The Bodhisatta was once a tree fairy. When a new king took the throne he told all the fairies of the forest to go choose whatever home they wanted. The Bodhisatta told his relatives to stay in the forest with him and not go live in trees that stand alone. But because fairies who live in big trees near towns get the highest praise and most offerings, some chose to live in these.
One day a tremendous storm passed over the land and all the big, mighty lone trees were blown down while the trees and shrubs packed together in the forest suffered no damage. The fairies who lived in these toppled trees went to the forest and told of their misfortune. The Bodhisatta explained that families should stick together, like a forest, and the fairies who lost their homes suffered because they did not follow his advice.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The Buddha’s Sakya clan was quarreling with another clan over who should get the water for their crops when their shared dam ran low at the end of the dry season. As tempers flared, people came to blows and the two clans declared war on each other. The Buddha went to quell the feud, and when they saw him every man threw down his weapon to listen to him speak. The Buddha said life was more valuable than water and then taught them lessons encouraging unity and self-control and denouncing fighting and blindly following others. He told this story to explain the value of cooperation and unity and it helped convince the men to settle their dispute peacefully.
The fairies were earlier births of the Buddha’s followers.