The Bodhisatta was once a king. He gave his chaplain a horse with the finest tack available. When he rode it through the city for the first time, the people he passed all praised the horse’s beauty. After returning home, the chaplain told his wife about it and she, being a wicked woman, said he misunderstood the situation. They were actually admiring the horse’s beautiful tack, she told him. If he wore the saddle and harness himself and pranced down the street, the people and the king would all heap praise on him.
Being a fool and not realizing his wife was out to embarrass him, the chaplain did what she suggested. After people laughed at him, he rushed home to confront his wife, but she left through a side door and hid out at the palace for a few days before the king learned she was there. The king summoned his chaplain and suggested he forgive his wife because all women are full of faults; though they can be fixed. The chaplain, however, decided it would be easier to replace her, so he sent her away and took another wife.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The chaplain was an earlier birth of one of the Buddha’s disciples. Because he was new, his food was poor (lumpy gruel with stale or rotting ingredients and dried or burnt sprouts) and he did not get enough to stay healthy. He started to return each morning to the wife he left behind, and she gave him delicious rice with sauce and curry. This made him miss his former life, and with her encouragement he decided to leave the sangha.
The Buddha told the disciple this story so he knew that this same woman had been wicked when she was his wife in an earlier birth, and now she was harming him again, this time by taking him off the path to salvation. After talking to the Buddha, the disciple gained new understanding and chose to continue his religious life.