Ja 410 Somadattajātaka
The Story about (the Young Elephant) Somadatta (7s)

In the present one old monk has a novice to help him. But when the novice dies he is inconsolable. The Buddha tells a story of an ascetic who adopted an elephant, and the advice he received from Sakka when it died.

The Bodhisatta = (the King of the Devas) Sakka,
the old monk = the ascetic (tāpasa),
the novice = the young elephant (hatthipotako).

Past Compare: Ja 372 Migapotaka, Ja 410 Somadatta.

Keywords: Grief, Wisdom, Animals.

“Deep in the wood.” The Teacher told this while dwelling at Jetavana, about a certain old monk. The story was that this monk ordained a novice, who waited on him but soon died of a fatal disease. The old man went about weeping and wailing for his death.

Seeing him, the monks began to talk in the Dhamma Hall, “Sirs, this old monk goes about weeping and wailing for the novice’s death; he must surely have neglected the meditation on death.” The Teacher came, and hearing the subject of their talk, he said: “Monks, this is not the first time this man is weeping for the other’s death,” and so he told the old tale.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was Sakka. A certain wealthy brahmin, living in Benares, left the world, and became an ascetic in the Himālayas, {3.389} living by picking up roots and fruits in the forest. One day, searching for wild fruits, he saw an elephant-calf, and took it to his hermitage; he made as if it were his own son, calling it Somadatta, and tended it with food of grass and leaves. The elephant grew up to be great; but one day he took much food and fell sick of a surfeit. The ascetic took him inside the hermitage, and went to get wild fruits; but before he came back the young elephant died. Coming back with his fruits, the ascetic thought: “On other days my child comes to meet me, but not today; what is the matter with him?” So he lamented and spoke the first verse:

1. “Deep in the wood he’d meet me; but today
No elephant I see; where does he stray?” [3.236]

With this lament, he saw the elephant lying at the end of the covered walk and taking him round the neck he spoke the second verse in lamentation;

2. “ ’Tis he that lies in death cut down as a tender shoot is shred;
Low on the ground he lies; alas, my elephant is dead.”

At the instant, Sakka, surveying the world, thought: “This ascetic left wife and child for the dispensation, now he is lamenting the young elephant whom he called his son, I will rouse him and make him think,” and so coming to the hermitage he stood in the air and spoke the third verse: {3.390}

3. “To sorrow for the dead does ill become
The lone ascetic, freed from ties of home.”

Hearing this, the ascetic spoke the fourth verse:

4. “Should man with beast consort, O Sakka, grief
For a lost playmate finds in tears relief.”

Sakka uttered two verses, admonishing him:

5. “Such as to weep are fain may still lament the dead,
Weep not, O sage, ’tis vain to weep, the wise have said.

6. If by our tears we might prevail against the grave,
Thus would we all unite our dearest ones to save.”

Hearing Sakka’s words, the ascetic took thought and comfort, dried his tears, and uttered the remaining verses in praise of Sakka:

7. “As ghee-fed flame that blazes out amain
Is quenched with water, so he quenched my pain.

8. With sorrow’s shaft my heart was wounded sore;
He healed my wound and did my life restore. {3.391}

9. The barb extracted, full of joy and peace,
At Sakka’s words I from my sorrow cease.”

These verses were given above. See supra, p. 214. [cf. Ja 372 Migapotakajātaka, vv. 1-7.]

After admonishing the ascetic, Sakka went to his own place.

The Teacher, after the lesson, identified the Jātaka, “At that time the young elephant was the novice, the ascetic the old monk, Sakka was I myself.”