Jataka: The Elephant that Was Honored in Old Age

In the original text of the Jataka tales, the moral of the story is spoken in verse, and in the Francis and Neil translation at Sacred Texts, here is an English verse translation of the moral of this story: Dalhadhamma-Jataka.

By selfish hopes men regulate the honours that they pay:
As you the elephant, they throw the outworn slave away.

Good deeds and services received whenever men forget,
Ruin pursues the business still on which their hearts are set.

Good deeds and services received if men do not forget,
Success attends the business still on which their hearts are set.

To all the multitude around this blessed truth I tell:
Be grateful all, and for reward you long in heaven shall dwell.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Jataka Tales unit. Story source: Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie L. Shedlock (1920).

The Elephant that Was Honored in Old Age

The Buddha as Prime Minister served the King. Now there was a certain She-Elephant endowed with great might which enabled her to go a hundred leagues a day. She did the duties of messenger to the King, and in battle she fought and crushed the enemy.

The King said: "She is very serviceable to me." He gave her ornaments, and caused all honor to be shown her. Then, when she was weak from age, the King took away all the honor he had bestowed.

From that time she was unprotected, and lived by eating grass and leaves in the forest.

And one day the chief Potter had not enough oxen to yoke to the carts which carried the material for making clay.

And the King said: "Where is our She-Elephant?"

"O King! she is wandering at her will in the forest."

And the King said: "Do thou yoke her to the cart."

And the Potter said: "Good, O King!" And he did even as the King commanded.

But when this insult was offered to the Elephant, she came to the Prime Minister and said: "O Wise Being! I pray you listen to my tale. When I was young, great strength was mine; and I did walk a hundred leagues to bear the King’s messages, and, with weapons bound upon my body, I did take part in battle, crushing the enemy beneath my feet. And now I am old, and the King hath withdrawn all the honors he bestowed upon me, and not content with allowing me to wander and feed on grass, unprotected in my old age, he has even caused me to be yoked to the Potter’s cart as are the oxen."

Then the Buddha promised that he would plead her cause, and appearing before the King, he asked: "Great King, did not a She-Elephant covered with weapons do battle for thee; and on such and such a day, with a writing upon her neck, did she not go a hundred leagues on a message? Thou didst bestow upon her great honor. I pray thee tell me, where is she now?"

And the King, in some confusion, made answer: "Behold, she is yoked to a cart."

Then did the Buddha speak in sorrowful anger to the King, and rebuked him, saying: "Thou hast yoked this Elephant to a cart after all the services she has rendered. Then was the honor only bestowed because of more services expected?"

And all who heard him received his instruction, and the King restored the She-Elephant to her former place of honor.

(400 words)

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