Ladyface – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
Once upon a time, the King of Benares had
a royal bull elephant who was kind, patient and
harmless. Along with his sweet disposition, he had
a lovely gentle face. So he was affectionately
known as ‘Ladyface’.
One night, a gang of robbers met together
just outside the elephant shed. In the darkness
they talked about their plans for robbing people.
They spoke of beating and killing, and bragged
that they had given up ordinary goodness so they
would have no pity on their victims. They used
rough he-man type gutter language, intended to
scare people and show how tough they were.
Since the nights were quiet, Ladyface had
nothing else to do but listen to all these terrible
plans and violent rough talk. He listened carefully
and, as elephants do, remembered it all. Having
been brought up to obey and respect human be-
ings, he thought these men were also to be obeyed
and respected, even as teachers.
After this went on for several nights, Lady-
face decided that the correct thing to do was to
become rough and cruel. This usually happens to
one who associates with those of a low-minded
cruel nature. It happens especially to a gentle one
who wishes to please others.
A ‘mahout’ is what the Indians call the spe-
cial trainer and caretaker of a particular elephant.
They are usually very close. Early one morning,
Ladyface’s mahout came to see him as usual. The
elephant, his mind filled with the night’s robber-
talk, suddenly attacked his mahout. He picked him
up in his trunk, squeezed the breath out of him,
and smashed him to the ground, killing him in-
stantly. Then he picked up two other attendants,
one after another, and killed them just as fero-
Word spread quickly through the city that
the once adored Ladyface had suddenly gone mad
and become a frightening man killer. The people
ran to the king for help.
It just so happened that the king had an in-
telligent minister who was known for his under-
standing of animals. So he called for him and
asked him to go and determine what sickness or
other condition had caused his favourite elephant
to become so insanely violent.
This minister was the Bodhisatta the
Enlightenment Being. Arriving at the elephant
shed, he spoke gentle soothing words to Ladyface,
and calmed him down. He examined him and
found him in perfect physical health. As he spoke
kindly to Ladyface, he noticed that the elephant
perked up his ears and paid very close attention. It
was almost as if the poor animal were starved for
the sound of gentle words. So the understanding
minister figured out that the elephant must have
been hearing the violent words or seeing the vio-
lent actions of those he mistook for teachers.
He asked the elephant guards, “Have you
seen anyone hanging around this elephant shed, at
night or any other time?” “Yes, minister,” they re-
plied, “for the last couple weeks a gang of robbers
has been meeting here. We were afraid to do any-
thing, since they were such mean rough charac-
ters. Ladyface could hear their every word.”
The minister returned immediately to the
king. He said, “My lord king, your favourite ele-
phant, Ladyface, is in perfect physical health. I
have discovered that it was by hearing the rough
and vulgar talk of thieves during many nights, that
he has learned to be violent and cruel. Unwhole-
some associations often lead to unwholesome
thoughts and actions.”
The king asked, “What is to be done?” The
minister said. “Well my lord, now we must reverse
the process. We must send wise men and monks,
who have a high-minded kind nature, to spend just
as many nights outside the elephant shed. There
they should talk of the value of ordinary goodness
and patience, leading to compassion, loving-
kindness and harmlessness.”
So it was carried out. For several nights the
kind wise ones spoke of those wonderful qualities.
They used only gentle and refined language,
intended to bring peacefulness and comfort to
Lo and behold, hearing this pleasant con-
versation for several nights, Ladyface the bull ele-
phant became even more peaceful and pleasant
than before!
Seeing this total change, the minister re-
ported it to the king, saying, “My lord, Ladyface
is now even more harmless and sweet than before.
Now he is as gentle as a lamb!”
The king said, “It is wonderful indeed that
such a madly violent elephant can be changed by
associating with wise men and monks.” He was
amazed that his minister seemed to be able to read
the mind of an elephant. So he rewarded him ap-
The moral is: As rough talk infects with violence,
so do gentle words heal
with harmlessness.