Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta became his minister. In those days the king had a state elephant , named Damsel-face, who was virtuous and good, and never hurt anybody.
Now one day some burglars came close up to the elephant’s stall by night and sat down to discuss their plans in these words :-“This is the way to tunnel into a house; this is the way to break in through the walls; before carrying off the plunder, the tunnel or breach in the walls ought to be made as clear and open as a road or a ford. In lifting the goods, you shouldn’t stick at murder; for thus there will be none able to resist. A burglar should get rid of all goodness and virtue, and be quite pitiless, a man of cruelty and violence.” After having schooled one another in these counsels, the burglars took themselves off. The next day too they came, and many other days besides, and held like converse together, till the elephant came to the conclusion that they came expressly to instruct him, and that he must turn pitiless, cruel, and violent. And such indeed he became. No sooner did his mahout appear in the early morning than the elephant took the man in his trunk and dashed him to death on the ground. And in the same way he treated a second, and a third, and every person in turn who came near him.
The news was brought to the king that Damsel-face had gone mad and was killing everybody that he caught sight of. So the king sent the Bodhisatta, saying, “Go, sage, and find out what has perverted him.”
Away went the Bodhisatta, and soon satisfied him self that the elephant showed no signs of bodily ailment. As he thought over the possible causes of the change, he came to the conclusion that the elephant must have heard persons talking near him, and have imagined that they were giving him a lesson, and that this was what had perverted the animal. Accordingly, he asked the elephant-keepers whether any persons had been talking together recently near the stall by night. “Yes, my lord,” was the answer; “some burglars came and talked.” Then the Bodhisatta went and told the king, saying, “There is nothing wrong, sire, with the elephant bodily; he has been perverted by overhearing some burglars talk.” “Well, what is to be done now?” “Order good men, sages and Brahmins, to sit in his stall and to talk of goodness.” “Do so, my friend,” said the king. Then the Bodhisatta set good men, sages and Brahmins, in the stall , and bade them talk of goodness. And they, taking their seats hard by the elephant, spoke as follows, “Neither maltreat nor kill. The good should be long-suffering, loving, and merciful.” Hearing this the elephant thought they must mean this as a lesson for him, and resolved thenceforth to become good. And good he become.
“Well, my friend,” said the king to the Bodhisatta; “is he good now?” “Yes your majesty,” said the Bodhisatta; “thanks to wise and good men the elephant who was so perverted has become himself again.” And so saying, he repeated this stanza:-
Through hearing first the burglars’ wicked talk
Damsel-face ranged abroad to wound and kill;
Through hearing, later, wise men’s lofty words
The noble elephant turned good once more.
Said the king, “He can read the mind even of an animal!” And he conferred great honour on the Bodhisatta. After living to a good old age, he with the Bodhisatta, passed away to fare according to his deserts.