The Bodhisatta was once a tree fairy. The king sent one of his young elephants to the mahouts for training, the first step of which was to tie it to a post and beat it with metal hooks. As it was being tortured, the elephant broke free and fled to the Himalayas where it lived without happiness and in constant fear of death; even the sound of the wind could make it panic. The Bodhisatta saw the elephant’s plight and said that for its own well-being it must get over its fear; and hearing this wisdom, it did.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The elephant was an earlier birth of one of the Buddha’s disciples who lived in constant fear of death. The sound of wind, birds, and other such things made him shriek and run away. The Buddha told this story to the disciple so he knew that he had been the same way in the past and had overcome it.