sunset

Jataka 29

Kaṇha Jātaka

The Old Woman's Black Bull

as told by Eric Van Horn

originally translated by Robert Chalmers, B.A., of Oriel College, Oxford University

originally edited by Professor Edward Byles Cowell, Cambridge University


This story references the “double miracle,” also called the “twin miracle”:

“In Sravasti, standing on a jeweled walk, the Buddha proceeded to perform the Yamaka-pātihāriya (Twin Miracle), unattainable to any disciple and so called because it consisted in the appearance of phenomena of opposite character in pairs, e.g. emitting flames from the upper part of his body and a stream of water from the lower, and then alternatively. Flames of fire and streams of water also proceeded alternatively from the right side of his body and from the left.” - [Wikipedia]

The Buddha performed these miracles after six teachers of opposing Dharmas claimed to be able to perform miracles but they were unable to do so.

The real importance of the miracles, however, was that because of this incident the Buddha made a monastic rule that forbid his disciples from displaying any supernormal powers. This is why people like the Dalai Lama, who is supposed to be able to levitate, never reveal their abilities. Even mind reading, which is probably the most common supernormal power, cannot be displayed without breaking the monastic code.


With heavy loads.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana, about the Double Miracle, which, together with the Descent from Heaven, will be related in the Thirteenth Book, in the Sarabhamiga Jātaka (Jātaka 483).

After he performed the Double Miracle and spent some time in heaven, the all-knowing Buddha descended into the city of Saṁkassa on the day of the Great Pavāraṇā Festival (this happens just after the annual rains retreat) and then went to Jetavana with a large following.

Gathering together in the Dharma Hall, the monks sat praising the virtues of the Master, saying, “Sirs, the Buddha is without peer. No one can surpass the Buddha. The Six teachers, though they often said that they, and they only, could perform miracles, were not able to produce a single one. Oh! How peerless is the Master!”

The Buddha entered the Dharma Hall and asked them what they were discussing. They told the Master that they were talking about his own virtues. “Monks,” the Master said, “who shall bear the yoke borne by me? Even in bygone days, when I came to life as an animal, I was unsurpassed.” And, so saying, he told this story of the past.


Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as a bull. When he was still a young calf, his owners, who had been living with an old woman, gave him to her as payment for their lodging. She raised him like her own child, feeding him on rice pudding and fine rice and on other good food. He became known as “Granny’s Blackie.” As he was growing up, he used to roam about with the other cattle of the village, and he was as black as coal. The village children used to catch hold of his horns and ears and dewlaps (a fold of loose skin hanging from the neck) and go for a ride, or they would hold on to his tail and ride on his back.

One day he thought to himself, “My mother is very poor. She has painstakingly raised me as if I were her own child. What if I were to earn some money to ease her hardship?” After that he was always looking out for a way to earn some money.

One day a young merchant at the head of a caravan came with 500 wagons to a ford in the river. But the ford was so rough that his oxen could not pull the wagons across. Even when he took out all 500 pairs of oxen and yoked them together to form one team, they could not get a single cart across the river.

The Bodhisatta was with the other cattle of the village close by that ford. The young merchant, being a judge of cattle, looked over the herd to see if there was a thoroughbred bull who could pull the wagons across. When he saw the Bodhisatta, he felt sure he would do. To find out who owned the Bodhisatta he said to the herdsmen, “Who owns this animal? If I could use him to get my wagons across, I would pay for his services.” They said, “Take him and harness him, then, for he does not have a master.”

But when the young merchant slipped a rope through the Bodhisatta’s nose and tried to lead him off, the bull would not budge. For, we are told, the Bodhisatta would not go until his fee was arranged. Understanding his meaning, the merchant said, “Master, if you will pull these 500 wagons across, I will pay you two coins per cart, or a 1,000 coins in all.”

The Bodhisatta then proceeded to help. Away he went, and the men harnessed him to the carts. He dragged the first cart with a single pull and landed it high and dry. And he continued until he had hauled over the whole string of wagons.

The young merchant tied a bundle containing 500 coins around the Bodhisatta’s neck, or at the rate of only one coin for each cart. The Bodhisatta thought to himself, “This fellow is not paying what we agreed! I won’t let him move on!” So he stood across the path of the first wagon and blocked the way. And as much as they tried, they could not get him out of the way. “I suppose he knows that I did not pay him properly,” the merchant thought. So he put 1,000 coins in a bundle and tied it around the Bodhisatta’s neck, saying, “Here’s your pay for pulling the wagons across.” And away went the Bodhisatta with the 1,000 coins to his “mother.”

Don’t Try to Cheat This Bull!

Figure: Don’t Try to Cheat This Bull!

“What’s that around Blackie’s neck?” cried the children of the village, running up to him. But the Bodhisatta charged at them and made them run off so that he could reach his “mother” all right. When he got there, he was very tired. His eyes were bloodshot from dragging the 500 wagons over the river. The pious woman, finding 1,000 coins around his neck, cried out, “Where did you get this, my child?” The herdsmen told her what had happened, and she exclaimed, “Have I ever said that I want to make money from you, my child? Why did you go through all this effort?” She washed the Bodhisatta with warm water and rubbed him all over with oil. She gave him water to drink and fed him fine food. And when her life ended, she passed away, with the Bodhisatta, to fare according to her karma.


When he ended this lesson to show that the Buddha was unmatched in the past as then, he showed the connection by uttering this stanza:

With heavy loads to carry, with bad roads,

They harness “Blackie.” He soon pulls the load.

After his lesson to show that only “Blackie” could pull the wagons, he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “Uppalavaṇṇā was the old woman of those days, and I myself ‘Granny’s Blackie.’” (Uppalavaṇṇā was one of the two chief nuns. The other was Khema.)