The Bodhisatta was once a tree fairy who lived in a neem tree in a cemetery. One day a thief fresh from a job came and rested under the Bodhisatta’s tree. In those days, thieves were impaled with stakes made from neem tree branches, and if the thief was caught there, the Bodhisatta’s tree would be damaged. So the Bodhisatta told the thief that the king’s men were fast on his trail and he should flee immediately. And the thief did.
Another tree fairy who lived in a nearby Bodhi tree asked the Bodhisatta why he helped the thief, and the Bodhisatta said he did not want a branch cut off. The people chasing the thief arrived soon after and saw that he had rested there. Before continuing the chase, one of them said that after catching the thief they would bring him back there to be hung from this neem tree or impaled with a branch from it. The Bodhi tree fairy commented how wise the Bodhisatta was for thinking about the future.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One day while Moggallana, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, was residing out in a forest, a suspicious-looking man came and lay down in front of his leaf hut. Moggallana, presuming he was a thief, told him to go away. Shortly after the man left, a group of men bearing torches arrived in pursuit of the thief and saw that his track stopped at Moggallana’s hut. Since the thief wasn’t there, they continued on, though they could not find him.
The next morning, Moggallana told the Buddha what had happened, and the Buddha told him this story so he knew that in the past he himself had also shooed a thief away from his home.
The Bodhi-tree fairy was an earlier birth of Sariputta, another of the Buddha’s top disciples.