Before the Buddha lived as Prince Siddhartha Gautama, he had already lived through many different incarnations and lifetimes.
Jataka tales tell of the Buddha's previous incarnations. They feature characters who live lives of selflessness and sacrifice.
This mural from Dunhuang depicts the jataka tale of King Sivi. King Sivi was known for keeping his word and for his selflessness. Two main stories are associated with King Sivi.
In the first story, King Sivi thought to himself one day,
"If there be any human gift that I have never made,
Be it my eyes, I'll give it now, all firm and unafraid."
Reading his thoughts, a blind brahmin came forward to ask for his eyes. Without hesitating and without listening to his ministers' protests, King Sivi offered the blind brahmin his eyes.
In a second story, King Sivi came across a dove trying to escape a falcon. King Sivi offered the dove safety.
The falcon offered to let the dove go on the condition that he received fresh flesh from the king in equal weight to the dove. King Sivi agreed, and had a butcher slice flesh from his leg to place on a scale to weigh against the dove.
But after cutting off more and more flesh, it still was not equal in weight. Finally, King Sivi placed himself on the scale, offering his entire self in return for the dove's life.