The Bodhisatta was once a prince, the youngest of a king’s one hundred sons. Once when some private Buddhas (those who reach enlightenment on their own and do not teach the path to others) were eating at the palace, the Bodhisatta asked them if he would become king someday. They answered that it would never happen in his city. But if he could journey in seven days to Taxila, two thousand leagues away, a route inhabited by ogresses who enchant men with their beauty and charm and then eat them, he would become king there. Believing he had the power to resist, and taking a charmed thread and some charmed sand from the private Buddhas, he said goodbye to his family and set out. Five royal courtiers respected him so much they insisted on joining him despite stern warnings of the danger.
As they walked, one by one these men were ensnared by the ogresses’ temptations and they lagged behind the others to indulge their pleasures. All five were killed and eaten. One ogress followed the Bodhisatta, telling everyone they passed that they were husband and wife. When the Bodhisatta explained that she was actually a murderous ogress, she replied that he was only saying this because he was angry with her; and because she was so charming, everybody believed her.
When they reached Taxila and the king saw the ogress’s beauty, he was so smitten that he ignored the Bodhisatta’s warning and invited her to stay in the best room in his palace. That evening he went to be with her. After he fell asleep, she rushed back to her city and returned with all the other ogres. They devoured every person and animal in the palace, leaving nothing but bones behind. In the morning, when the people broke down the palace doors and saw the carnage, they realized the Bodhisatta had been right and she really was an ogress. Because the Bodhisatta had been the only one to resist her, they knew he must be a noble, steadfast, and wise person. So they made him their king, and he ruled with righteousness and charity for the rest of his life.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
While giving his disciples a lesson on mindfulness, the Buddha told a parable of a man forced to carry a pot of hot oil in front of a large crowd that was watching the most beautiful woman in all the land singing and dancing. A man with a drawn sword followed behind him, and if even a single drop of oil was spilled, the man carrying the pot would be beheaded. In this circumstance, the man would be extremely careful and not gaze upon the woman. The Buddha said the pot represented a person’s state of mind regarding their body and people should practice right mindfulness about this as carefully as the man concentrated on carrying the pot.
When one of his disciples stated that it was very difficult for the man to not be distracted by the woman, the Buddha corrected him and said having an executioner escort made it easy. Then he told this past-life story so his disciples knew he had once had to preserve right mindfulness during a similar task without any assistance.
The royal courtiers who died were earlier births of the Buddha’s disciples.