The Bodhisatta was once a king, and then Indra, king of the gods, in back-to-back lives. As a prince, he was virtuous and wise without an iota of sin in his heart and never thought of women, not even in his dreams. His father wanted to hand over the crown to the Bodhisatta, but he was not interested in being king. After repeated pleas, the Bodhisatta had a golden statue of a woman made and told his parents he would become king only if they found him a wife as beautiful as it. They sent the statue out across India, but no match was found. Then the Bodhisatta’s parents noticed that his half-sister, born to another of the king’s consorts, was even more beautiful than the statue, and they forced the two to wed.
Though the Bodhisatta and his queen resided together, they lived a virtuous, celibate life. They made a vow that whichever of them died first would come down from heaven and tell the other about it.
When the Bodhisatta was seven hundred years old, he died and became Indra. For the first seven days (equal to seven hundred earth years) of his celestial life the Bodhisatta could not remember the past. But after this week had passed, his memories returned and he went down to earth to keep his promise, and also to test his wife with a temptation of riches.
During the night, when his wife was alone meditating in her palace, the Bodhisatta appeared before her, claiming to be a magical goblin, and offered a golden bowl full of gold coins if he could sleep with her that night. She told him to get out, adding that she had no interest in relations with anyone; goblins, gods, or men. The Bodhisatta tried again the next night with a silver bowl, and this time she did not speak, hoping this would show her resolve and he would not return. He left, but came back again the third night with an iron bowl. This time she asked why he offered less each time, and the Bodhisatta said it was because her beauty fades with age. However, he added, the beauty of gods in heaven grows with time, and by living a virtuous life full of generosity and free of sin she would become one. The Bodhisatta then revealed himself, and his wife broke down with tears of happiness at seeing her beloved husband. He urged her to remain righteous, and then he returned to heaven.
The next morning, his wife left the palace to live as an ascetic. When she died, she was reborn in heaven as the Bodhisatta’s attendant.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
A man of noble birth gave up his easy life to become a disciple of the Buddha and was completely dedicated to dharma. One day during an alms round he met a beautiful woman and fell in love at first sight. Overcome by passion, he became so depressed that he stopped cutting his hair and nails and cleaning his robes, became thin and weak with yellow skin and veins sticking out of his body, and no longer took joy in his life of solitude.
When the Buddha found out about his problem, he told the disciple this story so he knew that in the past he himself had lived with a woman as beautiful as a heavenly nymph for seven hundred years and didn’t once look at her with desire. Hearing this, the disciple overcame his lust and regained his health.
The Bodhisatta’s wife was an earlier birth of the Buddha’s wife.