The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. He lived in the Himalayas and one time went down to a city to get salt and vinegar. The next day on his morning alms round people suggested he visit a merchant who was exceptionally devout. The merchant was out visiting the king when the Bodhisatta arrived at his house, and none of the servants saw him there, so he left. But as the Bodhisatta walked away the merchant returned home and invited him in. He gave the Bodhisatta a variety of food and a foot rub, and when done with these he begged forgiveness for not being there, insisting this was the first time ever that a person coming to his home had gone away empty-handed. The Bodhisatta said that while it was a bit strange to not be at home to welcome people in the morning, he felt no anger toward the merchant.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
A disciple of the Buddha came to his monastery from the countryside and asked other disciples who were the best people to get alms from. They told him Anathapindika, a wealthy supporter of the Buddha known for his extreme generosity, and Visakha, the Buddha’s top female lay supporter. Promptly the next morning, the disciple set out for both of their houses and arrived so early nobody was there to attend to him. He wandered around the city a while before returning a second time, and then he arrived too late and all the rice was gone.
When he returned to the monastery, the disciple openly insulted both of them. When the Buddha heard some other disciples discussing this, he called the disappointed disciple to a meeting and said this is nothing to be upset about. Then he told him this story to explain that in the past when he himself got no alms at a supporter’s house he did not get angry.
The merchant was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.