Jataka 105

Dubbalakaṭṭa Jātaka

The Nervous Man

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

One of the common themes in the Buddha’s teaching is how useful it is to come to terms with our own mortality. Contemplating and coming to terms with our own death is a way to be at peace. If we come to terms with our own mortality, we come to terms with one of the greatest fears with which most people live.

Do not fear the wind.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a monk who lived in a perpetual state of fear. We learn that he came from a good family in Sāvatthi. He was inspired to give up the world by hearing the Dharma, but he lived in fear by night and by day. The whistling of the wind, the rustle of a fan, or the cry of bird or beast would fill him with such abject terror that he would shriek and run away. He never reflected that death was inevitable. Had he practiced meditation on the certainty of death, he would not have been afraid of it. For only they who do not so meditate fear death.

Now his constant fear of dying became known to the Saṇgha. One day they met in the Dharma Hall and started discussing his fearfulness and the importance of every monk taking death as a theme for meditation. Entering the Hall, the Master asked, and was told, what they were discussing. So he sent for that monk and asked him whether it was true he lived in fear of death. The monk confessed that he did. “Do not be angry, monks, with this brother” the Master said. The fear of death that fills his breast was no less strong in bygone times.” So saying he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was a tree sprite near the Himalayas. And in those days the King put his state elephant in the elephant trainers’ hands to train him. They tied the elephant to a post, and with whips in their hands they set about training the animal. Unable to bear the pain while he was being forced to do their bidding, the elephant broke the post down, chased the trainers away, and made off for the Himalayas. The men, being unable to catch him, had to return empty-handed.

After this, the elephant lived in the Himalayas in constant fear of death. A breath of wind was enough to fill him with fear and to start him off running at full speed, shaking his trunk to and fro. It was as if he was still tied to the post to be trained. All happiness of mind and body were gone. He wandered up and down in constant fear.

Seeing this, the tree sprite stood in the fork of his tree and uttered this stanza:

If you fear the wind that ceaselessly

Wears the rotten branches away,

Such fear will waste you quite away!

Such were the tree sprite’s wise words. And after that, the elephant did not suffer from fear any more.

Figure: The Tree Sprite Calms the Elephant

Figure: The Tree Sprite Calms the Elephant

His lesson ended, the Master taught the Four Noble Truths at the end of which the monk attained stream entry. The Master then identified the birth by saying, “This monk was the elephant of those days, and I was the tree sprite.”