branch off the tree and it fell on the lion’s shoulder. In great pain, the lion cursed the Bodhisatta and vowed to have his tree ripped out of the ground and chopped to bits. Then he set off to find a man to help him.
At that time, a carpenter who built ox carts was in the forest to get wood and he came upon the Bodhisatta’s tree. The lion came and stood under the tree, and when the carpenter saw him, he fled in fear. But the lion called out asking what type of tree he was looking for and the carpenter, astonished to hear an animal talk, stopped. Figuring a creature of the forest would have excellent knowledge of trees, he asked which tree was best for making wheels. The lion, of course, told him flame-of-the-forest trees have the best wheel wood, and by luck there was one right here. The carpenter raised his axe and started to chop the tree down. The lion’s heart was filled with joy and he walked away.
His home about to be destroyed, the Bodhisatta decided to get revenge on the lion. He materialized into the form of a forester and struck up a conversation with the carpenter, who told him that a black lion had recommended this tree. The Bodhisatta told him attaching a thin strip of hide from a black lion around the outer edge of a wheel would make it very strong. The carpenter thought this was a good idea, but didn’t know where he could find a black lion. The Bodhisatta called him a fool and said this tree wasn’t going to get up and run away. He should go find the lion who recommended this tree: ask him which parts of the tree to cut, and then when he suspects nothing, strike him with the axe. The carpenter felt this was his lucky day and he went to kill the lion, then came back and cut down the tree.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The Buddha’s Sakya clan was quarreling with another clan over who should get water for their crops after their shared dam ran low at the end of the dry season. As tempers flared, people came to blows and the two clans declared war on each other.
The Buddha went to quell the feud, and when they saw him, every man threw down his weapon to listen to him speak. The Buddha said life was more valuable than water and then taught them lessons encouraging unity and self-control and denouncing fighting and blindly following others. He told this story to explain that war is mutually destructive, and it helped convince them to settle their dispute peacefully.
The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.