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 hermit’s life if I cannot by 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: “You have done wrong, 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, mendicants, that you have brought this brother here against his will. What has he done?”
“Lord, this brother, having taken the vows of 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 you have given up trying?”
“It is true, Blessed One,” I was the reply.
The Master said: “This present life of yours is a time of grace. If you fail now to reach the happy state you will have to suffer remorse in future existences. How is it, brother, that you have proved so irresolute? Why, in former states of existence you wert full of determination. By your energy alone the men and bullocks of five hundred wagons obtained water in the sandy desert, and were saved. How is it that you now give 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, mendicants!” said the Blessed One; and having thus excited their attention, he made manifest a thing concealed by change of birth. Once on a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Kasi, the Bodhisattva 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 crossed 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 Bodhisattva 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 Bodhisattva thought, “There must be water under that rock,” and descending into the well he got on 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 you give 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 Bodhisattva 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 caravan the Bodhisattva, 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.”
The author of this story is unknown and greatly appreciated!