The Bodhisatta was once a king’s chaplain. Before being hired, the Bodhisatta had been educated by the best teachers in Taxila, and he wondered if the king respected him more for his virtue or for his devotion to learning. To test this, he stole some coins in full view of the king’s treasurer.
The Bodhisatta was arrested and taken before the king. After being sentenced to death, he said he was not a thief and explained why he had pocketed the coins. And being given this punishment showed that the king’s honor really was earned from his virtue, not his education. Forgiven for his crime, the Bodhisatta left the palace and lived out the rest of his life as an ascetic in the Himalayas.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One of the Buddha’s disciples had been a king’s chaplain before joining the sangha. He received more honor than anyone else in the king’s inner circle and wondered if it was because of his virtue or his devotion to learning, so he did the exact same test of his privilege. After being forgiven by the king, the man joined the sangha and eventually reached arahantship.
When the Buddha heard some other disciples discussing this, the Buddha told them this story so they knew that he himself had once done the same test in the past.
The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.