The Panicked Tusker | The Story of Lord Gautama Buddha

Sri Lanka is a small country, yet very fortunate. You find the most valuable things of the world within this country. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree is situated in the upper compound of the sacred city of Anuradhapura. The greatest number of sacred Relics are placed at the Ruwanweliseya stupa, which is again situated in Anuradhapura. The sacred Tooth Relic is placed in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Moreover, the purest Dhamma remains unchanged in our country. Further, on full moon days, many religious activities take place in our country. Among those, conducting of famous processions is well known in many parts of the world. And most people like to watch the famous Esala Perahara (A Buddha relic procession held in between July-August Months) in Kandy.

All the family members of Bimsara visited their aunt in Kandy for the Esala (July) full moon day. Everyday there was something to look forward to, and the kids were very happy. Vishaka and Bimsara made a flower tray of jasmine every morning. There were so many jasmine flower shrubs at their aunt’s house. When all entered the Temple of the Tooth-Relic with the flowers, everyone felt so happy. The entire temple was filled with Jasmine fragrance.

To their good fortune, everyone got a chance to go inside the sacred room where the golden casket which houses the sacred Tooth Relic is placed. The monk who was conducting the religious offerings allowed everyone to offer a handful of Jasmine flowers to the sacred Tooth Relic.Thereafter, everyone worshipped the Triple Gem with much joy. Vishaka and Bimasara were impatient to see the procession. The elephants were Bimsara’s favorite. They were dressed in wonderful finery and lights.Bimsara joined his sister to count the elephants in the procession. It was amazing to see the huge tuskers parading quietly and calmly. The smaller elephants, of course, couldn’t stop themselves from moving according to the beautiful drum beats. Everyone was glued to the beautiful dancing and drumbeats. The sound of the cracking whips and the rotating fireballs added extra splendor to the breathtaking Kandy Esala procession. Although the procession had many dancers from all over the country, and their dancing was fascinating, the children found the tuskers and elephants to be the most enthralling.

“Father, do these elephants get panicked?”

“Yes son, they could go out of control. But that happens very rarely.It happens due to the mistakes of mahouts. When the elephants get out of control the first thing it does is, kill its mahout.”

“Who is a mahout, father?”

“Can you see the person who walks just by the side of the elephant with an elephant hook in his hand? That’s the mahout. He is the one who takes care of the elephants. He bathes the elephant, feeds it and controls the elephant. Some elephants like their mahouts very much. Everything is under the control of the mahout.”

“Father, could a mahout make an elephant panic purposely?”

“Why not! They could. Why, don’t you remember the story of how the tusker Nalagiri was made angry and sent towards the Buddha?”

“Oh…please father, tell us more about Nalagiri the tusker”, Vishaka pleaded for more.

“Ok children….. That was done by a person called Devadatta. He was the elder brother of Princess Yasodhara. From early childhood, Devadatta was a cruel person. He was a person who holds resentment in the mind until he gets an opportunity to take revenge.”

“Are you telling how Devadatta tried to fight with Prince Siddhartha when they were both small?” mother joined the conversation as well.

“Yes, one day, when Prince Siddhartha was very young, a white swan fell in front of him. Prince Siddhartha ran towards the Swan and saw that an arrow had hit the swan, and it was bleeding. The swan was crying in pain. Prince Siddhartha felt very sad. He immediately pulled the arrow out and treated the wound. Then he fed some milk to the poor creature. Gradually, the swan recovered. Devadatta came to Prince Siddhartha that evening and demanded the swan. Prince Siddhartha said;

“I am the one who rescued the swan. What right do you have to demand this swan from me?”

Devadatta got annoyed with the reply he received. He roared in anger. “I am the one who shot this animal. It is because of that you found this animal. Hence, I have the right to own this one.”

Prince Siddhartha questioned. “How could that be? You never shot this animal for me to get it. You shot this animal to kill it. Hence, you have no right to ask for this animal. This innocent swan came and fell right in front of me. It was I who pulled the arrow from its body, treated the wound and saved its life.”

Then Devadatta went in front of the Judiciary council. He complained against Prince Siddhartha. The Judiciary council summoned Prince Siddhartha and questioned him. Little Prince Siddhartha explained the value of a life to the council brilliantly.

“This innocent bird was flying in the sky freely. If a child of yours was hit by a person with an intention to kill the child, would you be happy to hand over the child to the person who did the damage? With a lot of effort, I saved the life of this swan. I love this swan a lot. I fed it milk and treated this animal. Does this council tell me to hand over this swan to Devadatta who tried to kill it? Do you think Devadatta, who did not permit this animal to fly on its own freely, is the rightful owner of this innocent animal?”

The Judiciary council was amazed at the kindness shown by little Prince Siddhartha. Further, they were very happy with the way that little Prince Siddhartha reasoned his facts in front of the council. Prince Siddhartha won and Devadatta lost the battle. That was the day that a deep hatred crept into Devadatta’s mind and he wanted to take revenge.

Devadatta also became a disciple in the Buddhist order at a time when a group of Princes like Ananda and Nanda were ordained. Devadatta was a clever person. He achieved a concentration of mind very soon. Further, he developed the ability to perform magical acts. Gradually, his idea of taking revenge started to show its ugly head. Finally, it took him over. Devadatta wanted to kill the Buddha. He foolishly believed that once the Buddha was no more, he could take the Buddha’s place in the Buddhist order.”

“Father, why was such a cruel person like Devadatta admitted to Buddhist order?”

“That is the compassion of the Buddha. Knowing Devadatta’s hatred, the Buddha tried to save him from his ill will, by making him a disciple. But, because of the endless pride, Devadatta lost all the opportunities to be good. He was very smart in setting up shrewd plans. First, he managed to win the heart of state rulers. Prince Ajasath was the son of King Bimbisara. One day Devadatta performed a magical feat and won the heart of Prince Ajasath.”

“Father, what did he do?”

“One day, when Prince Ajasath was in his palace, a baby wrapped with snakes appeared on his lap. The terrified Prince shrieked with horror.Then the baby became a boy and stood in front of Prince Ajasath. In his fright the prince worshiped the boy and asked: “ Who are you?” Then the boy disappeared and Devadatta surfaced in his yellow robes. The Prince Ajasath worshiped Devadatta with reverence, saying: “ Was it you who did this magic?’ From that day onwards, Prince Ajasath fell into the wicked company of Devadatta.

Following that incident, Prince Ajasath followed Devadatta’s advice like a blind man following his guide dog. One day, Devadatta addressed Prince Ajasath “My dear Prince, I shall kill the Buddha and be the leader of the kingdom of Buddha. And, you kill your father and become the ruler of the kingdom of Magadha. Then we both will become kings.”

So my children, the very moment Devadatta thought this wicked advice, he lost all his magical powers. He became an ordinary person. From then onwards, his sole attention was paid to how he could kill the Buddha. Prince Ajasath’s commands were in accordance with Devadatta’s wishes.

One day, Devadatta thought; ‘Yes…, the most dangerous elephant in the royal herd of elephants is Nalagiri. If this elephant Nalagiri is made to drink toddy, made angry by stabbing with hooks and then directed towards the Buddha, without much problem my wish will be fulfilled.’

Immediately, Devadatta got into action. He bribed the mahouts and got them to feed large amounts of toddy to Nalagiri until it became dangerously drunk. Then the drunken elephant was stabbed with hooks to make it extremely angry and violent. Finally, the angry, violent, drunken elephant was directed to the street where the Buddha was walking. When the elephant ran, it felt as if the earth was shaking. It appeared as if the earth was rolling. When it trumpeted, people became terrified. Nalagiri smashed everything that was on its way. Trees were pulled out and were thrown far away. Roofs and houses were knocked down like toys. People ran and hid in safe places. The Buddha was coming on the other side of the street for alms. Disciple Ananda was following the Buddha. The town was struck with horror, all men, women, big and small screamed together in one voice. Nalagiri was dashing violently towards the Buddha. The Buddha was coming calmly towards Nalagiri.

Disciple Ananda became so disturbed and worried and thought; ‘Oh… That Nalagiri is extremely panicked and running towards us. It is coming directly to the Buddha. No…no I cannot let this happen. I could never allow anyone to harm the Buddha in front of me. Let the elephant grab me and dash me to the ground’ and quickly moved in front of the Buddha determined to face the elephant.

The Buddha swiftly said ‘Ananda! Get behind me quickly. No one but I should go right in front of that elephant.’ The Buddha moved disciple Ananda behind him and walked towards Nalagiri, who was trumpeting angrily. The Buddha looked at the steaming, drunken elephant with compassion and said; “Hey….! Elephant king, you must never come to clash with a king like Supreme Buddha. If you try to fight with a Supreme Buddha, you may have to suffer for a long time. Nalagiri! have faith and love towards the Supreme Buddha. That may help you to be born in heaven.”

“Astonishingly, the elephant understood what the Buddha said.Immediately the elephant became sober and lost its drunkenness. It stood motionless for a while, looking at the ever Compassionate Buddha. Then the elephant brought down its trunk and knelt down in front of the Buddha. Just like a puppy moving on its knees, this elephant, which was extremely violent a moment ago, slowly moved towards the Buddha on its knees. Finally, it slowly lowered its trunk onto the legs of the Supreme Buddha, our Teacher. The Buddha kept His hand on the front of the elephant’s trunk with such kindness, and advised “Elephant king….!, Never should you drink toddy hereafter, nor get angry. Behave like a decent and obedient child.”

The elephant stood up and trumpeted. Then it walked backward, turned and slowly went to the elephant stall at the royal palace. From that day onwards, Nalagiri was found to be the most obedient elephant in the entire royal herd of elephants.

You may wonder whether it is possible to talk with animals. Well, you know cats and dogs understand what we say to a certain limit. And also parrots can be trained to say a few words. Therefore, it is not a miracle that Nalagiri understood what the Buddha said. The miracle is that Nalagiri became an obedient elephant from that day onwards. It never harmed anyone after that. The Buddha has amazing abilities. This is one good example, for us to think about the greatness of our Peerless teacher, the Supreme Buddha, and be happy to be His lay disciples.”