Can the power of love stop an elephant?
As I explain in my “About” page for Metta Refuge, it’s been my experience that metta practice can not only transform our minds, but also bless and heal our own and others’ bodies. I’ve also seen metta have remarkable effects on sick pets and injured wild animals. Animals just seem to respond naturally to a genuine, radiating love.
Radiant love can also be a protection to ourselves and to others. In street encounters and in counseling work I’ve done in prisons, I’ve seen genuine love and compassion avert imminent violence and calm dangerous individuals. And more than a few times, I‘ve been protected from an attacking dog by stopping and fearlessly embracing it with love and empathy.
Of course, avoiding dangerous situations is the wisest course! But if we’ve been developing genuine love and compassion in our hearts, my experience is loving-kindness is a great aid and comfort in difficult or even dangerous situations.
I guess this is why I’ve always had a special affection for the story of the Buddha and the raging elephant found in the Pali scriptures. Yes, it could be an apocryphal story, but from what I’ve seen of the power of love in my own life and the lives of others, I have a feeling it’s not, and that something remarkable happened on that day.
Here’s what one Buddhist teacher, Acharya Buddharakkhita, writes about the famous encounter:
The Buddha and the Mad Elephant Nalagiri
“The subjective benefit of universal love is evident enough. The enjoyment of well-being, good health, peace of mind, radiant features, and the affection and goodwill of all are indeed great blessings of life accruing from the practice of metta-meditation. But what is even more wonderful is the impact which metta has on the environment and on other beings, including animals…as the Pali scriptures and commentaries illustrate with a number of memorable stories.”
“Once the Buddha was returning from his almsround together with his retinue of monks. As they were nearing the prison, in consideration of a handsome bribe from Devadatta, the Buddha’s evil and ambitious cousin, the executioner let loose the fierce elephant Nalagiri, which was used for the execution of criminals.”
Madness Meets Metta!
“As the intoxicated elephant rushed towards the Buddha trumpeting fearfully, the Buddha projected powerful thoughts of metta towards it. Venerable Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, was so deeply concerned about the Buddha’s safety that he ran in front of the Buddha to shield him, but the Buddha asked him to stand aside since the projection of love itself was quite sufficient.”
“The impact of the Buddha’s metta-radiation was so immediate and overwhelming that by the time the animal neared the Buddha it was completely tamed as though a drunken wretch had suddenly become sober by the magical power of a spell. The tusker, it is said, bowed down in reverence in the way trained elephants do in a circus.” (From: Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love, by Acharya Buddharakkhita. Access to Insight, June 7, 2009)
If we encounter a raging elephant, it’d certainly be wise to take cover! I know I would! But I also know I’m going to be working on taming the “raging elephants” in my own heart and mind that wreak havoc in my life—anger, fear, selfishness, and all the rest of the “tuskers” I’ve created, fed, and given refuge to in my heart.
After years of trying to destroy and annihilate these angry inner “elephants” by attacking them or trying to deny them or suppress them through sheer human will, I now know that only a non-violent approach works. With mindfulness, attention to what’s going on, and loving-kindness, we can actually tame these wild energies and transform them into gentle but powerful friends that kneel before enlightened goodness and serve a higher purpose.
If you’d like to learn more about the skillful means to bring about this transformation, please take a look at my next post: