The Bodhisatta was once a king. He always observed the holy days and was so righteous and generous—giving six hundred thousand coins-worth of donations daily from six alms halls around the city—that he became known across India and throughout the heavens.
When Indra, king of the gods, heard some others praising the Bodhisatta he sent his charioteer Matali down to Earth with an invitation to visit heaven. The chariot, pulled by one thousand horses, shown in the sky as bright as the full moon and everyone knew that the gods were summoning their king, who was preaching to his courtiers about righteousness and justice when the chariot came.
The Bodhisatta received a hearty welcome in heaven and Indra gave him half of his own glorious city so he could live in immortal pleasure. The Bodhisatta stayed there in bliss for seven hundred years, but when his merit was exhausted he grew dissatisfied. Indra offered to share his own merit with the Bodhisatta, but he rejected the gift, saying he did not want anything that he didn’t earn himself.
The Bodhisatta returned to Earth, alighting in the royal park. He told the park-keeper who he was and sent him to get the present king, the seventh generation descended from the Bodhisatta. The king saluted the Bodhisatta and offered to give up his throne to him, but the Bodhisatta refused. He wanted only to do good deeds, he said, and the king arranged for it. For seven days the Bodhisatta gave away vast treasures for alms. And on the last day he died and was born right back into Indra’s heaven.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time the Buddha praised some lay followers for observing the holy day and told them this story to show that doing so can bring great rewards.
Indra and the king were earlier births of Anuruddha and Ananda, two of the Buddha’s top disciples.