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 out, 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 cared for her father-in-law with as much attention as her husband had. In appreciation, he bought many things to please her, and she passed everything on to her father-in-law.
Eventually the wife thought that because her husband gave all his attention to her that he no longer cared for his father, and to please him she came up with a plan to get rid of him. She started provoking him by making his bath water 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 her father-in-law. 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 as old and decrepit as him was bound to die soon, she said, so they should just kill him. Not knowing his wife had been the one causing 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, in order to save 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 shovel from his father’s hands and began to dig his own hole. He told his father 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. His father was filled with shame and thanked his kind-hearted son for saving him.
Then the Bodhisatta said that to save his mother, his father must teacher her a lesson by tossing her out of the house. 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 in the beginning. 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 a similar situation in the Buddha’s time. But in this case, when the wife demanded either her husband’s father leave the house or she would, the man chose his father. This frightened the wife and she begged forgiveness and promised to care for him as dutifully as she had in the past. The situation worried the man so he didn’t visit the Buddha’s monastery for a week until he was sure his wife was sincere, and when he did go again, the Buddha asked where he had been. He explained how his wife had behaved and the Buddha told him this story so he knew that nearly the same thing had happened to the three of them in the past, only back then he made the wrong choice about how to handle it, and the Buddha’s had to act to save them.