Escaping the Drunken Elephant and Devadatta

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

Having instructed his mother in heaven with all the angel host, and once more returned to men, he went about converting those capable of it. Gutika, Gîvaka, Sula, and Kûrna, the noble’s son Anga and the son of the fearless king Abhaya Nyagrodha and the rest; Srîkutaka, Upâli the Nirgrantha; all these were thoroughly converted. So also the king of Gandhâra, whose name was Fo-kia-lo; he, having heard the profound and excellent law, left his country and became a recluse. So also the demons Himapati and Vâtagiri, on the mountain Vibhâra, were subdued and converted. The Brahmakârin Prayantika, on the mountain Vagana, by the subtle meaning of half a gâtha, he convinced and caused to rejoice in faith; the village of Dânamati had one Kûtadanta, the head of the twice-born Brahmans; at this time he was sacrificing countless victims; Tathâgata by means converted him, and caused him to enter the true path. On Mount Bhatika a heavenly being of eminent distinction, whose name was Pañkasikha, receiving the law, attained Dhyâna; in the village of Vainushta, he converted the mother of the celebrated Nanda. In the town of Añkavari, he subdued the powerful mahâbâla spirit; Bhanabhadra, Sronadanta, the malevolent and powerful Nâgas, the king of the country and his harem, received together the true law, as he opened to them the gate of immortality. In the celebrated Viggi village, Kina and Sila, earnestly seeking to be born in heaven, he converted and made to enter the right path. The Angulimâla, in that village of Sumu, through the exhibition of his divine power, he converted and subdued; there was that noble’s son, Purigîvana, rich in wealth and stores as Punavatî, directly he was brought to Buddha, accepting the doctrine, he became vastly liberal. So in that village of Padatti he converted the celebrated Patali, and also Patala, brothers, and both demons. In Bhidhavali there were two Brahmans, one called Great-age, the other Brahma-age. These by the power of a discourse he subdued, and caused them to attain knowledge of the true law; when he came to Vaisâlî, he converted all the Raksha demons, and the lion of the Likkhavis, and all the Likkhavis, Saka the Nirgrantha, all these he caused to attain the true law. Hama kinkhava had a demon Potala, and another Potalaka, these he converted. Again he came to Mount Ala, to convert the demon Alava, and a second called Kumâra, and a third Asidaka; then going back to Mount Gaga he converted the demon Kañgana, and Kamo the Yaksha, with the sister and son. Then coming to Benares, he converted the celebrated Katyâyana; then afterwards going, by his miraculous power, to Sruvala, he converted the merchants Davakin and Nikin, and received their sandalwood hall, exhaling its fragrant odors till now. Going then to Mahîvatî, he converted the Rishi Kapila, and the Muni remained with him; his foot stepping on the stone, the thousand-spoked twin-wheels appeared, which never could be erased.

Then he came to the place Po-lo-na, where he converted the demon Po-lo-na; coming to the country of Mathurâ, he converted the demon Godama. In the Thurakusati he also converted Pindapâla; coming to the village of Vairañga, he converted the Brahman; in the village of Kalamasa, he converted Savasasin, and also that celebrated Agirivasa. Once more returning to the Srâvastî country, he converted the Gautamas Gâtisruna and Dakâtili; returning to the Kosala country, he converted the leaders of the heretics Vakrapali and all the Brahmakârins. Coming to Satavaka, in the forest retreat, he converted the heretical Rishis, and constrained them to enter the path of the Buddha Rishi. Coming to the country of Ayodhyâ, he converted the demon Nâgas; coming to the country of Kimbila, he converted the two Nâgarâgas; one called Kimbila, the other called Kâlaka. Again coming to the Vaggi country, he converted the Yaksha demon, whose name was Pisha, the father and mother of Nâgara, and the great noble also, he caused to believe gladly in the true law. Coming to the Kausârubî country, he converted Goshira, and the two Upasikâs, Vaguttarâ and her companion Uvari; and besides these, many others, one after the other. Coming to the country of Gandhâra he converted the Nâga Apalâla; thus in due order all these air-going, water-loving natures he completely converted and saved, as the sun when he shines upon some dark and sombre cave. At this time Devadatta, seeing the remarkable excellences of Buddha, conceived in his heart a jealous hatred; losing all power of thoughtful abstraction he ever plotted wicked schemes, to put a stop to the spread of the true law; ascending the Gridhrakûta mount he rolled down a stone to hit Buddha; the stone divided into two parts, each part passing on either side of him. Again, on the royal highway he loosed a drunken, vicious elephant. With his raised trunk trumpeting as thunder he ran, his maddened breath raising a cloud around him, his wild pace like the rushing wind, to be avoided more than the fierce tempest; his trunk and tusks and tail and feet, when touched only, brought instant death. Thus he ran through the streets and ways of Râgagriha, madly wounding and killing men; their corpses lay across the road, their brains and blood scattered afar. Then all the men and women filled with fear, remained indoors; throughout the city there was universal terror, only piteous shrieks and cries were heard; beyond the city men were running fast, hiding themselves in holes and dens. Tathâgata, with five hundred followers, at this time came towards the city; from tops of gates and every window, men, fearing for Buddha, begged him not to advance; Tathâgata, his heart composed and quiet, with perfect self-possession, thinking only on the sorrow caused by hate, his loving heart desiring to appease it, followed by guardian angel-nâgas, slowly approached the maddened elephant. The Bhikshus all deserted him, Ânanda only remained by his side; joined by every tie of duty, his steadfast nature did not shake or quail. The drunken elephant, savage and spiteful, beholding Buddha, came to himself at once, and bending, worshipped at his feet just as a mighty mountain falls to earth. With lotus hand the master pats his head, even as the moon lights up a flying cloud. And now, as he lay crouched before the master’s feet, on his account he speaks some sacred words: “The elephant cannot hurt the mighty dragon, hard it is to fight with such a one; the elephant desiring so to do will in the end obtain no happy state of birth; deceived by lust, anger, and delusion, which are hard to conquer, but which Buddha has conquered. Now, then, this very day, give up this lust, this anger and delusion! You! swallowed up in sorrow’s mud! if not now given up, they will increase yet more and grow.”

The elephant, hearing Buddha’s words, escaped from drunkenness, rejoiced in heart; his mind and body both found rest, as one athirst finds joy who drinks of heavenly dew. The elephant being thus converted, the people around were filled with joy; they all raised a cry of wonder at the miracle, and brought their offerings of every kind. The scarcely-good arrived at middle-virtue, the middling-good passed to a higher grade, the unbelieving now became believers, those who believed were strengthened in their faith. Agâtasatru, mighty king, seeing how Buddha conquered the drunken elephant, was moved at heart by thoughts profound; then, filled with joy, he found a twofold growth of piety. Tathâgata, by exercise of virtue, exhibited all kinds of spiritual powers; thus he subdued and harmonized the minds of all, and caused them in due order to attain religious truth, and through the kingdom virtuous seeds were sown, as at the first when men began to live. But Devadatta, mad with rage, because he was ensnared by his own wickedness, at first by power miraculous able to fly, now fallen, dwells in lowest hell.

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