The Bodhisatta was once a tree fairy. Another tree fairy lived in a tree near him, and a lion and a tiger also dwelled in the forest. For fear of the two big cats, no humans came into the forest to cut down trees.
The lion and tiger killed many animals, and the rotting corpses of their prey lay scattered around the forest. One day the other tree fairy told the Bodhisatta he was fed up with the stench of the carcasses and was going to drive the lion and tiger away. The Bodhisatta told him these two beasts protected their homes from humans and must be allowed to stay, but the other fairy was a fool and did not believe him. He took a terrifying physical form and scared the lion and tiger away to another forest.
Just as the Bodhisatta had said, when people saw that the fierce animals were gone, they began cutting down trees. The Bodhisatta told his foolish friend to go convince the lion and tiger to return. The fairy went to their new forest and begged, but they chose to stay. A few days later, the entire forest had been turned into farm fields and the tree fairies had to go live elsewhere.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The foolish tree fairy was an earlier birth of Cula Kokalika, a greedy disciple of the Buddha, and the lion and tiger were earlier births of Sariputta and Moggallana, two of the Buddha’s top disciples. Sariputta and Moggallana spent one rainy season at Cula Kokalika’s home, with the instruction not to tell the locals they were there. After the three months had passed, they set off back to the Buddha’s monastery. Right after they departed, Cula Kokalika boasted to people about who had been staying with him. They quickly gathered food and robes to donate and rushed after the departed disciples to pay respect. Knowing that Sariputta and Moggallana were very frugal and would not accept the gifts, Cula Kokalika followed, expecting that the things would be given to him. But the elder disciples just told the people to keep everything, and this angered Cula Kokalika.
A short time later, Sariputta and Moggallana led a thousand disciples on an alms pilgrimage. When they passed through Cula Kokalika’s town, the laypeople greeted them enthusiastically and donated many robes and other things. Again, Sariputta and Moggallana gave nothing to Cula Kokalika, and this time he was so furious he began insulting them for being greedy and selfish. So the disciples left the town. People begged them to stay, but could not change their minds. The angry people told Cula Kokalika to fix the problem he had created; and if he could not convince Sariputta and Moggallana to return, he would have to go live elsewhere. Fearful of losing his home, he went to the Buddha’s monastery and begged Sariputta and Moggallana to come back with him because the people of his town respected and missed them. But they refused, so Cula Kokalika left the monastery alone.
When the Buddha later heard some of his disciples discussing how Cula Kokalika both despised Sariputta and Moggallana, and yet desperately wanted them to return to his home, he told them this story so they knew that Cula Kokalika had also been in a can’t-live-with-them, can’t-live-without-them situation with Sariputta and Moggallana in the past.