The Bodhisatta was once an elephant. He was white all over and magnificently beautiful. A herd of eighty thousand elephants followed him as their leader, but when he found that some in the herd were sinners, he left to live alone. One day a forester got lost and the Bodhisatta heard him crying in despair for fear of death. He invited the man to his house and fed him a variety of fruits for several days. Then he took the man, riding on his back, to the highway so he could return home.
When he got back to the city, the man asked ivory workers if they would buy elephant tusks from him and they said, of course. So he took a saw and returned to the Bodhisatta’s home where he moaned about not being able to earn enough money. The man asked to cut off some of his tusk to sell and the Bodhisatta agreed. He later returned and claimed the money he got selling the tusks was only enough to pay off his old debts and he begged for the rest of the tusks. Again, the Bodhisatta agreed. Seized by greed, the man returned a third time and again feigned poverty saying he needed to dig out the stumps, and the Bodhisatta let him do it. But as he walked home this time, the earth split open and the flames of hell dragged him down. A tree fairy who saw it happen commented for all forest creatures to hear that there is nothing in the world that can satisfy ungrateful beings.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One day the Buddha overhead his disciples talking about Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis, being ungrateful for all the Buddha has provided them. He told them this story to explain that Devadatta had always been an ingrate and lacked virtue, even in the past.
The forester was an earlier birth of Devadatta while the tree fairy was an earlier birth of Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.