The Bodhisatta was once an ox. His owner was a poor, elderly woman who treated him like her child and always fed him the best rice. The Bodhisatta wanted to earn some money to help her, so he made it a habit to roam about looking for work. One day a caravan with five hundred oxcarts passed near the Bodhisatta’s town, and the river ford was so rough the oxen could not pull the carts through. The merchant in charge hooked all five hundred oxen up into one team, but still they could not get even a single cart across the river. The merchant went out looking for more oxen, and when he saw the Bodhisatta he was confident he could pull the carts. He sought out the Bodhisatta’s owner to get permission, but the herdsmen there told him she lived far away and he should just go ahead.
The merchant put his rope through the Bodhisatta’s nose to take him to the river, but he wouldn’t budge. The merchant understood the message and promised to pay two coins per cart that he pulled across, and so off they went. The Bodhisatta was so strong he got every cart across the river. The task completed, the merchant tied a sack of five hundred coins around the Bodhisatta’s neck and prepared to set off. But the Bodhisatta stood blocking the road, and the entire caravan team could not move him out of the way. So the merchant added the additional five hundred coins he had promised, and the Bodhisatta walked home, where his owner, having been told by the herdsmen what the Bodhisatta had done, fed him, bathed him, and rubbed him with oil.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing how he had performed miracles, unlike other teachers who promised miracles but could not actually do them, he told them this story so they knew that in the past, just as today, he was without peer.
The elderly woman was an earlier birth of Uppalavanna, one of the Buddha’s top female disciples.