The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. One of the king’s elephants was best friends with one of the mahout’s dogs. They always ate together and the dog would swing on the elephant’s trunk.
One day a villager bought the dog and took it home. The elephant missed his friend so much that it refused to eat, drink, or bathe. When the king heard of the elephant’s behavior, he sent the Bodhisatta to find out what had happened. He examined the elephant and saw that nothing physically ailed it. Pondering the problem further he guessed that he must be missing a close friend. The Bodhisatta asked the elephant’s mahout if the elephant had any friends and he told about the dog that had been sold. But he did not know where the buyer lived. The Bodhisatta explained the situation to the king and told him to make an official proclamation that whoever possessed the dog would face punishment. When the dog’s new owner heard the news, he released the dog and it ran back to the palace. The elephant cried upon the return of its friend and placed it upon his head, then the two ate a meal together.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The elephant and the dog were earlier births of two friends, one a disciple of the Buddha who lived at the monastery and the other a lay follower who lived at home. The two men were so close that they sat and talked together all day every day.
When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the two men’s close relationship he told them this story so that they knew these two men had also been best friends in the past.