The Bodhisatta was once a wealthy merchant who gave alms generously: six hundred thousand coins’ worth daily. He began to worry about going bankrupt, so he built a ship and sailed to a faraway land to trade, expecting to return with lots of money. On the day his journey began, he left his wife and child in charge of giving alms and walked to the port. A private Buddha (those who reach enlightenment on their own and do not teach the path to others) divined that the Bodhisatta’s ship was going to sink, so he went to assist. He flew from his home in the Himalayas, landed near the Bodhisatta, and walked toward him through sand as hot as burning embers, making sure the Bodhisatta saw him. As he’d expected, the Bodhisatta told the private Buddha to take a seat under a tree, and without being asked gave him his shoes and parasol. His work finished, the private Buddha flew back home.
On the seventh day of the voyage, the Bodhisatta’s ship sprang a leak, and many passengers died. The Bodhisatta picked a random man to be his servant, and the two of them covered their bodies with oil, filled their stomachs with powdered sugar and ghee, and jumped into the ocean to swim toward home.
The goddess assigned to save virtuous people from shipwrecks had been shirking her duties, but on the seventh day she scanned the seas and saw the Bodhisatta in trouble. Jumping into action, she flew over the waters and gave him a golden plate of divine meats, but the Bodhisatta refused it because it was a holy day. She told the Bodhisatta that she was there to rescue him because he had offered his shoes to a private Buddha. She gave him a three-hundred-fifty-meter-long ship built of and filled with treasures—golden oars, silver sails, sapphire masts—and led him home. He lived out his days in righteousness, distributing alms without end.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time after hearing a sermon from the Buddha, a lay follower invited him to his house for alms on seven straight days. On the last day, he gave the Buddha and five hundred disciples a special gift of shoes. The Buddha thanked the man and told this story about the time he himself had donated shoes to a Buddha.
The goddess and the servant were earlier births of Uppalavanna and Ananda, two of the Buddha’s top disciples.