Tell Me a Story

The Lesson of the Patient Elephant (A Buddhist Tale)

Once upon a time, a man named Dojin lived in Savatthi, not far from the Buddhist monastery known as Jetavana. There, for some time, the Blessed One, Buddha, resided and watched over all.

Dojin was a patient, kind and generous man. He had worked hard all his life and had saved a great deal of money. With his money, he purchased homes and land. Dojin was generous to all who came to him for help, but he had some relatives who were especially greedy. They often asked Dojin for a handout, and he always gave freely. But they were wicked, and they never felt they had enough. And so they came up with a plan to steal Dojin's land.

They came to Dojin's house and cornered him.

"We are going to take you to court," they said.

"For what?" Dojin asked, surprised by their fury.

"You are a thief!" they cried. "We all will testify against you. We shall tell the judge you stole our lands -- unless you give them to us."

Dojin listened carefully to their threats, and he did not complain. He did not threaten to accuse them in return. He did not call them liars or cheats. Instead, he gave them his land.

When his daughter asked him why he had done this, he said he felt sorry for the wicked.

"Their hearts are a heavy weight to carry," he said.

But the neighbors noticed Dojin was giving away everything he owned, and they began to wonder why he didn't complain. They asked one another this question and many others.

"Why did he let nieces and nephews and distant cousins steal his belongings?" they asked. "Why didn't he fight for his rights?"

Rumors spread through Savatthi. In the assembly hall at Jetavana, the men discussed the matter and wondered how one man could have such patience and why he did not fight back.

The Blessed One overheard these discussions. He asked the men what they were talking about. When he heard the tale, he said, "This is not the first such tale I have heard," and he told the assembly another story.

The tale was of a time when Brahmadatta was king of Benares. In those days, the Blessed One was born in the Himalayas as an elephant. He grew up to be big and strong and roamed the hills and mountains. He slept in woods and caves, and he enjoyed the bounty of nature.

One day, he spotted a beautiful tree. He decided to stand beneath it to eat his food, but as he was eating, some monkeys clambered down from the tree and jumped on his back.

"You're so ugly!" they insulted him. "Look at your wrinkled skin and your silly tail."

They pulled the elephant's tail and yanked on his tusks. They did all they could to annoy him, but the Blessed One did nothing to retaliate. He was patient and kind and always showed mercy. He paid no attention to the monkeys, and they continued to tease, jeer, taunt and hurt him.

One day, the spirit that lived in the tree asked the elephant why he put up with such rudeness and cruelty.

The elephant explained: "If I cannot endure these monkeys without hurting them for being what they are, I cannot walk the noble path."

And then a day came when the Blessed One moved on and another elephant stood beneath the same tree. The wicked monkeys did not notice that he was a different elephant, and so they climbed on his back and pulled his tail and tusks. They taunted and teased him mercilessly, until at last the elephant grew furious. He threw them to the ground and stabbed them with his enormous tusks.

"The wicked relatives are like the monkeys," the Blessed One said. "They will be punished eventually."

One of the men was listening to this tale and seemed confused.

"If we do not correct a wrong," he asked, "isn't it true that evil will increase in this world?"

The Blessed One shook his head.

"Those who adopt the faith of selflessness will never do evil," he explained. "You will not return hate for hate, for it is true that you cannot destroy wrong by committing a wrong. Leave the wicked to their fate just as the good man called Dojin has done. He will live his whole life without a moment's regret. He will never know the bitter taste of guilt or fury, and he will always be glad."

"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.

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