The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes The story of Palileyyaka elephant contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as the Buddha’s Tenth Vassa at Pālileyyaka Forest. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Part 3 - The story of Pālileyyaka elephant

The Buddha’s Visit to Pālileyyaka

As has been said above, the Buddha, having explained the advantage of living in solitude to the Venerable Bhagu at the village of Bālakaloṇaka for half a day and the whole night, entered the village of Bālakalonaka for alms the following day with Bhagu Thera as his companion. After sending him back from that very place, the Buddha went alone to the eastern bamboo grove with the thought: “I shall meet the three clansmen who are living in harmony.” He talked to the Venerables Anuruddha, Nandiya and Kimila about the benefit of living in harmony, and having asked them to remain there at the bamboo grove, He proceeded alone and arrived at Pālileyyaka village.

The villagers welcomed the Buddha and made offerings to Him. Having constructed a dwelling for Him in the forest, named Rakkhita, near the village, they requested Him: “May the Exalted One stay here at this Rakkhita forest-dwelling.”

In the Rakkhita forest there was a huge sāla tree named Bhadda-sāla near the Buddha’s dwelling place. The Buddha stayed about that tree near His dwelling in the forest with Pālileyyaka village as His alms-resort.

Then it occurred to Him who was staying in solitude:

“I could not live at ease, being mixed up with the Kosambī monks who indulge in disputes under My eyes or in My absence and created quarrels in the Sangha. Now that I am alone and unaccompanied, away from those disputing and quarrelling monks, My stay is happy.”

Story of Pālileyyaka Elephant

At that time, there was a certain full grown male elephant, the leader of a herd, living still with young males, females, courting males and suckling’s. Living in this manner, he had to feed on the grass without the tender tips; all the branches and twigs brought down from the trees by him were eaten up by other elephants. He also had to drink muddy water. Besides, when he rose from the ford, females went past by pushing him.

Then it occurred to him thus: “Living with such members of my herd compels me to eat the grass. The tender tips of which are gone as have been eaten earlier by others. Whatever I have brought down from the trees are devoured by them. It is the turbid water that I have to drink. Female elephants jostle my body when I come up from the water. Were it well if I would live away from the herd!” So thinking, he left the herd and happened to go to the Buddha near the huge sāla tree in the Pālileyyaka Rakkhita forest.

(Herein Palileyyaka was originally the name of the village. The original name of the forest was Rakkhita. Since the Rakkhita forest was near the village of Pālileyyaka, it was also called Pālileyyaka, by “way of its nearness (samīpūpacāra).” The elephant that had come to that forest was also referred to as Pālileyyaka elephant-king.)

Service rendered by Pālileyyaka Elephant to The Buddha

When the elephant, being sick of living with the herd and entering the forest he saw the Buddha seated at the foot of the sāla tree. On seeing Him, he felt calm like a man who has his grief allayed by the water from a thousand pots. With devotion in his heart, he was attached to the Buddha and stood near Him. From that time onwards, as his daily routine, he swept the ground around the Bhaddasāla tree and the Buddha’s dwelling place with a twig so that the ground might be cleared of grass and plants, he brought water to the Buddha for washing His face, he fetched water for His bathing, he offered a small twig to be used as a tooth-cleaner, he brought sweet, delicious fruit of different sizes and offered them to the Buddha, who took them for food.

(With his trunk, the elephant brought firewood. By rubbing the fire sticks with one another, he produced fire, into which he put stones to bake them. When the stones became hot, he rolled them down into a stone basin by means of a stick; then he tried to ascertain whether the water was hot enough or not; if he knew it was, he approached the Buddha and stood near him. Perceiving that “the elephant wanted me to bathe,” the Buddha went to the stone basin and bathed. In the same way did the elephant also keep the drinking water. (What should be taken as remarkable from this is that the Buddha drank boiled water that had been cooled.)

(All this is an extract from the Vinaya Mahāvagga Atthakathā and the Sāratthapakāsanī Ṭikā.)

(The following is the narrative from the Kosambaka Story of the Dhammapada Commentary, Volume One.)

When the Buddha entered the village for alms-food, Palileyyaka elephant carried His bowl and robe on his head and went along with Him. When the Buddha reached the edge of the village, He said to the elephant: “Pālileyyaka, it is not fit for you to follow Me beyond this point. Get Me My bowl and robe!” thus He let the elephant put down His requisites from the head, and, carrying them by Himself, he entered the village.

The elephant waited at the same spot until the Buddha returned and when the latter came back, he greeted Him and in the previous manner, he took His bowl and robe. On arriving home in the forest dwelling, he placed them in their proper place; and waiting on the Master, he fanned Him with a twig. When night fell, intending: “I will give protection to the Buddha,” he held a big stick with his trunk and roamed in the forest till dawn to ward off any danger from lions, tigers and leopards.

N.B. From that time onwards, the huge forest came to be known as Palileyyaka Rakkhita Forest, for it was guarded by Pālileyyaka elephant.

He performed in like manner all his duties beginning with offering of the water for the Buddha to wash the face at day-break.

In this way the Buddha spent the tenth vassa-period in the Pālileyyaka forest, receiving service rendered by Pālileyyaka elephant.

Criticism on The Kosambī Monks’ Behaviour

While the Buddha was thus spending the vassa in the Pālileyyaka forest, the wealthy Ghosaka and other lay devotees and donors, residents of Kosambī, went to the Ghositārāma monastery and not seeing Him, they inquired: “Venerable sirs, where is the Master staying?” To this, the monks give a sad answer saying: “Donors, the Master has gone to the Palileyyaka forest.” “Why?” asked the lay devotees. “The Master tried to restore unity in us as we were disunited,” said the monks. “But (having developed hatred among ourselves) we refused to be united. (Hence the Master’s departure to the Pālileyyaka forest.)” “How is it, sirs?” asked the lay people, “Despite your ordination from the Buddha’s hand, and despite His attempt to restore your unity, do you remain disunited?” The monks admitted that it was true.

Many male and female lay devotees, citizens of Kosambī, agreed saying among themselves: “These Kosambī monks, who have been ordained by the Exalted One, are not united in spite of His effort to unite them. On account of them, we have long been deprived of the chance to behold the Master. We will give no seats to them, nor will we pay respects!” From that time onwards, the quarrelsome and contentious monks of Kosambī were no longer treated with respects (much less with the four requisites).

Because of the scarcity of food and starvation, the monks became emancipated day by day and came to their senses after a few days. They confessed their faults and apologized to one another with salutations; they also begged the laity’s pardon, saying: “We have become untied, donors, please treat us as before!” “Have you tendered your apology to the Master?” asked the lay people. “No, donors not yet.” “Then you had better do so. After your doing so, will we treat you, sirs, as before,” replied the lay people tactfully. Since it was a vassa-period, the monks did not dare to visit the Buddha and had to pass the three months of vassa miserably.

The Monkey inspired by Pālileyyaka Elephant.

Enjoying the service of Pālileyyaka elephant (as has been said before), the Buddha stayed happily in the Pālileyyaka forest for the three vassa months.

At that time, a monkey, seeing the daily duties performed actively and energetically by Pālileyyaka elephant, became inspired and thought to himself: “I too will do some act of merit towards the Master.” One day, while roaming about, he found a tree-branch with a honeycomb devoid of bees, broke it and brought it with the broken branch to the Buddha. He then cut a plantain leaf, on which he placed the honeycomb and offered it to the Buddha. The Buddha accepted it.

The monkey watched to see whether the Buddha would enjoy it or not, and he saw Him remaining in his seat and just holding the honeycomb without eating it. The monkey investigated, wondering why. He took the honeycomb by its edge and turned it round, only to see the bee-eggs, which he slowly and gently removed and offered it again to the Buddha. Then only did He eat it.

So elated was the monkey that he joyously danced moving from one tree branch to another. While so doing, both the branches, which he was holding with his hand and which he was treading on, broke off and he fell on a tree stump. With his body pierced by the stump but with his mind devoted to the Buddha, he died and was reborn in a golden mansion measuring thirty yojanas in the deva abode of Tāvatiṃsa. He was known as Makkata Deva (monkey god) having a thousand female celestials as his retinue.

Pālileyyaka’s Thought and The Buddha’s Udāna.

To Pālileyyaka elephant, who had been fulfilling his daily duties to the Buddha in the aforesaid manner, it occurred thus:

“Associated with young males, females, courting males and suckling’s, I could not live in peace formerly. I had to feed on the grass without their sprouts; all the branches and twigs brought down from trees were devoured by all others. It is the unclean water that I had to drink. What is more, female elephants showed no regard for me as I was rudely jostled by them when I came up from the water. Now that I have departed from them, I can live alone in peace.”

Knowing by Himself His own peaceful life away from His companions and knowing also the thought of Pālileyyaka elephant, the Buddha breathed forth this udāna (solemn utterance):

Etam nāgassa nāgena
īsādantassa hatthino
sameti cittaṃ cittena
yad'eko ramatī vane

Being alone in this forest named Rikkhita, I, the Buddha, the Teacher of the three classes of beings (devas, humans and Brahmās), take delight. In the same way, this elephant, named Pālileyyaka, delights being alone in this very forest. Therefore, the thought of Pālileyyaka elephant, who possesses the pole-like tusks, is the same as Mine, who have been named Buddha-nāga, the elephant-like Buddha, living in the forest seclusion.

Ānanda’s Entreaty to The Buddha.

The life of the Buddha observing vassa in the forest of Pālileyyaka, enjoying the service rendered by Pālileyyaka elephant, became well-known throughout the whole Jambūdīpa. The wealthy Anāthapiṇḍika, the monastery donor Visakha and other high-born residents of Savatthi sent their message to Venerable Ānanda saying: “Venerable Sir, kindly help us have an opportunity to behold the Exalted One!”

Five hundred bhikkhus who had been staying all over the places approached Ānanda at the end of vassa and made a request to him with these words: “Friend Ānanda, it has been long since we heard last the sermon from the Master. Friend Ānanda, we beg you. We would like to have a chance again to listen to the Exalted One.”

Then the Venerable Ānanda went to the Pālileyyaka forest leading the five hundred monks, but he thought that it would not be nice to draw near the Buddha together with such a large crowd as the Buddha had been living a solitary life for the whole vassa. He, therefore, left the monks somewhere else and approached the Buddha by himself.

On seeing the Venerable Ānanda, Pālileyyaka elephant rushed to him carrying a stick in the grip of his trunk (for he mistook him for an enemy). When the Buddha saw this, He stopped the elephant saying: “Go away, Pālileyyaka, go away! Do not block his way. This monk is my attendant.” The elephant then dropped the stick and made a gesture to express his desire to take the Venerable’s bowl and robe. But the Venerable refused to hand them.

Then the elephant thought: “If this monk were conversant with the rules of an attendant, he would not put his requisites on the stone slab which is the seat of the Master.” The Venerable Ānanda laid down his bowl and robe on the ground. (Never does a well conducted person or a man versed in duties place his belongings on the seat or the bed of the respected teacher.)

After paying obeisance to the Buddha, Venerable Ānanda sat down in a blameless place. “Dear son, Ānanda, did you come alone?” asked the Buddha. When informed that he came together with five hundred monks, the Buddha inquired further: “Where are those five hundred monks now?” “I came, having left them somewhere else, as I did not know the inclination of the Exalted One,” replied Venerable Ānanda. “Bring them here, dear Ānanda,” the Buddha ordered.

As had been ordered by the Buddha, the Venerable Ānanda called the five hundred monks who came and paid obeisance to the Buddha and took their appropriate seats. When the Buddha had exchanged friendly greetings with them, the monks said to the Buddha: "You, Exalted One, are gentle partly because you have become a Buddha and partly because you have come of an aristocratic family. You have done a difficult thing by living all by yourself for the whole vassa. It seems that you have no one to attend to your needs, nobody to bring you the water for washing your face and so on.” “Monks,” addressed the Buddha, “Pālileyyaka elephant has fulfilled all the duties due to me. In fact, one who has a good companion of such nature should live with that companion. In the absence of such a companion only a solitary life is praiseworthy. He then gave the following three verses which are preserved in the Nāga-Vagga (of the Dhammapada)

Sace labhetha nipakam sahāyaṃ
Saddhim caraṃ sādhuvihari dhīraṃ
abhibhuyya sabbāni parissayāni
careyya tenattamano satīmā

No ce labhetha nipakeṃ sahāyam
saddhim caraṃ sādhuvihāri dhīram
rājā'va raṭṭhaṃ vijitaṃ pahāya
eko care mātaṅgaraññeva nāgo

Ekassa caritaṃ seyyo
n'atthi bāle sahāyatā
eko care na ca pāpāni kayirā
appossukko mātaṅgaraññe'va nāgo

(The meaning of these three verses has been given in Chapter 36.) At the end of the verses the five hundred monks became established in the arahatta-phala.

Then the Venerable Ānanda conveyed the messages of the wealthy Anāthapiṇḍika and the monastery donor Visākhā and all, saying: “Exalted One, the five crores of noble donors, lay men and women, citizens of Sāvatthi, headed by Anāthapiṇḍika the merchant, are waiting in great hopes for your coming.” “In that case, dear Ānanda, bring My bowl and robe,” so saying the Buddha set out from the Pālileyyaka forest.

At that time Pāileyyaka elephant came and lay across the path that was to be taken by the Buddha and His assembly of bhikkhus. When the bhikkhus asked: “Exalted One, what is the elephant doing?” The Buddha replied: “Monks, this elephant is desirous of offering almsfood to you, dear sons. In fact, this elephant has specially rendered service to Me for a long time, for which I am grateful. He ought not to be disappointed. Let us turn back, monks!” With these words, the Buddha turned back, leading the monks.

Pāileyyaka went into the forest and gathered various edible fruits, such as jack fruit, bananas and so on; he brought them, kept them in heaps for offering to the monks the following day. The five hundred monks could not eat all.

When the eating was over, the Buddha had His bowl and robe brought and left the forest. Pālileyyaka elephant made his way through the monks and stood across right in front of the Buddha again. “Exalted One, what is the matter with the elephant?” the monks asked. “This elephant wants Me to turn back and to send you, dear sons, away,” answered the Buddha, who also said to the elephant: “This time I am going positively without turning back. With this body of yours it is not possible for you to attain jhāna, Insight, the Path and Fruition. Stay behind!” On hearing these words, the elephant, putting his trunk into his mouth and weeping, followed the assembly of monks headed by the Buddha. Indeed, if he were able to make the Buddha return, for life would he serve the Master only in the previous manner.

On reaching the outskirts of the Pālileyyaka village, the Buddha addressed His last words to the elephant: “Pālileyyaka, beyond this point is no habitat of yours. A human abode is dangerous. You had better remain here!” The elephant stood lamenting there with his eyes set on the Buddha as far as he could see, when he lost sight of the Buddha, he died of a broken-heart at that very spot. By virtue of his meritorious state of devotion to the Buddha, he was reborn a god with a retinue of a thousand celestials in a golden mansion, thirty yojanas wide; he bore the famous name of Pālileyyaka Deva.

Here ends the story of Pālileyyaka elephant.

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