The Bodhisatta was once the King of Varanasi. He was righteous and wise, and all his subjects were happy. The Bodhisatta always sought to improve himself, and he asked people to tell him his faults so he could correct them. But nobody, from his closest advisors to ordinary citizens living outside the city gates, would share any criticisms. Assuming people were too afraid to speak openly to the king about such matters, he left the city in disguise so he could get honest answers. Still, he heard nothing but praise from the people he met, even out in the border region.
Heading home, the Bodhisatta’s carriage met another head-on at a spot where the road was too narrow for them to pass, and both drivers told the other to move aside. The other carriage, it turns out, carried the King of Kosala, who was also entirely honorable and was out in the country doing the exact same thing as the Bodhisatta with the exact same result.
The two drivers compared their respective kings to determine who was the superior, deserving the right of way, and who would have to move aside. But both were of the same age and lineage, and both kingdoms had the same size, power, wealth, and glory. So they discussed their master’s virtues. The King of Kosala, his driver said, does good to good people and bad to bad people. The Bodhisatta, on the other hand, bestowed good to everybody and so was the better man. The King of Kosala acknowledged this as a fault and had his driver pull his carriage aside to let the Bodhisatta pass. The Bodhisatta advised the King of Kosala to change his ways, and upon returning to his city, he followed the advice.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One day the King of Kosala, a supporter of the Buddha, came to visit him much later in the day than usual. The Buddha asked him why he was late and the king answered that he had just presided over a complicated court case, which took a long time. The Buddha said judging people with justice and impartiality is the way to reach heaven. He then told this story so the king knew it was no great feat for him to judge fairly because he was ruling in the lifetime of a perfect Buddha; it was much more impressive to have done the same thing in a past life without the benefit of a living perfect Buddha, like he himself had done.
The King of Kosala, his driver, and the Bodhisatta’s driver were earlier births of Ananda, Moggallana, and Sariputta, three of the Buddha’s top disciples.