The Bodhisatta was once an ox. His owner treated him like a member of his family and always fed him the best rice. As a result, the Bodhisatta grew up exceptionally strong and completely loyal. He appreciated being so well cared for and one day devised a plan to show his gratitude. He told his owner to find someone to wager one thousand coins that his ox could pull one hundred loaded carts. A wealthy merchant accepted the bet and the owner loaded the carts with sand and stones and harnessed up the Bodhisatta at the front. To begin, the owner pulled out his goad stick and shouted, “Go, you rascal! Pull them, you rascal!” But, upset by the name-calling, the Bodhisatta didn’t budge.
The owner, depressed over losing almost all his money, returned home and lay down in grief. The Bodhisatta told his owner the failure was his own fault. He had never broken anything, brushed up against anyone, or made a mess, but the owner insulted him. His lesson delivered, the Bodhisatta told him to repeat the bet for two thousand coins. This time to begin, the owner stroked the Bodhisatta’s back and called out, “Go, my fine fellow! Pull them, my fine fellow!” And the Bodhisatta walked until the one-hundredth cart arrived where the first cart had started. Not only did the owner receive his agreed-upon two thousand coins, but many impressed onlookers also gave him money.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
A group of six of the Buddha’s disciples had the bad habit of taunting and insulting other disciples when there was a point of disagreement. When the Buddha heard about this, he rebuked them and told this story to show that speaking with kindness was more beneficial than using harsh words.
The ox’s owner was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.