A Jataka tale: The elephant and the forester
In one of his previous incarnations, Lord Buddha was born as a white elephant in a forest in the Himalayas. He was gentle and kind. He lived peacefully by himself, giving good advice to various animals.
One day a forester from Varanasi came into the forest and lost his way. He was frightened. As the light grew fainter at dusk, the forester began to panic. Suddenly he heard the sound of heavy footsteps. He turned around and saw a white elephant standing next to him.
He was surprised to hear the white elephant say to him in a human voice, 'I heard you scream, is there anything I can do for you?' The forester was relieved. 'I have lost my way', he replied. 'I want to go to Varanasi.'
'I know the way and will get you there', the elephant replied. 'But first rest in my cave and spend a few days here.'
The forester enjoyed the serene surroundings for a few days and then decided he wanted to go back to Varanasi. The elephant asked him to get on his back. Soon they reached the edge of the forest and bid each other farewell.
One day the forester came to an ivory shop. He admired the carvings but was amazed to find out how expensive they were.
'Would the tusk of a living elephant be equally expensive?' asked the forester.
'It is worth a lot more', replied the ivory carver.
Greed got the better of the forester and he rushed back to the forest. He met the gentle white elephant and pretended to be sad.
'What is the matter?' the elephant inquired.
'I am up to my neck in debt, the forester replied. Only a piece of your tusk can save me.'
The elephant sat down immediately and held his trunk out obligingly.
'I will be glad to give you both of my tusks.'
The forester had come fully prepared and took out his saw. Soon he removed most of the tusks leaving only two stumps attached to the elephant. The elephant departed in great pain but happy that his tusks would relieve the forester of his debts.
Back in Varanasi, the forester received a huge sum of money for the prime tusks. He spent the money in no time buying luxurious goods for himself and his family. Soon he was left with nothing. Should I have cut a little more? the greedy forester thought, as he tossed and turned in bed wrestling with his conscience. Finally, his greed won over and he started for the forest in the morning.
He found the kind elephant.
'Your tusks have cleared my old debts but I need money to live,' he pled again. The gentle, benevolent elephant once again sat down and said, 'You may have what is left of my tusks.'
The elephant courageously bore the pain as the forester pulled out the remaining tusks. The forester then packed the tusks into his bag and headed back to Varanasi, saying, 'I have done with you, my friend, I have got all there is to get.'
The elephant, torn and trembling, watched the forester go. Not a word of reproach escaped the elephant's lips.
Suddenly the ground split open before the forester and he was encircled by fire. The forester realised that he was being punished for his greed, but it was too late. As the fire consumed the forester, he heard a voice say,
'An ungrateful man is never satisfied not even if he is given the whole world'.