Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, there were two merchants in the city, one was a normal man and the other was the Bodhisattva.
One day it so happened that the two merchants each loaded five hundred carts with costly wares of Baranasi and prepared to leave in the same direction at exactly the same time. The wise merchant, that was the Bodhisattva thought, “If this young merchant travels with me and if our thousand carts stay together, it will be too much for the road. Finding wood and water for the men will be difficult, and there won’t be enough grass for the oxen. Either he or I must go first.”
“Look,” he said to the other merchant, “the two of us can’t travel together. Would you rather go first or follow after me?”
The other trader thought, “There will be many advantages if I take the lead. I’ll get a road which is not yet cut up. My oxen will have the pick of the grass. My men will get the choicest wild herbs for curry. The water will be undisturbed. Best of all, I’ll be able to fix my own price for bartering my goods.” Considering all these advantages, he said, “I will go ahead of you, my friend.”
The Bodhisatta was pleased to hear this because he saw many advantages in following after. He reasoned, those carts going first will level the road where it is rough, and I’ll be able to travel along the road they have already smoothed. Their oxen will graze off the coarse old grass, and mine will pasture on the sweet young growth which will spring up in its place. My men will find fresh sweet herbs for curry where the old ones have been picked. Where there is no water, the first caravan will have to dig to supply themselves, and we’ll be able to drink at the wells they have dug. Haggling over prices is tiring work; he’ll do the work, and I will be able to barter my wares at prices he has already fixed. “Very well, my friend,” he said, “please go first.”
The foolish merchant he yoked his carts and set out. After a while he came to the outskirts of a wilderness. He filled all of his huge water jars with water before setting out to cross the desert which lay before him.
The yaksha who haunted that wilderness had been watching the caravan. When it had reached the middle, he used his magic power to conjure up a lovely carriage drawn by pure white young bulls. With a retinue of a dozen disguised yakshas carrying swords and shields, he rode along in his carriage like a mighty lord. His hair and clothes were wet, and he had a wreath of blue lotuses and white water lilies around his head. His attendants also were dripping wet and draped in garlands. Even the bulls’ hooves and carriage wheels were muddy.
As the wind was blowing from the front, the merchant was riding at the head of his caravan to escape the dust. The yaksha drew his carriage beside the merchant’s and greeted him kindly. The merchant returned the greeting and moved his own carriage to one side to allow the carts to pass while he and the yaksha chatted.
“We are on our way from Baranas, sir,” explained the merchant. “I see that your men are all wet and muddy and that you have lotuses and water lilies. Did it rain while you were on the road? Did you come across pools with lotuses and water lilies?”
“What do you mean?” the yaksha exclaimed. “Over there is the dark-green streak of a jungle. Beyond that there is plenty of water. It is always raining there, and there are many lakes with lotuses and water lilies.” Then, pretending to be interested in the merchant’s business, he asked, “What do you have in these carts?”
“Expensive merchandise,” answered the merchant.
“What is in this cart which seems so heavily laden?” the yaksha asked as the last cart rolled by.
“That’s full of water.”
“You were wise to carry water with you this far, but there is no need for it now, since water is so abundant ahead. You could travel much faster and lighter without those heavy jars. You’d be better off breaking them and throwing the water away. Well, good day,” he said suddenly, as he turned his carriage. “We must be on our way. We have stopped too long already.” He rode away quickly with his men. As soon as they were out of sight, he turned and made his way back to his own city.
The merchant was so foolish that he followed the yaksha’s advice. He broke all the jars, without saving even a single cupful of water, and ordered the men to drive on quickly. Of course, they did not find any water, and they were soon exhausted from thirst. At sunset they drew their carts into a circle and tethered the oxen to the wheels, but there was no water for the weary animals. Without water, the men could not cook any rice either. They sank to the ground and fell asleep. As soon as night came, the yakshas attacked, killing every single man and beast. They devoured the flesh, leaving only the bones, and departed. Skeletons were strewn in every direction, but the five hundred carts stood with their loads untouched. Thus the heedless young merchant was the sole cause of the destruction of the entire caravan.
Allowing six weeks to pass after the first trader had left, the Bodhisattva set out with his five hundred carts. When he reached the edge of the wilderness, he filled his water jars. Then he assembled his men and announced, “Let not so much as a handful of water be used without my permission. Furthermore, there are poisonous plants in this wilderness. Do not eat any leaf, flower, or fruit which you have never eaten before, without showing it to me first.” Having thus carefully warned his men, he led the caravan into the wilderness.
When they had reached the middle of the wilderness, the yaksha appeared on the path just as before. The merchant noticed his red eyes and fearless manner and suspected something strange. “I know there is no water in this desert,” he said to himself. “Furthermore, this stranger casts no shadow. He must be a yaksha. He probably tricked the foolish merchant before me.”
“Get out of here!” he shouted at the yaksha. “We are men of business. We do not throw away our water before we see where more is to come from!”
Without saying any more, the yaksha rode away.
As soon as the yakshas had left, the merchant’s men approached their leader and said, “Sir, those men were wearing lotuses and water lilies on their heads. Their clothes and hair were wringing wet. They told us that up ahead there is a thick forest where it is always raining. Let us throw away our water so that we can proceed quicker with lightened carts.”
The merchant ordered a halt and summoned all his men. “Has any man among you ever heard before today,” he asked, “that there was a lake or a pool in this wilderness?”
“No, sir,” they answered. “It’s known as the ‘Waterless Desert.’ “
“We have just been told by some strangers that it is raining in the forest just ahead. Has any man here seen the top of even a single storm-cloud?”
“Has any man here seen a flash of lightning?”
“Has any man here heard a peal of thunder?”
“Those were not men, but yakshas,” the wise merchant told his men. “They are hoping that we will throw away our water. Then, when we are weak and faint, they will return to devour us. Since the young merchant who went before us was not a man of good sense, most likely he was fooled by them. We may expect to find his carts standing just as they were first loaded. We will probably see them today. Press on with all possible speed, without throwing away a drop of water!”
Just as the merchant had predicted, his caravan soon came upon the five hundred carts with the skeletons of men and oxen strewn in every direction. He ordered his men to arrange his carts in a fortified circle, to take care of the oxen, and to prepare an early supper for themselves. After the animals and men had all safely bedded down, the merchant and his foremen, swords in hand, stood guard all through the night.
At daybreak the merchant replaced his own weak carts for stronger ones and exchanged his own common goods for the most costly of the abandoned merchandise. When he arrived at his destination, he was able to barter his stock of wares at two or three times their value. He returned to his own city without losing a single man out of all his company.
Some Of The Jatakas
The story of the past is of two merchants who travel with caravans across a desert. One, beguiled by goblins, throws away his drinking water and is devoured with all his people and cattle. The other completes his journey safely, not putting faith in the goblins. The moral is that the followers of false teachers are led astray… Read Now
Vannupatha Jataka – Travelling across a desert, a caravan through mistake throws away its water. In their despair the leader has a well dug, till far down water is found, and perseverance saves the caravan from death… Read Now