The Bodhisatta was once a spirit of the sea. A devoutly religious man was traveling by ship with his companion, a barber. The religious man had promised the barber’s wife he would look after him on the journey. After sailing the ocean for a week, the ship wrecked and the pair, hanging on a plank, floated to a deserted island. The barber killed and cooked some birds and offered them to his friend, but he did not eat them. Instead, he focused all his attention on the blessings of the three jewels (Buddha, dharma, and sangha), which was the only thing that could save them.
A naga king who had been born on the island saw the religious man was in trouble and transformed his body into a magnificent ship with planks of gold, ropes of silver, and masts of sapphire. The Bodhisatta was the pilot, and he invited the religious man on board, but said the barber could not come because he was a heathen. But the religious man was intent on looking after his companion and he bestowed all the merit he had earned from his generosity, virtue, and mental powers to the gracious barber. The Bodhisatta then accepted the barber on board, and he took them on the rest of their journey. On arrival, the Bodhisatta gave them each a bundle of valuables and told them to remember the lesson of their shipwreck: always keep company with wise and good people.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
On his way to visit the Buddha, one of his devout lay followers walked up to the riverbank, where he planned to board a ferry to the other shore. But all the ferry pilots were away at that moment, and the man’s mind was so absorbed with delightful thoughts of the Buddha that, since he did not see a boat, he just kept walking right into the river. His feet did not sink below the water, and he was halfway across when he finally noticed what he had done. Distracted from his thoughts, he began to sink; but he focused his mind again on the Buddha and got across.
Arriving at the monastery, he sat down to talk with the Buddha, who asked if he’d had any mishaps on the way. The man explained how he had walked over the river and almost fallen in. The Buddha told him this story so he knew that in the past other people had been kept safe by thinking of the Buddha’s virtues.
The naga king was an earlier birth of Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.