Rescue In The Desert





There was a disciple of the Blessed One, full of energy and zeal

for the truth, who, living under a vow to complete a meditation

in solitude, flagged in a moment of weakness. He said to himself:

"The Teacher said there are several kinds of men; I must belong

to the lowest class and fear that in this birth there will be

neither path nor fruit for me. What is the use of a forest life

if I cannot by my constant endeavor attain the insight of

meditation to which I have devoted myself?" And he left the

solitude and returned to the Jetavana.



When the brethren saw him they said to him: "Thou hast done

wrong, O brother, after taking a vow, to give up the attempt of

carrying it out;" and they took him to the Master.



When the Blessed One saw them he said: "I see, O mendicants, that

you have brought this brother here against his will. What has he

done?"



"Lord, this brother, having taken the vows of so sanctifying a

faith, has abandoned the endeavor to accomplish the aim of a

member of the order, and has come back to us."



Then the Teacher said to him: "Is it true that thou hast given up

trying?"



"It is true, O Blessed One!" was the reply.



The Master said: "This present life of thine is a time of grace.

If thou fail now to reach the happy state thou wilt have to

suffer remorse in future existences. How is it, brother, that

thou hast proved so irresolute? Why, in former states of

existence thou wert full of determination. By thy energy alone

the men and bullocks of five hundred wagons obtained water in the

sandy desert, and were saved. How is it that thou now givest up?"



By these few words that brother was re-established in his

resolution. But the others besought the Blessed One, saying:

"Lord! Tell us how this was."



"Listen, then, O mendicants!" said the Blessed One; and having

thus excited their attention, he made manifest a thing concealed

by change of birth.



Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Kasi, the

Bodhisatta was born in a merchant's family; and when he grew up,

he went about trafficking with five hundred carts.



One day he arrived at a sandy desert many leagues across. The

sand in that desert was so fine that when taken in the closed

fist it could not be kept in the hand. After the sun had risen it

became as hot as a mass of burning embers, so that no man could

walk on it. Those, therefore, who had to travel over it took

wood, and water, and oil, and rice in their carts, and traveled

during the night. And at daybreak they formed an encampment and

spread an awning over it, and, taking their meals early, they

passed the day lying in the shade. At sunset they supped, and

when the ground had become cool they yoked their oxen and went

on. The traveling was like a voyage over the sea: a desert-pilot

had to be chosen, and he brought the caravan safe to the other

side by his knowledge of the stars.



Thus the merchant of our story traversed the desert. And when he

had passed over fifty-nine leagues he thought, "Now, in one more

night we shall get out of the sand," and after supper he directed

the wagons to be yoked, and so set out. The pilot had cushions

arranged on the foremost cart and lay down, looking at the stars

and directing the men where to drive. But worn out by want of

rest during the long march, he fell asleep, and did not perceive

that the oxen had turned round and taken the same road by which

they had come.



The oxen went on the whole night through. Towards dawn the pilot

woke up, and, observing the stars, called out: "Stop the wagons,

stop the wagons!" The day broke just as they stopped and were

drawing up the carts in a line. Then the men cried out: "Why this

is the very encampment we left yesterday! We have but little wood

left and our water is all gone! We are lost!" And unyoking the

oxen and spreading the canopy over their heads, they lay down in

despondency, each one under his wagon. But the Bodhisatta said to

himself, "If I lose heart, all these will perish," and walked

about while the morning was yet cool. On seeing a tuft of

kusa-grass, he thought: "This could have grown only by soaking up

some water which must be beneath it."



And he made them bring a spade and dig in that spot. And they dug

sixty cubits deep. And when they had got thus far, the spade of

the diggers struck on a rock; and as soon as it struck, they all

gave up in despair. But the Bodhisatta thought, "There must be

water under that rock," and descending into the well he got upon

the stone, and stooping down applied his ear to it and tested the

sound of it. He heard the sound of water gurgling beneath, and

when he got out he called his page. "My lad, if thou givest up

now, we shall all be lost. Do not lose heart. Take this iron

hammer, and go down into the pit, and give the rock a good blow."



The lad obeyed, and though they all stood by in despair, he went

down full of determination and struck at the stone. The rock

split in two and fell below, so that it no longer blocked the

stream, and water rose till its depth from the bottom to the brim

of the well was equal to the height of a palm-tree. And they all

drank of the water, and bathed in it. Then they cooked rice and

ate it, and fed their oxen with it. And when the sun set, they

put a flag in the well, and went to the place appointed. There

they sold their merchandise at a good profit and returned to

their home, and when they died they passed away according to

their deeds. And the Bodhisatta gave gifts and did other virtuous

acts, and he also passed away according to his deeds.



After the Teacher had told the story he formed the connection by

saying in conclusion, "The caravanleader was the Bodhisatta, the

future Buddha; the page who at that time despaired not, but broke

the stone, and gave water to the multitude, was this brother

without perseverance; and the other men were attendants on the

Buddha."





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