Today’s story is a retelling of one of the many ancient Jataka Tales of Buddhist literature, dating back to the 4th century.
FINDING A NEW SPRING
A tale of perseverance.
In a far off land of a long ago past, there lived a prosperous Tradesman who traveled from country to country to sell his goods. After trading repeatedly in the same countries year after year, he decided it was time to lead his caravan to a foreign country yet unknown to him.
Thus, he gathered his men to prepare for the journey.
The men were strong and toughened by years of driving powerful teams of oxen which pulled numerous heavily- laden carts over all manner of rough terrain.
They were accustomed to moving all day, stopping only to cook their meals over fires and camping for the night.
They slept on the bare ground, and bathed in the cold water of streams or rivers they came across.
So, the journey began and in this way progressed, until one day they came to the edge of a vast formidable desert.
Here the caravan came to a sudden halt.
The desert stretched to the horizon before them in tiny grains of sand as far as their eyes could see.
The sun beat down with a ferocity that heated the sand to such degree that it became as hot as a bed of coals and would scorch the feet of any who tried to walk on it, be they hooved or human.
Creatures living on its barren landscape knew to only come out at night when the temperatures dropped dramatically. By day, most of these would bury themselves deep beneath the upper crust of sand, where it remained cool.
Not familiar with traveling over such terrain, the Tradesman hired a guide. This man knew how to follow the stars and told the tradesman he could lead them to make the crossing in three days.
And so the Caravan began its dangerous journey across the seemingly endless desert.
Traveling only by dark when the sand was cool enough to walk on and camping by day, beneath large awnings the men strung between the carts to provide shade for themselves and the oxen.
Two long, arduous, days which felt like weeks of travel passed in this way. On what was meant to be the final night of their crossing they ate the last of their food and drank what remained of the water in the wooden barrels..
As the blinding glare of the sand shifted from white to gold, then orange, pink and purple in the light of the setting sun, the men placed heavy yokes on the weary oxen and started out once more.
All were relieved with thoughts of reaching the end of the desert the next day.
Late in the night as the stars of the milky way shone crystal clear in the vast, blue-black sky, the guide who led the way in the first cart, fell into a deep sleep.
The oxen continued on, pulling the heavy carts across the dark desert throughout the long night. Now unguided, the reins fallen slack in the hands of the sleeping driver, they gradually turned to the side, eventually moving in a large, wide, circle.
When the guide finally awoke, it was nearly morning. He looked up at what stars were still to be seen in the sky and saw with horror that the caravan had ended up again where they had begun the day before!
The rest of the men soon also woke and with great dismay realized what had happened. As the sun began to rise they strung the awnings up once more and lifted the yokes from the oxen.
There was no water left to drink or cook the one small sack of rice they had left to eat. Most of the firewood had been thrown off the carts to lighten the load of the straining oxen, who now also had no water to quench their thirst.
As the sun beat down the men lost heart and cried out, bemoaning their plight.
“What will we do?!” they cried “ The oxen cannot go on without food and water! We will all die of thirst and hunger in this dreadful desert! What will become of our families if we do not return? ”.
Fear took hold of their hearts, which soon gave way to blame. They cursed the guide who had fallen asleep and then the Tradesman, for attempting to cross the desert in the first place.
The more they despaired, the more they blamed. Giving in to despair they sank, drained and hopeless, to the ground.
Looking upon his caravan, the Tradesman thought to himself:
“I cannot lose courage before my men now, or their faith in me will be gone. If I despair with them, my leadership will be meaningless. I am responsible for their lives –All will be lost if I give up! I must think of something to save them.”
The Tradesman drew on his inner strength for courage and made a plan. He covered his feet with leather and wrapped lengths of cloth over his head and around his body. Leaving the men and oxen in the shade of the awnings he braved the desert on foot, determined to find water.
On and on he walked, his eyes searching the sand in the glaring sun for any sign of vegetation. Just as he thought he could go no further he saw a small tuft of grass, partially brown where it had been burnt by the heat but with some green still left at its base.
“There must be water somewhere below or the grass would not have grown here!!” he cried out in joy, and made his way back in haste to the caravan.
“Bring spades and a hammer!” he shouted to the men.
Several of them jumped up, covered their feet and bodies as he had, and ran to the place where the grass grew.
Now filled with hope, they began to dig and dig until their spades hit a large rock and they could dig no further. The Tradesman jumped into the hole and put his ear to the rock. “I can hear water running under this stone!” he called out “We must not give up!”
A strong, young lad was lowered down into the hole with a hammer.
“Hit the stone with all of your might!” the tradesman called down “Do not give up or we will all be lost!”
Standing up straight, the boy filled his heart and body with might and courage. Raising the hammer high above his head he brought it down as hard as he could. The stone did not crack.
“We must be saved!” he thought “I must try again!” and so he did, and then a third time, bringing the hammer down with such determined force that the rock split in two.
The boy was scarcely lifted out as water gushed out from between the crack. In no time the deep hole was filled to the top with clear, fresh water.
The rest of the men by now had heard the commotion and brought the caravan to the well.
With shouts of joy they cheered and thanked their leader for his perseverance, then drank and bathed and watered the oxen.
As the sun began to sink toward the horizon they broke up the extra yokes and built a fire with them, over which the remaining bag of rice was cooked. After eating, they continued on their way with renewed hope and vitality.
By morning, they reached the edge of the desert. Ahead of them lay the city where they sold their goods with much success over the next several days.
Ready to leave once more, their journey back across the desert was smooth and swift, and all the travelers were grateful to once again return to their homes.
‘Finding a New Spring’ is a story of perseverance and fortitude.
At the crucial moment when the lives of his men were at stake, the Tradesman overcame the threatening circumstances with faith and determination — and all survived.
In life we are often faced with obstacles that seem insurmountable. Most likely we will not find ourselves under the scorching heat of a desert sun but in the setting of our normal daily lives, in the heat of another moment.
At a point when all seems lost, it is good to remember that steady, righteous thoughts may well reveal a hidden spring ahead.