Stories of the Buddha's Former Births
Book 2: Dukanipāta
Translated from the Pāli by
W.H.D Rouse, M.A., Sometime Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge
Under the Editorship of Professor E. B. Cowell
Published 1969 For the Pāli Text Society.
First Published by The Cambridge University Press in 1895
This work is in the Public Domain. The Pali Text Society owns the copyright."
"Prince Winheart once upon a time," etc. This story the Master told at Jetavana, about a fainthearted Brother. The circumstances will be set forth in the Saṃvara Birth in the eleventh Book. When the Master asked this Brother if he really were fainthearted, as was said, he replied, "Yes, Blessed One." To which the Master said, "What, Brother! in former days did you not gain supremacy over the kingdom of Benares, twelve leagues either way, and give it to a baby boy, like a lump of flesh and nothing more, and all this just by perseverance! And now that you have embraced this great salvation, are you to lose heart and faint?" And he told a story of olden days.
 Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, there was a village of carpenters not far from the city, in which five hundred carpenters lived. They would go up the river in a vessel, and enter the forest, where they would shape beams and planks for housebuilding, and put together the framework of one-storey or two-storey houses, numbering all the pieces from the mainpost onwards; these then they brought down to the river bank, and put them all aboard; then rowing down stream again, they would build houses to order as it was required of them; after which, when they received their wage, they went back again for more materials for the building, and in this way they made their livelihood.
Once it befel that in a place where they were at work in shaping timbers, a certain Elephant trod upon a splinter of acacia wood, which pierced his foot, and caused it to swell up and fester, and he was in great pain. In his agony, he caught the sound of these carpenters cutting wood. "There are some carpenters will cure me," thought he; and limping on three feet, he presented himself before them, and lay down close by. The carpenters, noticing his swollen foot, went up and looked; there was the splinter sticking in it. With a sharp tool they made incision about the splinter, and tying a string to it, pulled it right out. Then they lanced the gathering, and washed it with warm water, and doctored it properly; and in a very short time the wound was healed.
Grateful for this cure, the Elephant thought: "My life has been saved by the help of these carpenters; now I must make myself useful to them." So ever after that, he used to pull up trees for them, or when they were chopping he would roll up the logs; or bring them their adzes and any tools they might want, holding everything in his trunk like grim death. And the carpenters, when it was time to feed him, used to bring him each a portion of food, so that he had five hundred portions in all.
Now this Elephant had a young one, white all over, a magnificent high-bred creature. The Elephant reflected that he was now old, and he had better bring his young one to serve the carpenters, and himself be left free to go. So without a word to the carpenters he went off into the wood, and brought his son to them, saying, "This young Elephant is a son of mine. You saved my life, and I give him to you as a fee for your leechcraft; from henceforward he shall work for you." So he explained to the young Elephant that it was his duty to do the work which he had been used to do himself, and then went away into the forest, leaving him with the carpenters. So after that time the young Elephant did all their work, faithfully and obediently; and they fed him, as they had fed the other, with five hundred portions for a meal.
His work once done, the Elephant would go play about in the  river, and then return again. The carpenters' children used to pull him by the trunk, and play all sorts of pranks with him in water and out. Now noble creatures, be they elephants, horses, or men, never dung or stale in the water. So this Elephant did nothing of the kind when he was in the water, but waited until he came out upon the bank.
One day, rain had fallen up river; and by the flood a half-dry cake of his dung was carried into the river. This floated down to the Benares landing place, where it stuck fast in a bush. Just then the king's elephant keepers had brought down five hundred elephants to give them a bath. But the creatures scented this soil of a noble animal, and not one would enter the water; up went their tails, and off they all ran. The keepers told this to the elephant trainers; who replied, "There must be something in the water, then." So orders were given to cleanse the water;  and there in the bushes this lump was seen. "That's what the matter is!" cried the men. So they brought a jar, and filled it with water; next powdering the stuff into it, they sprinkled the water over the elephants, whose bodies then became sweet. At once they went down into the river and bathed.
When the trainers made their report to the king, they advised him to secure the Elephant for his own use and profit.
The king accordingly embarked upon a raft, and rowed up stream until he arrived at the place where the carpenters had settled. The young Elephant, hearing the sound of drums as he was playing in the water, came out and presented himself before the carpenters, who one and all came forth to do honour to the king's coming, and said to him, "Sire, if woodwork is wanted, what need to come here? Why not send and have it brought to you?"
"No, no, good friends," the king answered, "'tis not for wood that I come, but for this elephant here."
"He is yours, Sire!" But the Elephant refused to budge.
"What do you want me to do, gossip[ed1] Elephant?" asked the king.
"Order the carpenters to be paid for what they have spent on me, Sire."
"Willingly, friend." And the king ordered an hundred thousand pieces of money to be laid by his tail, and trunk, and by each of his four feet. But this was not enough for the Elephant; go he would not. So to each of the carpenters was given a pair of cloths, and to each of their wives robes to dress in, nor did he omit to give enough whereby his playmates the children should be brought up; then with a last look upon the carpenters, and the women, and the children, he departed in company with the king.
 To his capital city the king brought him; and city and stable were decked out with all magnificence. He led the Elephant round the city in solemn procession, and thence into his stable, which was fitted up with splendour and pomp. There he solemnly sprinkled the Elephant, and appointed him for his own riding; like a comrade he treated him, and gave him the half of his kingdom, taking as much care of him as he did of himself. After the coming of this Elephant, the king won supremacy over all India.
In course of time the Bodhisatta was conceived by the Queen Consort; and when her time was near come to be delivered, the king died. Now if the Elephant learnt news of the king's death, he was sure to break his heart; so he was waited upon as before, and not a word said. But the next neighbour, the king of Kosala, heard of the king's death. "Surely the land is at my mercy," thought he; and marched with a mighty host to the city, and beleaguered it. Straight the gates were closed, and a message was sent to the king of Kosala: "Our Queen is near the time of her delivery; and the astrologers have declared that in seven days she shall bear a son. If she bears a son, we will not yield the kingdom, but on the seventh day we will give you battle. For so long we pray you wait!" And to this the king agreed.
In seven days the Queen bore a son. On his name-day they called him Prince Winheart, because, said they, he was born to win the hearts of the people.
On the very same day that he was born, the townsfolk began to do battle with the king of Kosala. But as they had no leader, little by little the army gave way, great though it was. The courtiers told this news to the Queen, adding, "Since our army loses ground in this way, we fear defeat. But the state Elephant, our king's bosom friend, has never been told that the king is dead, and a son born to him, and that the king of Kosala is here to give us battle. Shall we tell him?"
"Yes, do so," said the Queen. So she dressed up her son, and laid him in a fine linen cloth; after which she with all the court came down from the palace and entered the Elephant's stable. There she laid the babe at the Elephant's feet, saying, "Master, your comrade is dead, but we feared to tell it you lest you might break your heart. This is your comrade's son; the king of Kosala has run a leaguer about the city, and is making war upon your son; the army is losing ground; either kill your son yourself, or else win the kingdom back for him!"
At once the Elephant stroked the child with his trunk, and lifted him upon his own head; then making moan and lamentation he took him down and laid him in his mother's arms, and with the words "I will master the king of Kosala!" he went forth hastily.
Then the courtiers put his armour and caparison upon him, and  unlocked the city gate, and escorted him thither. The Elephant emerging trumpeted, and frightened all the host so that they ran away, and broke up the camp; then seizing the king of Kosala by his topknot, he carried him to the young prince, at whose feet he let him fall. Some rose to kill him, but them the Elephant stayed; and he let the captive king go with this advice: "Be careful for the future, and be not presumptuous by reason that our Prince is young."
After that, the power over all India fell into the Bodhisatta's own hand, and not a foe was able to rise up against him. The Bodhisatta was consecrated at the age of seven years, as King Winheart; just was his reign, and when he came to life's end he went to swell the hosts of heaven.
When the Master had ended this discourse, having become perfectly enlightened, he repeated this couple of verses:
"Prince Winheart took king Kosala ill pleased with all he had;
By capturing the greedy king, he made his people glad."
"So any brother, strong in will, who to the Refuge flies,
Who cherishes all good, and goes the way Nirvana lies,
By slow degrees will bring about destruction of all ties."
And so the Master, bringing his teaching to a climax in the eternal Nirvana, went on to declare the Truths, and then identified the Birth: after the Truths, this backsliding Brother was established in sainthood: "She who now is Mahāmāyā was then the mother; this backslider was the Elephant who took the kingdom and handed it over to the child; Sāriputta was the father Elephant, and I myself was the young Prince."
 Compare Hesiod, Op. 753: μηδέ ποτ᾽ ἐν προχοῇ ποταμῶν ἄλαδε προρεόντων, μηδ᾽ ἐπὶ κρηνάων οὐρεῖν. Hdt. i. 138 (the Persians) ἐς ποταμὸν δὲ οὔτε ἐνουρέουσι.....
[ed1] Ed.: Interesting evolution of this word from a term of respect to a term of derision. The meaning here presumably somewhat close to OED: "In relation to one who acts as godfather or godmother...A fellow-sponsor."