Dhammapada – Chapter 23 – The Elephant

The Dhammapada contains the solution to all our sufferings. Within this much-loved text are pearls of wisdom and nuggets of practical advice on how we can reduce and remove the suffering we cause to ourselves and others. 

Altogether there are twenty-six chapters. You will soon notice as you go through all the chapters that training the mind is the solution to end all suffering and it forms the basis of our spiritual cultivation, practice, and sadhana. From thought flows behaviour which then shapes our character. The Buddha’s fundamental teaching is that we are what we think. And all suffering comes from not knowing how to use our minds properly.

Of the many renditions of the Dhammapada, I have decided to share the one from The Still Point Dhammapada by Geri Larkin. I find it to be the most relevant to the struggles we face in our complicated, contemporary lives especially when we live in a city where chances are we build walls more than relationships. People matter and how we behave towards them begins with what goes on in our mind and heart. The only way out of our own suffering is actually to be inclusive. A heart big enough for all.


Chapter 23 – The Elephant

Just as an elephant in a battlefield endures the arrows shot from a bow, I too will endure abuse. Indeed, many people in the world harm.

Only the best-trained elephants are taken into battlefields. In the same way, only those who best train themselves spiritually can withstand abuse.

Better than trained mules, thoroughbred horses, or noble, tusked elephants are those who have trained themselves. There is no mode of transportation that can take a person to Nirvana. Only by controlling one’s sense and training one’s mind can that goal be reached.

During the mating season the mighty elephant Dhanapalaka will not eat a morsel of food and is uncontrollable. Held in captivity he can only dream of home among the other elephants.

A foolish person, someone who is lazy, gluttonous, and sleepy — who wallows in his or her life like a huge hog nourished on slop — is doomed to repeated births.

My mind used to wander wherever it wanted, whenever it wanted. Now, through, mindfulness, I control it, keep it in check — as an elephant who, even in the mating season, is controlled by a trainer.

Delight in mindfulness. Guard your mind well. In the same way that an elephant stuck in mud pulls itself out, pull yourself out of the mud of moral defilements.

If you can find a virtuous companion to live with you, a companion who is well behaved and wise, live with him joyfully and mindfully.

But if you cannot find a virtuous companion fit to live with you — if you can’t find someone who behaves well and is wise — then, like a king who leaves his kingdom, live along like an elephant in a forest.

It is better to live alone than to have fellowship with fools. Let yourself live alone, doing no evil, carefree, like an elephant in the forest.

It is good to have friends when one is in need. It is good to be content with whatever is. It is good to have merit when life is about to end. It is good to let go of sorrow.

In this world it is good to be dutiful to one’s mother, dutiful to one’s father, helpful to people on a spiritual path, and helpful to the enlightened ones.

It is good to stay virtuous into old age. It is good to have unshakable faith. It is good to gain wisdom. It is good to be free.