Cula Hatthipadopama Sutta, Elephant Tracks, Majjhima Nikaya 27

Praising the Buddha

Hermit Pilotika greatly praised and glorified the wisdom of the Buddha. Pilotika told that the wisdom of the Buddha is clearly visible, like elephant footprints. Sometimes hermits, Brahmans, householders or noble people come to Buddha to argue with Him, to catch Him at any mistake, but, after talking with the Blessed One, they become His followers. Impressed by Pilotika story, the Brahman Janussonin went to the Buddha to talk with Him.

Elephant and its footprints

Having met with the Buddha, Janussonin told Him about the praises of Pilotika. After listening to this, the Blessed One remarked that there is a difference between the conclusion about an elephant made on seeing its footprints and the discovery of the elephant itself.

The seeker finds the elephant following its tracks; the elephant is the Buddha’s metaphor for the Awakening. These tracks (signs) are as follows: achieving high morality, awareness and vigilance regarding the activities of the senses, entering and staying in the four jhānas, knowledge of past births and the law of karma, which determines the path for the reincarnation of beings after their death (for a detailed description of the components of the Path, see Subha Sutta, Digha Nikaya 10).

Having reached high morality and having restrained senses, the seekers feel satisfaction; they know that they are on the right path. Without harming or deceiving others or themselves, they feel pure joy, similar to the elephant footprints in the thicket of feelings.

Being joyful, seekers develop vigilance in themselves: they restrain the activity of their feelings, directing them to the good, averting them from the negative. Thus, they reach peace, like the footprints of an elephant on a jungle trail.

By comprehension of the four jhānas, the seekers develop bliss and satisfaction, like the distinct tracks of an elephant.

After recognizing past births and knowing the law of karma, the seekers follow the tracks that lead to the elephant, and finally, with the extinction of the spots of anger, passion and ignorance, the practitioners see the elephant – how it stands, moves, lies. They comprehend their own liberated mind. After this, the seekers have no doubt that the Buddha’s Teaching leads to a final liberation from suffering.

The Buddha’s explanations were enthusiastically received by the Brahman. Janussonin took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, becoming a worldly follower. Such was the first meeting of Janussonin with the Blessed One (the Bhaya-Bherava Sutta, MN 4 tells about one of their next conversations).

Vladimir Pyatsky
Translation: Natalia Tsimbler and Daniel Tsimbler