The Bodhisatta was once a teacher. A king sent his son off to Taxila to study with him. Unlike most students, who worked as the Bodhisatta’s servants in lieu of school fees, the prince paid one thousand coins and was treated like a son.
One time, when the Bodhisatta and the prince went to the river to bathe, an old woman was sun-drying white seeds. Without asking, the prince took a handful and ate them. The woman said nothing. The next day, he did it again, and still the old woman remained silent. But on the third day, after the prince took some more, the woman got very upset and yelled out, “The great teacher is letting his students rob me!” She explained to the Bodhisatta what his student had been doing, and he told her to stop crying; he would see to it that she got paid. But she didn’t want payment, she said; she just wanted him taught not to do it again. So the Bodhisatta beat the student’s back with a bamboo stick three times. The prince was furious and vowed to himself that someday he would murder the Bodhisatta. But for the time being, he remained focused on his studies, and when done, he returned home.
His father was impressed by his son’s new knowledge and abdicated so he could see him rule the kingdom. The newly-crowned king had not forgotten his grudge against the Bodhisatta and so invited him to the palace; and then he would kill him. The Bodhisatta suspected the reason for the invitation, so he did not go. But many years later, the Bodhisatta felt he might now be able to appease his former student, so he finally went to see him.
When they met, the king grew furious and yelled to his advisors, “The spot on my back where my teacher struck me still hurts after all this time. Today he must die!” The Bodhisatta replied that his blows were discipline, not anger; and had he not done it, the prince would have soon started taking fruits and cakes, which would have led to burglary and murder, and he would have suffered the appropriate punishments. “All this prosperity you have now is because I struck you on that day,” he said. Upon hearing this, the king realized the Bodhisatta was right, and in gratitude offered to give him the kingdom. The Bodhisatta accepted the king’s forgiveness, but said he had no desire to be a ruler. Instead, the king made him the royal chaplain and treated him like a father for the rest of his days.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The prince was an earlier birth of one of the Buddha’s disciples who was full of bitterness and quick to anger over even the smallest of things. The Buddha told the prince this story so he knew that he had been the same way before and had eventually overcome his passions.