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Buddha and the Elephant

May all sentient beings be healthy, happy, free, and at peace.

by
Charlie Martin

Bio

August 18, 2013 - 4:00 pm
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TRI-10595053 - © - Jan Roberts

There is a story in the Jatakas about the time a mad elephant, released by the Buddha’s enemies, charged down the street toward the Buddha. People are screaming and running, the elephant is tearing up shopkeepers’ displays and smashing things, and Buddha’s disciple Ananda tried to drag him out of the way. Buddha said “Relax, Ananda, I got this,” and stood in the elephant’s path. The elephant was used to people screaming and running, and here’s this guy in an orange bath sheet just smiling at him. Uncertain, confused, the elephant — his name is Nalagiri, by the way — Nalagiri hesitated, and the Buddha walked closer, confidently, like the king of mahouts. He gestured, and Nalagiri knelt, his madness gone, and presented his head to be scratched.

You might as well remember Nalagiri, he’s one of my favorite characters and I’m sure he’ll be back again.

One of the first things that attracted me to Buddhism was that it treats animals as first-class citizens. I’m one of those people who never met an animal he didn’t like (although I’m a little jittery about spiders) and I never really got why the pastor said my dog didn’t have a soul but the obnoxious kid sitting behind me in Sunday School did. I had also learned, even at eleven, that someone who treated animals badly usually didn’t treat people very well either. But it wasn’t until much later — really, it wasn’t until the months after 9/11 — that I understood how important that feeling toward animals is.

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All Comments   (25)
All Comments   (25)
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I just re-read this and recalled a phrase that was particularly descriptive to me. We hold on to anger because it can be so delicious. Eventually though, it becomes bitter and poisonous. Letting go is the only way.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jesus taught the same thing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I regularly practice Buddhist meditation here in Western Australia. There is a thriving Theravada Forest tradition Buddhist community here.http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/ There are plenty of meditations and some live streaming is available on Friday nights. I just did their Early Buddhism course and and it should be on that site somewhere. They have some excellent scholars. I'm into Buddhism enough to say that Charlie know what he is talking about. Thanks Charlie
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
BTW, my friends at The New Atlantis pointed out that they have an article this issue that fits into this: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/do-elephants-have-souls
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If I were not a happy Christian, perhaps I could embrace a religion like Buddhism. Islam, however, makes me pretty sick.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
BTW, nothing about Buddhism prevents Christians from practicing Buddhism (there may be something about Christianity that prevents it).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Too bad Buddhist monks in Japan have to have thousands of raccoons trapped and killed each year, to stop them from chewing up their temples.

At least they didn't eat the raccoons!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Too bad why?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
if Adam Gadahn were healthy, happy, free, and at peace, would he be calling for killing US diplomats? If Usama bin Laden hadn’t been consumed by anger and hatred, if he were healthy, happy, free, and at peace, would he have spent his life and his wealth trying to force the world to give in to his will?

Perhaps doing those awful things is what makes them feel happy, free, and at peace. The traditional response is, well, they can't really be happy, No True Scotsman would be made happy by killing people. They only THINK they're happy, they're just confused. If they could be reached somehow they'd see that and stop doing it...

But that's just refuge in tautology, and it's deadly when dealing with human wolves. There's no point in trying to convince a wolf that vegetables are more tasty than lamb surprised and running. For wolves this is in fact not true and a diet of vegetables would be very unhealthy, no matter how healthy and tasty they may be for you. The wolf is not confused about this and does not spend time trying to get you to see things his way.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your point about the wolf is a good one, though -- and leads to the Buddhist answer, too. Buddhism is meant to reduce suffering; killing a mass murderer before he kills again tend to decrease suffering. As the Dalai Lama noted, if someone is shooting at you it's perfectly reasonable to shoot back.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Do you really think Adam Gadahn, with his repeated expressions of rage, plus the fact that he's got to worry every day about someone dropping a Hellfire on his house or turning him in for the million bucks, is "well, happy, free, and at peace"?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Only Adam Gadahn can ever know the answer to that question, since he is the only one inside his own head. There are serial killers who have said that only after they kill do they feel at peace. Adam Gadahn is not a serial killer, he is a passionate idealist who does what he does at great personal risk to himself and his family, and it's not like it pays that well or he's forced to do it. Judging from his behavior, I'd say that his dedication to his cause is a revealed preference that Islamic terrorism is deeply satisfying to him in some way that it is not to me or you, just as a Buddhist monk's lifestyle would not be satisfying to me. Can it ever be "true happiness" to be a terrorist? We can argue about that, but it's the "no true Scotsman" fallacy of defining away inconvenient observations that for some people it appears to be.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"well, free, and at peace." Maybe it does make him happy, but what about the other three? In any case, as I noted in the article: it's not about him; that whole question is in the subjunctive. And as I mentioned in the comments, even the Dalai Lama said sometimes you've got to shoot back.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Growing up Catholic, I also wondered about that pet-soul thing. Anyone who's ever had cats or dogs and interacted with them on a daily basis will likely become convinced there is something more to them than energized meat no matter what some guy in a cassock says. One different explanation, the Law of One, whose source many might find suspect but nevertheless resonates with me, suggests animals are also souls, just not as well developed (as high on the spiritual ladder) as we are. As we work our way up, so do they - someday, Fluffy and Fido's spirits may inhabit bodies like ours while we (some of us, anyway) move up to ???? Yeah, I laughed too. At first....
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your idea of animals as "souls in development" translates very well into the Buddhist idea of the cycle of rebirth. In Buddhist teachings, there are ten levels, the first six of which are subject to the cycle of rebirth: hell beings - tormented souls - animals - asura - humans - deva. Upon achieving enlightenment, the soul transcends the wheel of life as an enlightened being, pratyeka buddha, bodhisatva, or a buddha. I am not a Buddhist theologian, so Mr. Martin can probably provide greater insight and information.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And for someone who's not a Buddhist theologian -- a fate I also hope to avoid -- that's quite a summary.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
yeah. Interestingly enough, a lot of people would say you have to have a human rebirth to become Enlightened -- things are too easy for Devas. But I see that to some extent a syncretism with Hinduism and various animistic local religions -- reincarnation and the doctrine of anatman are hard to reconcile.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, that's the sort of Buddhist-Hindu syncretic view too -- Buddha didn't really teach that people (of any species) are reincarnated.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
After a quick first glance at the photo, I thought: "Why is that Elephant worshiping Captain America?"
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Because he's awesome and U!S!A!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oh MY! Very Provocative post, Charlie.. I happen to agree with all of it, from a Christian standpoint, but I am learning a lot of methodology (stuff to do) from your Buddhist posts. I will smash a mosquito and a palmetto bug in a minute though. Excellent reading Thank you! :)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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