The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. The king feared his son and so banished him to a distant village. When his father died, the son was able to return to take the throne. On his way back, someone gave the prince some curry with rice to eat, telling him to share it with his wife. But he ate it all himself, which upset her greatly. Back at the palace, he made her his queen consort, but from that point on, the king completely ignored her and took his pleasure with other women.
The Bodhisatta felt the queen deserved some respect because she was a good woman, and he decided to get it for her. His plan began by asking her why she did not give food or cloth to the men of the royal court. “What can I give you,” she asked, “when my husband gives me nothing? Even when we traveled back here, he would not share his food.” The Bodhisatta told her that he was going to confront the king about this misconduct, and she needed to give the same direct, honest answer to this question in his presence.
Later that day, the Bodhisatta again asked the queen why she was cruel and did not give the men of the court any food or cloth, and she gave the same answer about not receiving anything from her husband, not even a portion of rice when traveling. The king admitted to the Bodhisatta this was true. Then the Bodhisatta told the queen that loveless marriages bring misery and she should leave. After listening to the Bodhisatta, the king gave his queen everything she deserved, and they lived together happily.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The king and queen were earlier births of a landowner husband and wife who had traveled from the city to the country to collect a debt. The debtor could not pay, and this angered the landowner greatly, so he immediately turned around and set out for home without taking time to eat. Some people saw the landowner on the road, clearly famished, and gave him some food. They told him to share it with his wife, but he walked behind her and ate it all. When he finished, he showed her the empty pot and said it was all that the people had given him. She did not believe him, of course, and was very annoyed.
Since the Buddha’s monastery was along the way, they stopped for some water. The Buddha divined that they were ready for a spiritual breakthrough and was waiting for them. He asked the wife if her husband was kind and loving. “I love him,” she answered, “but he does not love me. For example, today he did not share any of his food.” The Buddha told them this story so they knew that in the past she had been equally loving and kind, and he had mistreated her like this. And after hearing the Buddha’s words, the husband stopped his selfish behavior.