Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography

036 – Mahilaimukha Elephant

Mahilamukha overhearing the evil conversations of the burglars.
Mahilamukha-Jataka, Amravati

Once there lived an elephant called Mahilamukha in a royal stall. He was gentle, innocuous and extremely obedient to his mahout.

Once, some burglars sat close to the stall and indulged in conversations. They were talking about all sorts of evil deeds by extolling their merits. Thus, they praised all the burglars’ tricks and cruelty. Mahilamukha,too, overheard those conversations.

Next day, the burglars again visited the stall as they found it to be a safe haven for their late night meetings and conversations. Soon, the stall became a rendezvous for their late night meetings, where they discussed nothing but their feats and prowess of all sorts of cruelty and killings.

Now, by repeatedly listening to the glorification of the cruelty the elephant thought that cruelty alone was the virtue. His ears were, thus, poisoned by repeatedly listening to the evils.

Next morning, when the mahout approached the stall the elephant lifted and flung him on the ground and trampled his head, because he thought that killing was a virtue.

The gruesome act of Mahilamukha surprised every body because he was otherwise known as the gentlest of all elephants. When the second mahout tried to control him, the elephant killed him too. Likewise, the third, fourth and fifth mahouts were killed by the elephant.

Now, the king sent the Bodhisatta to examine into the matter. In course of investigation he learnt that the elephant was both sane and physically fit, yet, something was amiss about him. So, he made a thorough investigation of the place and discovered that some burglars had camped and conversed in the stall. This gave the Bodhisatta the clue for the ill-behaviour of Mahilamukha. So, he submitted a report to the king with the recommendation to send a group of sages near the stall to deliver some saintly discourses. As the sages extolled the merits of right conduct and so on, the elephant’s mind soon changed and he stopped inflicting pains on others.

Thus it is said,

Hearing the burglars’ evil-talk
The gentle elephant learnt to attack and kill
But upon listening to the sages’ words of virtue
Once again he became good through and through.

See Mahilamukha Jataka Jataka Pali No. 26.