Jataka tales are stories of wisdom told by the Buddhists that illustrate right thinking and right living. Many of the Jataka tales are about the previous incarnations of Buddha, the enlightened one. These previous incarnations of Buddha, which were both human and other animals, are known as Bodhisattva. Here we have chosen four Jataka tales. In one of his previous incarnations, Lord Buddha was born as a white elephant in a forest in the Himalayas. He was gentle and kind. The herd of elephants to which he belonged, however, was cruel and killed innocent creatures for fun.
“My friends tease me because I am weak and helpless,” replied the crying monkey.
The Bodhisattva called the rest of the monkeys and scolded them. “Shame on you! Why do you harass your weaker brother? You should rather protect him and enjoy the pleasure of giving.”
The monkeys saw the error of their ways and from then on they all lived happily together.
Like this the white elephant gave good advice to animals, young and old, and became known as a good king elephant.
One day a forester from Varanasi came into the forest and lost his way. He was frightened. As the light grew fainter at dusk, the forester began to panic.
“What will happen now?” he cried aloud.
Suddenly he heard the sound of heavy footsteps. “What is that?” he asked himself. Gathering courage he turned around and saw a white elephant standing next to him.
“I am as good as dead!” the forester exclaimed and started to run. The white elephant followed. The forester stopped. The elephant also stopped. The forester’s fear began to subside.
“Let me turn around and see what he does to me,” the forester thought.
When he did, he was surprised to hear the white elephant say to him in a human voice, “I heard you scream, is there anything I can do for you?”
The forester was relieved. “I have lost my way,” he replied. “I want to go to Varanasi.”
“I know the way and I will get you there,” the elephant replied. “But first you rest in my cave and spend a few days here.”
The forester enjoyed the serene surroundings for a few days and then decided to go back to Varanasi.
“Do you have to go?” asked the elephant.
“Yes I have work to do there and must look after my family,” the forester replied.
“Well get on my back and I will get you there,” the elephant kindly offered. As the elephant proceeded, the forester observed the route so that he could come back, if needed. They finally reached the edge of the forest and bid farewell to each other.
Soon the forester came to an ivory shop. He admired the carvings and was amazed to find out how expensive they were.
“Would the tusk of a living elephant be equally expensive?” asked the forester.
“It is better,” replied the ivory carver. “And priced much higher.”
Greed got the better of the forester and he rushed back to the forest. He met the gentle white elephant and pretended to be sad.
“What is the matter? You look so unhappy!” the elephant inquired.
“I am up to my neck in debt,” the forester replied. “Only a piece of your tusk can save me.”
The elephant sat down immediately and held his trunk out obligingly, “I will be glad to give you both of my tusks.”
The forester had come fully prepared and took out his saw. Soon he removed most of the tusks leaving only two stumps attached to the elephant. The elephant departed in great pain but happy that his tusks would relieve the forester from his debts.
Back in Varanasi, the forester received a huge sum of money for the prime tusks. He spent the money in no time buying luxurious goods for himself and his family. Soon he was left with nothing.
“Should I have cut a little more?” the greedy forester thought as he tossed and turned in bed wrestling with his conscience. Finally, his greed won over and he started for the forest in the morning.
He found the kind elephant. “Your tusks have cleared my old debts but I need money to live,” he pled again.
The gentle, benevolent elephant once again sat down and said, “You may have what is left of my tusks.”
The elephant courageously bore the excruciating pain as the forester pulled out the remaining tusks. The forester then packed the tusks into his bag and headed back to Varanasi, saying, “I have done with you, my friend, I have got all there is to get.”
The elephant, torn and trembling, watched the forester go. Not a word of reproach escaped the elephant’s lips.
Suddenly the ground split open before the forester and he was encircled by fire. The forester realized that he was being punished for his greed, but it was too late.
As the fire consumed the forester, he heard a voice say, “An ungrateful man is never satisfied not even if he is given the whole world.”
As for the kind elephant, he lived the rest of his life in the peace and quiet of the Himalayas.