Imagining the Death of Nalagiri

Once a queen, who though possessing great beauty or perhaps because of it, desired the rare things of the world. One night in her castle of gray stones and carefully laid lines she dreamt of a magnificent elephant with glowing eyes. Her dream elephant strolled calmly and quietly through jade forests, moving trees gently to one side with pure white tusks that shone in the moonlight.

Here was rarity. The queen awoke and could not forget her dream nor her desire. She wanted the pure white tusks. She asked her husband the king to find the calm elephant and the pure ivory.

Although it seemed to him an impossible task, the king loved this beautiful queen very much. He sent word throughout the kingdom, asking for anyone who knew of this great elephant to report to him. He offered a bountiful reward to any hunter who could bring the tusks to him.

Now it happened that there was indeed a great elephant living in the endless, deep green forests nearby – an elephant whose heart was as great as his very being. This elephant wandered the forests and highlands, searching for a purity and a grace. He roamed the beloved land, gently touching what he found there with his long, delicate trunk, searching and learning.

It turned out that during this elephant’s long meanderings, he had once saved a hunter who had been lost in the forest, guiding him from the dangerous parts of the forest back onto familiar paths leading to safety. The hunter returned home. But as coincidence would have it, this same hunter lived in the kingdom where a queen dreamt of an elephant with glowing eyes.

Hearing about the great reward the king offered for the tusks, the hunter forgot the elephant’s great kindness, and set out on a journey back into the magical forest. From his previous contact with the elephant, he knew the elephant was a seeker of truth, so he disguised himself as a wise sage.

At dawn the elephant emerged from the forest and walked quietly into a clearing, where the hunter waited. Seeing what looked to him like a kindly sage, the elephant bowed, his beautiful white tusks gently scraping the ground. When he did this, the hunter quickly pulled and drew back his bow, and sent three poison arrows like lightning into the body of the great elephant.

The elephant felt the arrows pierce his body. He looked down and felt them burning and he knew they were poisoned. He felt his heart beat faster and his legs weaken. He knew his end was near. Other elephants nearby heard his cry, and came to investigate. When these other elephants saw what had happened, they were overcome with fury and attacked the hunter.

The great tusked elephant, however, knew the hunter had been overcome by desire.

He sheltered the hunter within the protection of his great limbs from the terrible anger of the other elephants.

Then when it was safe, the elephant quietly asked the hunter why he had done such a foolish thing. The hunter wept and looked at the ground in shame, and told of the reward the king had offered. The hunter confessed that he coveted the pure tusks.

Though weakening rapidly from the poison, the elephant immediately struck his great tusks again and again on a tree trunk. The tusks made sounds like thunder as they broke off. The elephant knelt, then turned slowly. His eyes shone, and as he turned his long trunk gently caressed the earth. He gave the broken tusks to the hunter, saying to him: “By this gift I have completed my search. My gift to you may vanquish the three poisonous arrows that have already pierced you – arrows of greed and anger and ignorance.”

– adapted from BUKKYŌ DENDŌ KYŌKAI

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