One of the Buddha’s disciples, while out on a morning alms round, saw a woman so beautiful he fell in love at first sight. After returning to the monastery, his obsession with her made him depressed and ill and he could no longer concentrate on his studies or meditation. The Buddha told him he should stop thinking about her and then to remind the disciples that all women are ungrateful and treacherous, he told this story of one of his past lives.
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The Buddha-to-be was born as the crown prince of Varanasi. He and his six younger brothers all faithfully served their father. But the king was paranoid and suspected one of his sons would kill him in order to become king, so he banished them all from the kingdom, not to return until after he died. They were sad, but agreed. They all took their wives and set out down the road away from the city, eventually coming to a vast forest where they could find no food or drink. When the suffering became too much, they killed the youngest brother’s wife, cut her up into 13 parts (one for each person) and ate her. The Buddha-to-be and his wife shared one part between them and saved the other. They did the same thing for another five days until the Buddha-to-be’s wife was the only women left alive. On the seventh day it was time to kill and eat her, but the Buddha-to-be gave his brothers the portions they had saved and they ate this instead. That night the Buddha-to-be and his wife fled. When she grew tired he carried her on his shoulders, and when she grew thirsty he cut his right knee with his sword and let her drink his blood. Eventually they reached the Ganges River where they filled themselves with fruit and water, and built a simple hut to live in.
While they lived there, a robber who had been punished by having his hands, feet, nose, and ears cut off, was sent drifting down the river in a small boat. As he floated by, the Buddha-to-be heard his groans of pain and took pity on him, bringing him to their hut and treating his wounds, thus saving his life. While they all dwelled together in the hut, the wife fell in love with the robber and they began having an affair, getting together when the Buddha-to-be went out to collect fruits. Wanting her husband dead, one day she pushed the Buddha-to-be off a cliff. But, unbeknownst to her, he fell into the top of a fig tree and survived. He couldn’t climb up or down the cliff, so he stayed put and ate figs. An iguana who came daily to eat from the tree eventually struck up a conversation with the Buddha-to-be . Hearing his tale of woe, the iguana took the Buddha-to-be on his back and carried him down the cliff and out of the forest. The Buddha-to-be , he ruled righteously and generously, putting money for his subjects in six halls of bounty every day.
The wife had carried her lover out of the forest on her shoulders and through widespread pity for them, she was able to get plenty of food as a beggar. Later people told her she should put her husband in a basket and take him to the Varanasi where the new king would surely take pity on her and give her great riches. She went and the couple lived comfortably from the halls of bounty. One day the Buddha-to-be, while riding his elephant through the streets to give alms to the poor, saw his wife, though she did not recognize him. He summoned her and then told the assembled citizens who she really was and what she had done to him. He declared that she deserved death, but he chose to spare her life. Instead, he had the basket with her lover tied so tightly to her head she could not remove it and banished them from his kingdom.