The Bodhisatta was once a mahout. He worked for a king who was determined to conquer another. He led his troops to besiege the other king’s city and demanded he surrender or fight. The other king chose to fight and sent his soldiers up atop the walls and into the towers. The invading king mounted his state elephant and charged into battle, but when the elephant saw rocks being shot from catapults and boiling mud being poured down from the walls, he got scared and would not go forward. The Bodhisatta told the elephant it was shameful for him to be afraid and that he should go break through the city gate. The elephant immediately did as he was told and forced his way into the city, allowing the Bodhisatta’s king to win the battle and conquer his rival.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The elephant was an earlier birth of the Buddha’s younger half-brother, Nanda, who became a disciple of the Buddha. Soon after joining the sangha, his love for his wife made him feel sad and regret his decision. The Buddha made a plan to show him that becoming a disciple was the right choice. He took Nanda by the hand and they flew through the air to see the beauty of the Himalayas, and then to see the heavenly home of Indra, king of the gods. The Buddha told Nanda to have a good look at the five-hundred dove-footed nymphs, famed for their beauty. The Buddha asked Nanda if they were more beautiful than his wife, and he answered that they were far more beautiful. The Buddha then promised Nanda that if he lived as an ascetic he would win one of these nymphs for himself after death. So Nanda remained a disciple.
Several of the chief disciples heard about this, and they shamed Nanda for being a disciple for the wrong reasons. Nanda then had a change of heart and started to truly develop his spiritual insight. Eventually he became an arahant and released the Buddha from his promise.
When the Buddha overheard some of his disciples discussing how Nanda had been set on the right course by the advice of wise elders, he told them this story so they knew that Nanda had also been quick to follow good advice in the past.
The king was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.