The Bodhisatta was once a king. While he relaxed along a lake, the fish and turtles gathered near him to watch his dancers and singers perform. His advisors told him they were coming to offer their assistance if needed. Pleased by this, the Bodhisatta ordered that from then on, they were to be regularly fed rice. To avoid rice being wasted if fish did not come to eat, the Bodhisatta had the feeder bang a drum before tossing the rice in the water.
Eventually a crocodile figured out that the sound of the drum meant an easy meal and he’d come eat some of the gathered fish, so the Bodhisatta ordered it to be captured with a harpoon. When the crocodile returned, the fish feeder struck it in the back, but the crocodile was able to swim away. The feeder yelled out that no matter where it went, it could not escape its punishment for greed. And soon after, the crocodile died from its wound.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One of the Buddha’s disciples became distracted by desires and could no longer concentrate on his studies or meditation. The Buddha explained that desire is like a barbed arrow; once it gets stuck in you, it’s very difficult to remove and it can kill. He then told this story as an example.
The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.