Chapter 91 — Explanation of the Parable of the Elephant

Chudala (as Kumbha) continued:—

O great king, now hear me explain the meaning of the story of the Vindhyan elephant, which will be as useful to you as it will appear wonderful.

That elephant of the Vindhyan range is you in this forest. His two strong tusks are no other than the two virtues of reasoning and renunciation on which you lay your strength. The hunter who was the elephant’s enemy and trapped him is the personification of the great ignorance that has laid hold of you for your misery only. Even the strong is foiled by the weak, led from one danger to another and from sorrow to sorrow just like the strong elephant was led by the weak hunter, and as you, O mighty king, are led by your imbecilic ignorance in this forest. 5 As the mighty elephant was caught in the strong iron chain, so you are held tightly in the trap of your desire which has brought all this calamity on you.

Man’s expectation is the iron chain. Expectations are stronger, harder and more durable than the metal. Iron rusts and wastes away in time, but our expectations rise high and hold us faster. The hunter marked the elephant by remaining unseen in his hiding place. In the same way your ignorance lurks from a distance after you, marking you for his prey. As the elephant broke the bonds of his enemy’s iron chains, so have you broken the ties of your peaceful rule and the bonds of your royalty and enjoyments. O pious king, it is sometimes possible to break the bonds of iron chains, but it is impossible, O holy prince, to stop our growing desires and fond expectations.

10 The hunter who caught the elephant in the trap fell from on high to the ground. So was your ignorance also leveled to the ground, seeing you deprived of your royalty and all your former dignity. 11 When a man who is disgusted with the world wants to relinquish his desire of enjoyment, he makes his ignorance tremble, just as a demon who lives in a tree quakes with fear when the tree is felled. 12 When a self-resigned man remains devoid of desire for temporal enjoyments, he bids farewell to his ignorance, which quits him like the demon leaves his fallen tree. 13 A man getting rid of his animal gratifications demolishes the abode of his ignorance from the mind, just like a wood-cutter destroys the bird nests in the tree which he has cut down.

14 No doubt you have put down your ignorance by renouncing your royalty and resorting to this forest. Of course your mind is cast down, but it is not yet destroyed by the sword of your renunciation. 15 It rises again and gains renewed strength. Minding its former defeat, it has at last overpowered you by confining you in this wilderness and restraining you in the painful prison of your false asceticism.

16 If you can kill your fallen ignorance in any way, it will not be able to destroy you in your rigorous penance, though it has reduced you to this plight by your abdication of royalty. 17 The ditch that the hunter dug to encircle and trap the elephant is this painful pit of austerity which your ignorance has dug to capture you. 18 The many provisions and supplies the hunter placed over the ditch to entice the elephant are the very many expectations of future reward which your ignorance presents as reward for your penitence.

19 O king, though you are not the ignorant elephant, yet you are not unlike it, being cast in this forest by your incorrigible ignorance. 20 The ditch for the elephant truly was filled with tender plants and leaves for the elephant’s fodder, but your cave is full of rigorous austerities which no humanity can bear or tolerate. 21 You are still caged in this prison house of the ascetic’s cell, doomed to undergo all the imagined torments of your penance and martyrdom. You truly resemble fallen Bali confined in his underground cell. 22 No doubt you are the empty headed elephant, fast bound in the chain of false rigors and imprisoned in this cave of your ignorance.

Thus I have given a full exposition of the parable of the elephant of the Vindhya Hills. Now from this, pick out the best lesson for yourself.