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 up 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 any 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 told it that for its own well-being it must get over its fear, and having heard 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 the wind, birds, and other such things made him shriek and run away. The Buddha told this story to the disciple so he knew he had been the same way in the past and had overcome it.