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 often
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
rongs 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. O 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 upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the
Bodhisatta 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 tortuous woods in the valleys. Once as he
went he saw a pleasant tree, and took his food, standing under
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
Bodhisatta, 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 upon the
tree-trunk, addressed the elephant saying, "My lord elephant, why
dost thou put up with the impudence of these bad monkeys?" And he
asked the question in a couplet as follows:
"Why dost thou patiently endure each freak
These mischievous and selfish monkeys wreak?"
The Bodhisatta, 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 Bodhisatta went elsewhither, and another
elephant, a savage beast, came and stood in his place. The wicked
monkeys thinking him to be like the old one, climbed upon bis
back and did as before. The rogue elephant seized the monkeys
with his trunk, threw them upon 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 Tathagata himself in a former incarnation."
After this discourse one of the brethren rose and asked leave to
propose a question and when 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: Ye who have left the
world and have adopted this glorious faith of putting aside
selfishness, ye shall not do evil for evil nor return hate for
hate. Nor do ye think that ye 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 Tathagata
repeated these stanzas:
"Who harmeth him that doth no harm
And striketh him that striketh not,
Shall gravest punishment incur
The which his wickedness begot,--
"Some of the greatest ills in life
Either a loathsome dread disease,
Or dread 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."