The Patient Elephant

WHILE the Blessed One was residing in the Jetavana, there was a householder living in Savatthi known to all his neighbors as patient and kind, but his relatives were wicked and contrived a plot to rob him. One day they came to the householder and by worrying him with all kinds of threats took away a goodly portion of his property. He did not go to court, nor did he complain, but tolerated with great forbearance the wrongs he suffered. The neighbors wondered and began to talk about it, and rumors of the affair reached the ears of the brethren in Jetavana. While the brethren discussed the occurrence in the assembly hall, the Blessed One entered and asked “What was the topic of your conversation?” And they told him.

Said the Blessed One: “The time will come when the wicked relatives will find their punishment. brethren, this is not the first time that this occurrence took place; it has happened before,” and he told them a world-old tale: Once on a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisattva was born in the Himalaya region as an elephant. He grew up strong and big, and ranged the hills and mountains, the peaks and caves of the torturous woods in the valleys. Once as he went he saw a pleasant tree, and took his food, standing under it. Then some impertinent monkeys came down out of the tree, and jumping on the elephant's back, insulted and tormented him greatly; they took hold of his tusks, pulled his tail and disported themselves, thereby causing him much annoyance. The Bodhisattva, being full of patience, kindliness and mercy, took no notice at all of their misconduct which the monkeys repeated again and again.

“One day the spirit that lived in the tree, standing on the tree-trunk, addressed the elephant saying, ‘My lord elephant, why do you put up with the impudence of these bad monkeys?' And he asked the question in a couplet as follows:

“‘Why do you patiently endure each freak
These mischievous and selfish monkeys wreak?'

“The Bodhisattva, on hearing this, replied, “If, tree sprite, I cannot endure these monkeys' ill treatment without abusing their birth, lineage and persons, how can I walk in the eightfold noble path? But these monkeys will do the same to others thinking them to be like me. If they do it to any rogue elephant, he will punish them indeed, and I shall be delivered both from their annoyance and the guilt of having done harm to others.” Saying this he repeated another stanza:

“If they will treat another one like me,
He will destroy them; and I shall be free.”

A few days after, the Bodhisattva went elsewhere, and another elephant, a savage beast, came and stood in his place. The wicked monkeys thinking him to be like the old one, climbed on his back and did as before. The rogue elephant seized the monkeys with his trunk, threw them on the ground, gored them with his tusk and trampled them to mincemeat under his feet.”

When the Master had ended this teaching, he declared the truths, and identified the births, saying: “At that time the mischievous monkeys were the wicked relatives of the good man, the rogue elephant was the one who will punish them, but the virtuous noble elephant was the Tathagatha himself in a former incarnation.”

After this discourse one of the brethren rose and asked leave to propose a question and when the permission was granted he said: “I have heard the doctrine that wrong should be met with wrong and the evil doer should be checked by being made to suffer, for if this were not done evil would increase and good would disappear. What shall we do?” Said the Blessed One: “Nay, I will tell you You who have left the world and have adopted this glorious faith of putting aside selfishness, you shall not do evil for evil nor return hate for hate. Neither think that you can destroy wrong by retaliating evil for evil and thus increasing wrong. Leave the wicked to their fate and their evil deeds will sooner or later in one way or another bring on their own punishment.” And the Tathagatha repeated these stanzas:

“Who harms the man who does no harm,
Or strikes at him who strikes him not,
Shall soon some punishment incur
Which his own wickedness begot,-
“One of the gravest ills in life,
Either a loathsome dread disease,
Or sad old age, or loss of mind,
Or wretched pain without surcease,
“Or conflagration, loss of wealth;
Or of his nearest kin he shall
See some one die that's dear to him,
And then he'll be reborn in hell.”

The author of this story is unknown and greatly appreciated!