The Bodhisatta was once a young son of a village householder. For many years the Bodhisatta’s father dedicated himself fully to caring for his own father, from serving him food to cleaning his teeth. The aged father told his son to find a wife to help him, but he did not want the aggravation of having a woman around—he planned to care for his father until he died. But the father ignored his son’s wishes and sent for a wife. She was good-hearted and cared for her father-in-law with as much attention as her husband had. In appreciation, the Bodhisatta’s father bought many things to please her, and she passed them all on to her father-in-law.
Eventually the wife thought that because her husband gave all his attention to her, he no longer cared for his father; and if she got rid of him, her husband would be pleased. So she started provoking her father-in-law by making his bathwater too hot or too cold, his food with too much or too little salt, and his rice too hard or too soft. She also spit all over the floor and blamed the mess on him. Finally, she let her husband know she was sick and tired of her father-in-law’s anger and constant complaining, and she could no longer live in the same house as him. Someone that old and frail was bound to die soon, she said, so they should just kill him. Not knowing that his wife had been the one causing the strife, the Bodhisatta’s father agreed.
Following his wife’s instructions, the Bodhisatta’s father told his father, speaking loudly so the neighbors heard him, that he had tried to collect one of his debts, but the borrower would not pay, so they should go together to see the man early in the morning and get the money. Instead, he took his father to the cemetery to kill and bury him.
The Bodhisatta was just seven years old when this happened, but very smart. He heard his wicked mother telling his father the plan, so that night, to stop his father from doing evil, the Bodhisatta slept in his grandfather’s room. And in the morning, he jumped in the cart to go with them. At the cemetery, the Bodhisatta played ignorant and asked his father why he dug a hole in a spot that had no herbs or roots to eat. His father answered that his grandfather was old and weak and suffered pain, so they needed to kill him. Then the Bodhisatta took the spade from his father’s hands and began to dig another hole. He told his father that in the future he would follow the family tradition and bury him there. Then the Bodhisatta explained to his angry father he could never undo such a great sin and would surely be reborn in hell. Now filled with shame, the Bodhisatta’s father thanked his kind-hearted son for saving him.
The Bodhisatta said that to save his mother, his father must teach her a lesson by tossing her out of the house. His father agreed, and when they got back home, he beat his wife and told her never to return. A few days later, the Bodhisatta told his father to bring one of his nieces to their home, and, as expected, gossip quickly spread that the Bodhisatta’s father had a new wife. The Bodhisatta’s mother came to him and, falling at his feet, begged for a second chance, promising to care for her husband and father-in-law as she did initially. So, having been tamed by the Bodhisatta, his parents lived in righteousness for the rest of their days.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The Bodhisatta’s father, mother, and grandfather were earlier births of three people who lived through a similar situation in the Buddha’s time. But in this case, when the wife demanded that either her father-in-law leave the house or she would, the man chose his father. This frightened the wife, and she begged forgiveness, promising to care for him as dutifully as she had in the past. The situation worried the man, so he didn’t visit the Buddha for a week until he was sure his wife was sincere.
When the man did return to the Buddha’s monastery, he asked why the man had been away for so long. He explained how his wife had behaved, and the Buddha told him this story so he knew that something similar had happened to the three of them in the past; only back then the man made the wrong choice about how to handle it, and the Buddha had to save them.