Jataka 27

Abiṇha Jātaka

The Elephant and the Dog

as told by Eric Van Horn

originally translated by Robert Chalmers, B.A., of Oriel College, Oxford University

originally edited by Professor Edward Byles Cowell, Cambridge University

This is a lovely story about friendship. As the Buddha famously said:

“This is the entire holy life, Ānanda, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship. When a bhikkhu has a good friend, a good companion, a good comrade, it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path.” - [SN 45.2]

Animals of different species often bind. The famous racehorse Seabiscuit had three close companions: a horse named Pumpkin, a dog named Pocatell, and a spider monkey named Jo-Jo.

No morsel can he eat.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a lay disciple and an aged senior monk.

Tradition says that there were two friends in Sāvatthi, one of whom joined the Saṇgha. He used to go to the other’s house every day where his friend gave him alms food. He would also make a meal for himself, and then accompany the monk back to the monastery. There he sat talking with his friend all day long until the sun went down, after which he went back to town. And his friend the monk escorted him home, going as far as the city gates before turning back.

The close friendship of these two became known among the Saṇgha. They were sitting one day in the Dharma Hall talking about the intimacy that existed between the pair when the Master entered the Hall. He asked what they were discussing, and the monks told him.

“Not only, monks, are these two close friends now,” said the Master. “They were good friends in bygone days as well.” And, so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta became his minister. In those days there was a dog that used to go to the stall of the elephant of state and eat the rice that fell where the elephant fed. Visiting the place for the food’s sake, the dog grew very friendly with the elephant, until eventually he would never eat except with him. Neither could get on without the other. The dog used to swing back and forth on the elephant’s trunk. Now one day a villager bought the dog and took the dog home with him. After that the elephant, missing the dog, refused either to eat or drink or take his bath, and the King was told about this. His majesty sent the Bodhisatta to find out why the elephant was acting like this. Going to the elephant house, the Bodhisatta, seeing how sad the elephant was, said to himself, “He is not physically ill. He must have formed an ardent friendship and is sad at the loss of his friend.” So he asked whether the elephant had become friends with anyone.

“Yes, my lord,” the elephant answered. “There’s a very warm friendship between me and a dog.”

“Where is that dog now?”

“A man took him.”

“Do you know where that man lives?”

“No, my lord.”

The Bodhisatta went to the King and said, “There is nothing physically wrong with the elephant, sire, but he was very friendly with a dog. It is missing his friend that has made him refuse to eat.” And so saying, he repeated this stanza:

No morsel can he eat, no rice or grass.

And in the bath he takes no pleasure now.

I think the dog had grown so familiar,

That elephant and dog were closest friends.

“Well,” said the King on hearing this, “what should we do, sage?”

“Make a proclamation by the beat of the drum, your majesty, that a man is reported to have carried off a dog of which the elephant of state was fond. And whoever has the dog will pay a fine.”

The King acted on this advice. And the man, as soon as he heard of this, promptly let the dog loose. The dog ran away at once and made his way back to the elephant. The elephant took the dog up in his trunk and placed it on his head. He wept and cried, and, setting the dog back on the ground, made the dog eat first before he ate his own food.

The Joyful Friends Reunited

Figure: The Joyful Friends Reunited

“Even the minds of animals are known to him,” said the King, and he loaded the Bodhisatta with honors.

The Master ended his lesson that showed that the two were intimate in bygone days as well as now. This done, he taught the Four Noble Truths. Then he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “The lay disciple was the dog of those days, the aged senior monk was the elephant, and I myself the wise minister.”