Dhamma Verses

23. The Chapter about the Elephant

The one who is well-trained

Queen Māgandiyā, who had been rejected by the Buddha, bribed the crowd and slaves to abuse him and the monks when they came to town; Ven. Ānanda urged the Buddha to go elsewhere but the Buddha answered that they should be resolute and spoke about himself in these verses.

320. Ahaṁ nāgo va saṅgāme cāpāto patitaṁ saraṁ
ativākyaṁ titikkhissaṁ, dussīlo hi bahujjano.

Like an elephant in battle
endures an arrow shot from bow
so will I endure abuse, for
many people are unvirtuous.

321. Dantaṁ nayanti samitiṁ, dantaṁ rājābhirūhati,
danto seṭṭho manussesu, yotivākyaṁ titikkhati.

They lead one trained into a crowd,
a King mounts one who has been trained,
amongst humans one trained is best,
the one who can endure abuse.

322. Varam-assatarā dantā, ājānīyā ca Sindhavā,
kuñjarā ca mahānāgā, attadanto tato varaṁ.

Noble are the well-trained horses,
the well-bred horses from Sindh,
and the great tusker elephants,
and even more noble than that
is the one who has trained himself.

The best of training

A monk who had previously been an elephant trainer saw a man struggling to train an elephant and successfully advised him on his task; when the Buddha heard about it he rebuked him and advised him on what really needs to be trained.

323. Na hi etehi yānehi gaccheyya agataṁ disaṁ,
yathattanā sudantena, danto dantena gacchati.

Not by vehicles can one go
to the place beyond destinations,
as one through training himself well,
being trained by the training, goes.

Remembering one’s duties

Some children who were previously negligent later gave a meal to the Buddha and the Saṅgha, and related how they now took care of their father; the Buddha recited a Jātaka relating how he too had cared for his parents, and spoke this verse showing how he would not eat until he was allowed to attend to his duties.

324. Dhanapālakŏ nāma kuñjaro
kaṭukappabhedano dunnivārayo,
baddho kabalaṁ na bhuñjati,
sumarati nāgavanassa kuñjaro.

The tusker Dhanapālaka
in rut, difficult to restrain,
bound, he doesn’t eat a morsel,
the tusker remembers the forest.

The lazy one is always reborn

King Pasenadi, at one time in his life, always overate and suffered the consequences of torpidity and drowsiness; he went to the Buddha who taught him this verse; he also taught another verse for his attendant to recite which would remind the King not to eat so much.

325. Middhī yadā hoti mahagghaso ca,
niddāyitā samparivattasāyī,
mahāvarāho va nivāpapuṭṭho,
punappunaṁ gabbham-upeti mando.

When one is torpid, overeats,
sleepy and rolling on the bed,
like a great pig fed on fodder,
that fool comes to the womb again.

Training the wandering mind

Sānu was a novice who, when he recited the texts, attracted even the deities to listen, but when he reached manhood he grew discontent and purposed to disrobe; his mother persuaded him to continue in the monastic life and take his higher ordination; this is the teaching the Buddha gave urging him to control his thoughts.

326. Idaṁ pure cittam-acāri cārikaṁ
yenicchakaṁ yatthakāmaṁ yathāsukhaṁ,
tad-ajjahaṁ niggahessāmi yoniso,
hatthim-pabhinnaṁ viya aṅkusaggaho.

Formerly this wandering mind wandered
through desire, pleasure, happiness,
but today I will control it wisely,
like one with goad an elephant.

Always protecting the mind

An old elephant waded into a lake one day and didn’t have the strength to extricate himself until his former trainer dressed in battle array and beat the drum; the pride of the elephant was such that he immediately pulled himself from the water; on hearing of the incident the Buddha urged the monastics also to draw themselves out of the quagmire of passions with this verse.

327. Appamādaratā hotha, sacittam-anurakkhatha,
duggā uddharathattānaṁ paṅke sanno va kuñjaro.

You should delight in heedfulness,
you should always protect your mind,
you should raise yourself from this pit
like the tusker sunk in the mud.

Live with the wise or alone

Owing to the Kosambi monks falling into an argument, the Buddha retired to Pārileyyaka forest and was served by an elephant; after the Rains Retreat Ven. Ānanda, being urged by the great disciples, went to invite the Buddha to return to Sāvatthi; the Buddha explained that he had a good companion in the elephant, but without such-like it is better to live alone, and he spoke these verses.

328. Sace labhetha nipakaṁ sahāyaṁ
saddhiṁcaraṁ sādhuvihāridhīraṁ,
abhibhuyya sabbāni parissayāni
careyya tenattamano satīmā.

If you find a prudent, wise friend
or companion who lives well,
overcoming all your troubles
live with that one, glad and mindful.

329. No ce labhetha nipakaṁ sahāyaṁ
saddhiṁcaraṁ sādhuvihāridhīraṁ,
rājā va raṭṭhaṁ vijitaṁ pahāya
eko care mātaṅgaraññe va nāgo.

If you find a prudent, wise friend
or companion who lives well,
like a king who abandons his
conquered kingdom live alone like
an elephant in the forest.

330. Ekassa caritaṁ seyyo, natthi bāle sahāyatā,
eko care na ca pāpāni kayirā,
appossukko mātaṅgaraññe va nāgo.

It is better to live alone,
there is no friendship with a fool,
one should live alone and not do
wicked things, unconcerned like
an elephant in the forest.

The good things in life

The Buddha was reflecting on whether it is possible for kings to rule the world with justice; Māra, finding this out, came to the wrong conclusion, and tried to tempt him; the Buddha explained what is truly good with these verses.

331. Atthamhi jātamhi sukhā sahāyā,
tuṭṭhī sukhā yā itarītarena,
puññaṁ sukhaṁ jīvitasaṅkhayamhi,
sabbassa dukkhassa sukhaṁ pahāṇaṁ.

Friends are good whenever need arises,
being content with everything is good,
at the break-up of life merit is good,
abandoning of suffering is good.

332. Sukhā matteyyatā loke, atho petteyyatā sukhā,
sukhā sāmaññatā loke, atho brahmaññatā sukhā.

Having respect for one’s mother is good,
having respect for one’s father is good,
having respect for ascetics is good,
having respect for true brahmins is good.

333. Sukhaṁ yāva jarā sīlaṁ, sukhā saddhā patiṭṭhitā,
sukho paññāya paṭilābho, pāpānaṁ akaraṇaṁ sukhaṁ.

Virtuous conduct till old age is good,
the establishing of faith is good,
the acquisition of wisdom is good,
doing nothing wicked is also good.

Nāgavaggo Tevīsatimo
The Chapter about the Elephant, the Twenty-Third