The Buddha Shakyamuni had a disciple called Devdutt. Devdutt was actually his cousin, but he hated Shakyamuni and was jealous of the Buddha’s high attainments. He could not bear to hear the Buddha praised.
Once, Shakyamuni entered a room to find his disciples sitting in discussion. He asked them what they were talking about. They replied that they were talking about how Devdutt got angry every time Shakyamuni was praised.
“As in this life, so in a past life,” replied the Buddha. He continued with the following story.
Once upon a time, the Boddhisatva was born as a white elephant. He was very graceful, his limbs fine and well proportioned. Whoever saw the elephant was enchanted. Everyone praised him. Upon seeing his extraordinary beauty, the king of Magadha decided to make him his State elephant.
On one occasion, there was a festival in the kingdom. The king had his city decorated like the capital of the gods. Then, he sat on his elephant at the head of a solemn procession.
When people saw the elephant, they exclaimed, “What an exquisite animal!” “What well-proportioned limbs!” “He deserves to belong to a universal monarch!”
When the king heard his elephant praised, he grew jealous. He decided to get rid of it by making it fall off a precipice.
He summoned the mahout, or elephant-keeper.
“Would you call that a well-trained elephant?” the king asked.
“Yes,” replied the mahout.
“I think it is a badly trained elephant.”
“Sire, the elephant is well trained.”
“In that case,” said the king, “can you get him to climb to the summit of Mount Vepulla?”
The king dismounted from the elephant and made the mahout mount it. The mahout rode the elephant to the top of Mount Vepulla. The king and his courtiers followed the mahout and the elephant to the top and had the elephant stop at the edge of a precipice.
“Now,” said the king to the mahout, “if he is as well trained as you say, make him stand on three legs.”
The mahout touched the elephant with his goad. “Hi! My beauty, stand on three legs.”
The elephant did so.
“Now make him stand on his forelegs,” called out the king. The elephant stood on his forelegs.
“Now make his stand on his hind legs!” The elephant did so.
“Now on one leg!” cried the king. The elephant promptly stood on one leg.
Seeing that the elephant still did not fall over the precipice, the king cried, “Now if you can, make him stand in the air.”
The mahout thought, “There is no better-trained elephant in all of India. The king surely wants him to fall down into the valley below.”
He whispered into the elephant’s ear. “My son, the king wishes you to die. He is not worthy of you. If you have the power to fly, rise up with me on your back. We shall fly to Benares.”
And the Great Being, endowed with virtue, rose up into the air.
The mahout cried out, “Sire, this elephant, which has supernormal powers, is unworthy of a fool like you! So goodbye!”
They soared into the air and flew toward Benares. When they were above the city, they hovered above the Benares king’s courtyard. The people below gathered in excitement.
“Look at that beautiful elephant, come to see the king!” they cried.
The news was quickly conveyed to the king. He came outside.
“If you are here to see me, then descend,” he shouted.
The elephant and mahout drifted down slowly and landed in the courtyard. The mahout got down and bowed before the king. The king asked him what had brought them there. The mahout told him the whole story.
“It was very good of you to come here, said the king. “We are indeed honored.”
In his joy, the king had his capital decorated, and the elephant installed in his State stable.
Then, he divided his kingdom into three parts. He gave one to the elephant, one to the mahout, and kept one for himself.
From that day on, his power grew and he soon became the master of all India.
He was a wise, just, and charitable emperor. He did many good works and accumulated a lot of virtue until the day he passed away.
“In this story,” said Shakyamuni as he finished the tale, “Devdutt was the King of Magadha, and I, the elephant.”