Buddha and the Elephant

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.