The Bodhisatta was once a deer. He was exceptionally beautiful and graceful, as was his mate, and he led a herd of eighty thousand. One day he stepped in a hunter’s snare and despite his great strength he could not break free. Fearing death, he cried out, and the other deer fled in panic. But his devoted doe stayed behind, and when the hunter arrived she told him how virtuous the Bodhisatta was and begged him to kill her instead. The hunter was amazed: both by her ability to speak and her devotion. Even humans would not give up their lives for their king, he thought, and decided to spare both of their lives. To thank the hunter, the Bodhisatta gave him a magic jewel that he had once found and told him he could use it to set up a comfortable household for his family and be generous giving alms and doing good deeds – he never needed to kill another creature again.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The doe was an earlier birth of a woman whose parents were devoted supporters of Sariputta and Moggallana, two of the Buddha’s top disciples. Her parents married her into a non-Buddhist family with the promise that she could keep her religion with no restrictions. She was a devoted wife and caretaker to her parents-in-law and continued to give alms to the Buddha’s disciples. Sariputta and Moggallana became regular visitors at her house and one time she asked her husband to meet them. He agreed and was so impressed by their explanation of dharma that he joined them several more times and eventually converted. Soon after, the rest of the family, from his parents to his servants, accepted the Buddha’s teachings. Later, husband and wife both became disciples and reached arahantship.
When the Buddha heard some other disciples discussing the pair he told them this story so they knew that in this life she had freed her husband from the suffering caused by the bonds of cravings, and in the past she had freed her husband from a certain death.
The hunter was an earlier birth of Channa, Prince Siddhartha’s charioteer who later became a disciple and who at times defied the Buddha.