Why the Buddha Suffered

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[7. The Elephant Nāḷāgiri]

In the seventh enquiry, called Nāḷāgiri, we hear about how the elephant Dhanapālaka was sent in order to kill the Buddha.

In the past, it seems, the Buddha-to-be, who was an elephant's groom, rose onto an elephant, and seeing an Independent Buddha walking on the Highway, said: “Where is this shaveling going?” and being angry and stubborn he assaulted him with his elephant.

Having undergone suffering in the lower realms for countless thousands of years through that deed, he became a Buddha in his last state of existence.

After Devadatta had become friends with King Ajātasattu, he said: “Great King, after killing your Father you will become King, and after murdering the Buddha, I will be the Buddha!”

After having this thought, one day, with the King's permission he went to the elephant stall and gave this order to the elephant groom: “Tomorrow, make Nāḷāgiri drink sixteen pots of liquor and send him out when the Gracious One is walking for alms!”

There was a great uproar in the whole town, and they said: “We will see a battle between the noble Nāga is a word with many meanings, including nobility, strength and anything that possesses these qualities like a cobra, an elephant, a noble person – the Buddha is many times referred to as a nāga in the early texts.01 Buddha and the noble elephant!” and having set up terraced stands on both sides along the royal highway, they assembled in the morning.

The Gracious One, after tending to his bodily needs, entered Rājagaha for alms surrounded by the Community of monks.

At that time in accordance with the order that had been given Nāḷāgiri was released. He came making all scatter at the crossroads and so on. Then a certain girl being seized with fear ran from street to street, and the elephant, A regular word for an elephant, it literally means, one with a hand(-like trunk).02 having seen that girl, pursued her.

The Gracious One said: “Nāḷāgiri you were not sent to kill her, come here!” Having heard that sound, he ran right at the Gracious One. The Gracious One suffused beings without end in the measureless universe with loving-kindness and he also suffused Nāḷāgiri. Being suffused with loving-kindness by the Gracious One he lost his fear and threw himself at the feet Lit: the root of the feet, which is unidiomatic in English.03 of the Gracious One. The Gracious One placed his hand on his head.

Then the gods and deities, their minds marvelling and wondering, worshipped him with fragrant powder and so on. The whole city became filled with a heap of wealth knee-deep. The King had the drums beaten and said: “The wealth up to the West gate is for the town-dwellers, the wealth up to the East gate is for the King's treasury!” And they all did that.

Then Nāḷāgiri gained the name Dhanapāla. Meaning Protector of the Wealth.04 And the Gracious One returned to the Bamboo Monastery.

Therefore it is said:

Before I was a mahout. While a supreme Independent Sage
Was wandering for his almsfood, I struck him with my elephant;

Through that deed and its result, elephant Nāḷāgiri swaying
Violently rushed at me in the city of Giribbaja. Another name for Rājagaha, the capital of Magadha.05