Ekottara Agama 18.5

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[i]‘Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying, together with a large [number of] bhikus, viz. five hundred persons altogether, in Rājagṛha, at Karaṇḍa’s Bamboo Grove.

At that time, King Ajātaśatru had an elephant named Nālāgiri[ii] that was extremely wicked and violent, impetuous and strong, but also capable of calming down immediately [after having become] enraged. Due to the strength of this elephant, Magadha was the only country that did not suffer the humiliation [of a defeat].

Now Devadatta approached King Ajātaśatru in whose presence he said: I should like to bring to His Majesty’s notice that these days that wicked elephant is capable, however, of calming down immediately [after having become] enraged. It would be advisable to [give] that animal strong wine to drink so as to [get it] drunk. In the quiet of dawn the śramaṇa Gautama will surely enter the city to beg for alms-food. [At that time] this intoxicated elephant should be released in order to [let it] trample the śramaṇa[iii] to death.

No sooner had King Ajātaśatru heard what Devadatta had to say than he issued the order in the country that on the following morning at dawn, [since] an intoxicated elephant had to be released, the public were prohibited from being on the move in the streets. Devadatta further said to King Ajātaśatru: Should the śramaṇa Gautama be omniscient, he ought to foresee what is going to happen, and tomorrow he would certainly not enter the city to beg for alms-food.

Just according to your Reverence’s bidding, said King Ajātaśatru; should he be an omniscient one, tomorrow at dawn he will not enter the city to beg for alms-food.

When the faithful laymen and laywomen of Rājagṛha, the Buddha’s major and minor devotees, heard that King Ajātaśatru had ordered an intoxicated elephant to be released at dawn to attack the Tathāgata, everybody was extremely sad and concerned. They went to the Exalted One’s whereabouts, bowed down their heads at his feet and, standing at one side, entreated him: We beseech the Exalted One not to enter the city tomorrow at dawn because King Ajātaśatru has just issued the order prohibiting the citizens from [all] walks of life tomorrow from being on the move in the streets. [The king] has said: We desire an intoxicated elephant to be released in order to harm the śramaṇa Gautama. Should the śramaṇa be omniscient, tomorrow at dawn he will not … beg for alms-food. – If only the Exalted One would not enter the city. Were the Tathāgata to be attacked and [lethally] wounded, mankind would lose its ‘Eye’, it would be bereft of its refuge (paritrāṇa).

In response, the Exalted One said: Please calm down, devotees. Do not worry, do not be sad. Since the Tathāgata’s body is not reckoned an ordinary body, it is not subject to other people’s violence; and not only that, O devotees. One should know that Jambudvīpa, from the east to the west, is seven thousand yojanas[iv] in width, and from the south to the north twenty-one thousand yojanas in length. Aparagodānīya, being shaped like a half moon, is eight thousand yojanas in length. Pūrvavideha is a continent that has the shape of a square and is nine thousand yojanas in length. Uttarakuru, ten thousand yojanas in length, is a round continent resembling the full moon. If these four continents were teeming with intoxicated elephants – as numerous as grains of rice [in rice fields or] jute from thickets of [tropical] plants – this would not even cause horripilation (romaharṣaṇa) with the Tathāgata, let alone [fear of] violence against him. But not only that. Leave the four continents out of account. Likewise, there are a thousand continents, a thousand suns and moons, a thousand Mount Sumerus, a thousand fourfold oceans[v], a thousand Jambudvīpas, Aparagodānīyas, Pūrvavidehas and Uttarakus, a thousand [heavens inhabited by the retinues of] the four world-guardians (cāturmahārājika), a thousand heavens of the Trāyastriṁśa [gods], of the Tuṣita [gods], Yāma [gods], Nirmāṇarati [gods][vi] and of the Paranirmitavaśavartin [gods].  [Finally, there is] the so-called world-system (lokadhātu) [consisting of] a thousand [worlds], then that of two thousand worlds, the [world-system] called Sāhasra-madhyama-lokadhātu[vii], the world-system [consisting of] three thousand worlds and, lastly, the [world-system] called Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra-lokadhātu[viii]. Even if [this whole universe were] teeming with royal elephants like Airāvaṇa[ix], this would not indeed cause horripilation with the Tathāgata, let alone [fear of] those elephants’ inclination to harm the Tathāgata. But not only that. As the Tathāgata’s supernormal powers (ṛddhi) are inconceivable (acintya), the Tathāgata’s appearance in the world does not come to an end because of any violence or harm caused to him by anybody. All of you please return home. It behoves the Tathāgata to know by himself when to go the way of all flesh (parināma).

Then, at length, the Exalted One taught the subtle Teaching to the four assemblies (parisā, parṣad)[x]. After listening to the instructions, all upāsakas and upāsikās rose, bowed down their heads at [the Exalted One’s] feet and went back home.

[The next morning] in the quiet of dawn, the Exalted One put on his [outer] robes and took up his alms-bowl. When he was about to enter Rājagṛha to beg for alms-food, the world-guardian Dhṛtarāṣṭra, heading his retinue of gandharvas[xi], came from the east to accompany the Exalted One. At the same time, the world-guardian Virūḍhaka, heading his kumbhāṇḍas[xii], [came from the south] to accompany the Exalted One. [The world-guardian] of the west, Virūpākṣa, heading [his retinue of] nāgas, [also came] to accompany the Exalted One, and likewise the world-guardian of the north, Kubera (Vaiśravaṇa), heading many demons (rākṣasa) and ogres (piśāca). Simultaneously, Śakra, the chief of gods, leading ten million devas, disappeared from the Trāyastriṁśa heaven[xiii] and went to the Exalted One’s whereabouts. So also did Brahmā, leading ten million brahmakāyika gods, [after leaving] the celestial palaces. Śakra, Brahmā, the four world-guardians, [all inhabitants of] the twenty-eight heavens[xiv] and the terrifying ogre-kings – all of them said to each other: Today we must see two supernormal beings, the Nāga[xv] and the elephant, who are going to compete with each other. Which will win, which will lose[xvi]?

When the four assemblies of Rājagṛha saw the Exalted One some distance away enter the city to beg for alms-food and being followed by many bhikus, [they and] all [other] citizens raised their voices and shouted [their concern].

On hearing the shouting, King Ajātaśatru asked [the attendants to his] left and right: What is all this penetrating din about?

That is the Tathāgata entering the city to beg for alms-food, replied his attendants, seeing him, the people are making this noise.

The śramaṇa Gautama, said Ajātaśatru, is not [a man] of the Noble Path (āryamārga), [for] he does not know that people’s minds prove fickle. – At once King Ajātaśatru gave his chief mahout the following order: Quickly see to it that the elephant drinks strong wine and fasten a sharp, double-edged sword to its trunk; then let it loose.

After reaching the city gate, while the Exalted One, followed by many bhikus, was just stepping into the gate, there occurred a big earthquake felt all over the world, and so many celestial beings [together with] the foremost gods were hovering in the air, scattering many kinds of flowers. When the bhikus, five hundred in number, saw the intoxicated elephant rush [toward them], each of them took to his heels without really knowing where to run. On seeing the Tathāgata some distance away, that violent elephant hastened in his direction.

Standing close by the Exalted One and seeing the intoxicated elephant head [towards them], Ānanda was so scared out of his wits that he stepped behind [the Tathāgata]. – That elephant, he warned the Exalted One, is wicked and violent, impetuous and given to creating havoc. It must by all means be avoided.

Do not be afraid, Ānanda, said the Exalted One, I am going to tame that elephant through the Tathāgata’s supernormal power. – At a distance neither [too] short nor [too] long, the Tathāgata fixed his eyes on the violent elephant and magically created to the elephant’s left and right majestic lions, and behind it a gigantic sea of fire. When the violent elephant saw those majestic lions to its left and right and the sea of fire, it could not help urinating and defecating and, all of a sudden, it stood still. Then, while it stepped forward, moving closer to the Tathāgata, the Exalted One uttered the following verses:

Do not hurt the Nāga, [for] it is extremely

Difficult to meet a Nāga [who rarely] appears [in the world].

By refraining from hurting the Nāga

A good form of rebirth will be obtained.

After hearing these verses uttered by the Exalted One, the violent elephant itself undid the double-edged sword [fastened to its trunk], just as though it was burnt by [it being like] fire. It knelt down in front of the Tathāgata, took with its trunk the dust off the Tathāgata’s feet and caressed[xvii] them. The Exalted One stretched out his right [arm] and stroked the elephants’ forehead with his hand, addressing [it] with these [verses]:

Anger and hatred will bring about one’s hell

And also the shape of a snake-like creature[xviii].

Therefore one should give up hatred lest

One should end up in such a body [like that of a snake][xix].

(T2, 591a) Now so many celestial beings [together with] the foremost gods, hovering in the air, showered several hundred thousand kinds of flowers upon the Tathāgata who then set forth the subtle Teaching for the sake of the four assemblies, of those hosts of gods, nāgas and ogres. On seeing the elephant having become tame, to more than sixty thousand men and women and to eighty thousand gods the immaculate Dhamma-eye opened, ridding them of all impurities. At that time, in the intoxicated elephant’s body there arose winds [cutting like] a knife [which brought about] its death[xx]; it was reborn in the palace of the four world-guardians.

Hving heard the Exalted One’s words, the bhikṣus, the bhikṣuṇīs, all upāsakas and upāsikās, gods, nāgas, and ogres were pleased and applied themselves to practice.



[i] T02, no. 125, p. 590, a8-p. 591, a7. Originally published as Ekottarāgama XIX, Buddhist Studies Review, 12.2, 1995, p 157-168. Translated from the Chinese version by Thich Huyên-Vi and Bhikkhu Pāsādika in collaboration with Sara Boin-Webb.

[ii] As for the following, cf. Vin II, 194-6 (Cullavagga VII.3.2); see I.B. Horner, The Book of the Discipline V (PTS 1952), pp. 272-4. The Chinese clearly transliterates ‘Nālāgiri’ whereas in Buddhist Sanskrit literature ‘Nadāgāra’ as the elephant’s name has come down to us (See Divy(V), 186, 2). Cf. also Avadānaśataka (Dharmapāla) (ed. P.L. Vaidya, Darbhanga 1958), p. 82 f.; here the elephant is named  Dhanapālaka; Avadāna-Kalpalatā I (ed. Vaidya, Darbhanga 1959), pp. 200-4 Dhanapālāvadāna).

[iii] Lit. ‘him’.

[iv] According to Monier-Williams, a measure of a distance of about nine miles.

[v] See Soothill, p. 178: ‘The four oceans around Mount Sumeru.’

[vi] See BHSD, 302 (under nirmita (3)).

[vii] See Mahāvyut. 3043.

[viii] ‘The world-system consisting of a triple thousand great thousand [worlds]’ – after BHSD, 259.

[ix] I.e. Indra’s elephant; see Soothill, p. 201.

[x] I.e. monks, nuns, male and female devotees; see BHSD, 331.

[xi] See Soothill, p. 341 f.

[xii] I.e. a class of demons, see Soothill, p. 419.

[xiii] After T2, 590, n. 30; the text actually has ‘Tusita’, but Śakra, according to tradition, rules over the Trāyastrimśa heaven, whilst the Tusita heaven is ruled by King Santusita (cf. DPPN I, 1034, II, 958).

[xiv] I.e. six heavens of the world of desire, eighteen of the world of form and four pertaining to the formless heaven. See Soothill, p. 22.

[xv] Nāga, here meaning ‘elephant’, is a well-known epithet of the Buddha; for references see PTSD, 349. For the elephant that is supposed to trample the Nāga to death, the Chinese has the equivalent hastin or karin. The Pāli parallel has a play on words: nāgo nāgena sangāmessatīti.

[xvi] It seems strange that the Śakra is one of those who asks such a question. In the Pāli parallel, remarks in a similar vein are made by ‘people who were of little faith, not believing, who were of poor intelligence’ (Horner, op. cit., p. 273). According to both Pāli and Buddhist Sanskrit literature, Sakka / Śakra is a most zealous devotee of the Buddha (cf. DPPN II, 960; E. Waldschmidt (ed.), Bruchstücke buddhistischer Sūtras aus dem zentralasiatischen Sanskritkanon (Leipzig 1932), pp. 58-113 (Śakrapraśnasūtra)). The EĀ passage in question and the preceding cosmological interpolation (not found in the Pāli version), corroborate the conclusion reached by É. Lamotte in his examination of a composite sūtra from EĀ (see BSR 12, 1, p. 46). On the other hand, EĀ contains a flood of details not found in other canonical writings, no matter whether in each case due to later editorial ‘embellishment’ or not, so that a full-scale study of this vast collection remains a desideratum, not to mention the considerable amount of lexicographical data contained in EĀ that have yet to be covered by lexicographers dealing with Chinese Buddhism. 

[xvii] Lit. ‘licked’.

[xviii] Tentatively for a combination of two characters the first of which means ‘snake’, while the second, **, could neither be found in Chinese nor in Japanese dictionaries. No explanation in Hayashi.

[xix] See Divy(V), 185, 29-30 (Sahasodgatāvadāna): madhye rāgadveṣamohāḥ kartavyāḥ … dveṣo bhujaṅgākāreṇa According to this text, it is the Buddha himself who gives iconographic instructions how to represent the Wheel of Samsāra at whose centre allegorical animals should symbolise greed, hatred and delusion, among which a snake should stand for hatred or aversion. The reference to this Divy passage, together with acknowledgements, already occurs in A. Waddell, Buddhism and Lamaism of Tibet (London 1895), p. 108, n. 2.

[xx] See A III, 101, 19-20 (not A I.101 as given in PTSD, 674, under satthaka) : satthakā vā me vātā kuppeyyuṁ, tena me assa kālakiriyā; cf. also J III, 445, 26-8: satthakavātā… jīvitapariyantikaṁ katvā…