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The caravan leader

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Kāsi, 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 safely to their home.

----The Gospel of Buddha, Compiled from Ancient Records by Paul Carus

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