The Bull Called Tit-for-Tat – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[All Deserve Respect]
[Sārambha-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while at Sāvatthi about
wrongful speech.
A certain monk used to abuse others with rough speech.
The Buddha asked this monk, “Do you use rough words?”
The monk answered him, “Yes, I do.” The Buddha then said,
“Oh my dear, it is not good to use rough words. Rough
words are not liked even by animals. This was so even in the
past.” And the Buddha then told the story of ‘The Bull
Called Delightful,’ the Nandivisāla-Jātaka [No. 28], with the
difference that the story here was about a bull named ‘Tit-
for-Tat’ [Sārambha].
Once upon a time, in the country of Gandhāra in
northern India, there was a city called Takkasilā. In that city
the Enlightenment Being was born as a certain calf. Since he
was well bred for strength, he was bought by a high-class
rich man. He became very fond of the gentle animal, and
called him ‘Tit-for-Tat’ [Sārambha]. He took good care of
him and fed him only the best.
When Tit-for-Tat grew up into a big fine strong bull, he
thought, “I was brought up by this generous man. He gave
me such good food and constant care, even though
sometimes there were difficulties. Now I am a big grown up
bull and there is no other bull who can pull as heavy a load as
I can. Therefore, I would like to use my strength to give
something in return to my master.”
So he said to the man, “Sir, please find some wealthy
merchant who is proud of having many strong bulls.
Challenge him by saying that your bull can pull one hundred
heavily loaded bullock carts.”
Following his advice, the high-class rich man went to
such a merchant and struck up a conversation. After a while,
he brought up the idea of who had the strongest bull in the
city.
The merchant said, “Many have bulls, but no one has
any as strong as mine.” The rich man said, “Sir, I have a bull
who can pull one hundred heavily loaded bullock carts.” “No,
friend, how can there be such a bull? That is unbelievable!”
said the merchant. The other replied, “I do have such a bull,
and I am willing to make a bet.”
The merchant said, “I will bet a thousand gold coins
that your bull cannot pull a hundred loaded bullock carts.” So
the bet was made and they agreed on a date and time for the
challenge.
The merchant attached together one hundred big
bullock carts. He filled them with sand and gravel to make
them very heavy.
The high-class rich man fed the finest rice to the bull
called Tit-for-Tat. He bathed him and decorated him and
hung a beautiful garland of flowers around his neck.
Then he harnessed him to the first cart and climbed up
onto it. Being so high-class, he could not resist the urge to
make himself seem very important. So he cracked a whip in
the air, and yelled at the faithful bull, “Pull, you dumb
animal! I command you to pull, you big dummy!”
The bull called Tit-for-Tat thought, “This challenge was
my idea! I have never done anything bad to my master, and
yet he insults me with such hard and harsh words!” So he
remained in his place and refused to pull the carts.
The merchant laughed and demanded his winnings
from the bet. The high-class rich man had to pay him the one
thousand gold coins. He returned home and sat down,
saddened by his lost bet, and embarrassed by the blow to his
pride.
The bull called Tit-for-Tat grazed peacefully on his way
home. When he arrived, he saw his master sadly lying on his
side. He asked, “Sir, why are you lying there like that? Are
you sleeping? You look sad.” The man said, “I lost a
thousand gold coins because of you. With such a loss, how
could I sleep?”
The bull replied, “Sir, you called me ‘dummy’. You
even cracked a whip in the air over my head. In all my life,
did I ever break anything, step on anything, make a mess in
the wrong place, or behave like a ‘dummy’ in any way?” He
answered, “No, my pet.”
The bull called Tit-for-Tat said, “Then sir, why did you
call me ‘dumb animal’, and insult me even in the presence of
others? The fault is yours. I have done nothing wrong. But
since I feel sorry for you, go again to the merchant and make
the same bet for two thousand gold coins. And remember to
use only the respectful words I deserve so well.”
Then the high-class rich man went back to the merchant
and made the bet for two thousand gold coins. The merchant
thought it would be easy money. Again he set up the one
hundred heavily loaded bullock carts. Again the rich man fed
and bathed the bull, and hung a garland of flowers around his
neck.
When all was ready, the rich man touched Tit-for-Tat’s
forehead with a lotus blossom, having given up the whip.
Thinking of him as fondly as if he were his own child, he
said, “My son, please do me the honor of pulling these one
hundred bullock carts.”
Lo and behold, the wonderful bull pulled with all his
might and dragged the heavy carts, until the last one stood in
the place of the first.
The merchant, with his mouth hanging open in
disbelief, had to pay the two thousand gold coins. The
onlookers were so impressed that they honored the bull called
Tit-for-Tat with gifts. But even more important to the high-
class rich man than his winnings, was his valuable lesson in
humility and respect.
When the Buddha ended this story, he added:
“The high-class rich man at that time is today Ānanda.
The Brahmin’s wife became Uppalava ā. And the bull Tit-
for-Tat was I who have become the Buddha.”
The moral: “Harsh words bring no reward. Respectful words
bring honor to all.”