(Based on the Jataka story of 
the drunken elephant sent to kill the Buddha.)
By Marion L. Matics

He came down the forest road dust burdened, heat laddened, with few not many disciples and all nondescript in proud rags of humility. Paradox of no particular interest or meaning to the cruel men who were my keepers, where are they now? nor to me drunk with poisons that I never knew when jungle wild. The agitated brain within more filled with fire than all the heat without. A placid nature twisted raw meat mean and torn, I do not recognize myself in memory and yet I bear some blame for befuddled fiercely staggering down dusty village streets towards the river. Nalagiri, wildest in captivity, imprisoned in those dragging chains, loosed for an errand that the cousin wanted--to kill a Buddha or a Child or Man walking unsuspecting to the town, it was all the same to me. Cruelty I can hardly now remember, nastiness was like the food of yesterday. Who now distinguishes between the bales of grass and hay for very long? But how important at the time! Regret for the man dangling from the twirling trunk, child beneath the foot, woman hanging there impaled upon the tusk red dripping in indifferent ordinary cruelty. People on the high balconies watched with sympathy and some with hidden satisfaction, and of all I tortured I tortured most myself. Without warning an abrupt corner and there the silly quite bedraggled beggars. To Devadatta, to my guards, to those who watched in hypnotic fascination, he did not seem a prince, a sage, a god, or anything but flesh to tear and trample. So they prodded me with iron spears, screamed, jumped back, and waited. But to me a pillar flaming and the fire gentle and the heat was kindness. He stood, he loved, the power of his concentrated thought falling a refreshing monsoon rain, a cool and shaded pleasant grove in an empty desert place, a gesture mild to soothe and heal, a greeting not of master but of friend, in urgent asking that I should know him as my brother. Why! Of course I knelt, all passion gone, insanity dispersed, the stupid dream resolved, and for once I was myself--elephant before a Buddha! And afterwards, although it was their turn to beat and torture, they soon gave up, poor victims, and I was sent again to forest and to field. There unmolested until the day Mara came to ridicule my life. How long ago and yet that pillar burns in odd and unsuspected hearts of many elephants and some few men...Svaha!

Marion L. Matics is a Professor at Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, New York.


An excellent introduction to Buddhism as a living practice. The most approachable and easiest of Buddhist cultivation methods—the Pure Land method of reciting the Buddha's name—is explained in an especially attractive volume with photographs and line drawings. Paperbound. Available from the Sino-American Buddhist Association, 1731 - 15th Street, San Francisco, CA, 94103