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Once upon a time a man owned a strong, beautiful ox. He was so proud and so fond of his ox that he boasted about him all the time, telling everyone he met about the ox's strength.

One day the man walked into a village. He came upon a cluster of the village men sitting together talking. "Oh," cried the man, "you should see my ox work." He beamed with pride.The men went on talking, ignoring the stranger, paying no attention to his boasts.

The man moved closer. "Did you hear me?" he asked.

The men still paid no attention.

"I'll tell you what," he said at last, "I will pay a thousand pieces of silver if my ox cannot pull a train of 100 wagons."

The villagers laughed at the idea. "Fool," they said.

"I promise you. My ox can pull a train of 100 wagons. Try him," he bragged.

"Very well," one man said at last, winking at his friends. "Bring your ox here to the village. We will tie 100 wagons together. Then we shall watch your ox drag them along."

Quickly the man ran home to fetch his ox. Pulling the ox on a rope, he returned to the village. A big crowd had gathered to watch.

One hundred wagons were lashed together, and the man yoked his ox to the first one. "Ready," called the villagers. And they moved closer to watch.

The owner whipped his ox and cried, "Get on, you wretch! Pull now, rascal!"

The ox slowly turned his head, opened his eyes wide and stared at his owner. The man had never spoken to him in this way. The ox stood very still, amazed at his harsh tone of voice.

The owner whipped his ox again. "Move," I said! "Pull! Now," he cried. Still the ox, stunned by his owner's peculiar behavior, stood his ground and did not move.

The villagers began to laugh and whisper, and at last the poor man had to admit that his ox would not pull the hundred wagons. He reached into his pockets for all of his coins, and with these he paid his debt.

Then sadly he walked home.

In his house the man threw himself on his bed and began to weep. "Why?" he cried. "Why did my strong ox act that way? Many times he has pulled heavier loads with ease. Why did he shame me in front of all those villagers? Why would he do this to me? I can never return to the village, for I am a laughingstock."

At last he got out of bed and went about his chores. Later in the evening he walked out to the far field where his ox stood alone.

As he approached, the ox looked up from the grass and said to him, "Why did you whip me that way? You've never whipped me before. And why did you call me wretch and rascal? You've never called me names before. I thought you were my friend."

The man hung his head in shame. He loved his ox. "Forgive me," he said, "I will never treat you badly again. I will never whip you and will never call you names. I will never be cruel, if you will only forgive me."

The ox was quiet for a long while. At last he spoke again. "Very well, then," he said, "tomorrow I will go with you into the village, and I will draw 100 wagons for you. You have been a good and kind master to me for many years. I did not mean to shame you. I promise you, tomorrow you shall gain all you have lost."

The next morning the owner fed his ox a great feast. Then he hung a garland of fragrant flowers around the ox's neck. "Come, my friend," he said, and together the man and his ox returned to the village.

As they passed through the marketplace, the villagers pointed at them and laughed. "Have you come back to lose more of your money?" one man called.

"Flowers? Flowers for your lazy ox?" called another.

"Haven't you learned a lesson, friend?" a third man cried. "If I were you, I would be too ashamed to show my face."

But the man and his ox walked on, holding their heads high.

At last they came upon the group of villagers with whom the man had made his first bet. Again the villagers teased them.

"Do you want to lose more money?" they asked.

"Do you need to play the fool?"

"Shall we watch your lazy ox again?"

The man stood still, looking at each of the men. He bowed his head, turned and smiled at his ox. And then, very quietly, he said, "Today I will pay 2,000 silver pieces to you if my ox is not strong enough to pull 100 wagons."

"Very well," said the villagers. Once again they strung together 100 wagons in line. Once again the owner yoked his ox to the first wagon. Again a crowd gathered to watch the event.

Then everyone was silent and the owner turned to his ox and spoke in a gentle voice. "Good ox, how strong you are! What a fine and gentle creature you are! I admire you above all others. You are my friend."

Then he patted his ox's neck and stroked his side. He sniffed the sweet garland of flowers and sighed, "How very fine you are." At that moment the ox tensed his muscles and pulled with all his strength. The wagons began to move. On the ox walked, pulling the wagons behind him until, to the astonishment of the crowd, the last wagon stood where once the first had been.

The crowd began to cheer this tremendous feat of strength. They shouted their praise, and paid back the wager they had won the day before.

"Your ox is indeed the strongest ox we have ever seen," they said.

That evening the ox and the man returned happily to their home, and never again did the man boast or brag. For the rest of their days, they worked together in harmony.

The Jatakas, or birth stories, form one of the sacred Buddhist books and tell of the adventures of the Buddha in his former existences. In each of the Jatakas, the finest character is identified with the Buddha in some way. Buddhist teachers used these stories to illustrate the beliefs of their faith and to glorify Buddha.

No one is certain when the tales were first written down, but most scholars agree they originated as oral tales. Some of the Jatakas depend on their point for ideas peculiar to Buddhism, but many you may recognize as versions of age-old tales from other cultures. Jatakas also encourage us to be kind to animals and to learn from them.