Jataka: The Merchant Who Overcame All Obstacles

The grass that the merchant sees here - kusa (kusha) grass - has great symbolic resonance in India, having been used in religious rituals dating back to the most ancient Vedic period of Indian religion. You can read about the folklore and mythology of kusha grass in this Times of India article.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Jataka Tales unit. Story source: Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie L. Shedlock (1920).




The Merchant Who Overcame All Obstacles

ONCE upon a time the Buddha 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 twenty 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 charcoal, 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 sitting 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 so-called land-pilot had to be chosen, and he brought the caravan safe to the other side by his knowledge of the stars.

On this occasion the merchant of our story traversed the desert in that way. 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 wood and water to be thrown away, and 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 them where to drive. But, worn out by want of rest during the long march, he fell asleep, and did not perceive that the oxen turned around 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 had stopped, and were drawing up the carts in a line. Then the men cried out: "Why, this is the very encampment we left yesterday! Our wood and 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 Bodisat, saying to himself, "If I lose heart, all these will perish," walked about while the morning was yet cool.

And on seeing a tuft of Kusa grass, he thought: "This must have grown by attracting some water which there must be beneath it."

And he made them bring a hoe 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 Bodisat thought, "There must be water under that rock," and, stooping down, applied his ear to it and tested the sound ofit. And he heard the sound of water gurgling beneath.

And he got out and called his page. "My lad, if you give up now, we shall all be lost. Don't you 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. And the rock split in two and fell below, and no longer blocked up the stream. And water rose till its brim was the height of a palm-tree in the well. And they all drank of the water, and bathed in it.

Then they split up their extra yokes and axles, and cooked rice and ate it, and fed their oxen with it. And when the sun set, they put up a flag by the well and went to the place appointed.

There they sold their merchandise at double and treble profit, and returned to their own home, and lived to a good old age, and then passed away according to their deeds. And the Bodisat gave gifts, and did other virtuous acts, and passed away according to his deeds.


(700 words)









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