I am not sure about this but the title of this book (When the Buddha Was an Elephant: 32 Animal Wisdom Tales from the Jataka) implies that Buddha was once an elephant; in other words that an elephant was a Buddha.

Here is the story in question:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

My question is: according to Jataka tales or other scriptural references, is it true that an elephant was a Buddha (not just Bodhisatta but Buddha)?

  • That kind of link is only visible to you. To make it visible to other readers you would need to take a screenshot of it and insert the screenshot as an image into your question.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 15, 2017 at 13:52
  • That link pointed to a book titled :"When the Buddha Was an Elephant: "...The book is expensive and it made me wonder whether what the book claims is true. I think book has a wrong title. Buddha was never an elephant. Oct 15, 2017 at 14:09
  • What if the Buddha was a Bodhisatta, and the Bodhisatta was an elephant?
    – ChrisW
    Oct 15, 2017 at 14:12
  • @ChrisW Bodhisatta are potential Buddhas. Some are realized into Buddha and some are not. It is true that a Buddha can learn about his previous births and in one of the previous births he might remember himself being an elephant. But as quoted from Questions of King Milinda an animal can not attain an insight into the Truth. Bodhisattas are humans. Oct 20, 2017 at 19:26
  • @ChrisW My apologies. Bodhisattas can be animals as it is mentioned in the scriptures. The point is no animal can be considered as Buddha himself. However some animals can be considered as Bodhisattas. That resolves my minor curiosity. Thanks. Oct 20, 2017 at 19:55

2 Answers 2


No. Animals can not become Buddha. Even if an elephant or any other animal regulates his life right ,he will not attain insight into the Truth.

To quote from Questions of King Milinda:

'Venerable Nâgasena, those who regulate their lives aright--do they all attain to insight into the Truth, or are there some of them who do not?' 'Some do, O king, and some do not.' 'Then which do, Sir, and which do not?' 'He who is born as an animal, O king, even though he regulate his life aright, will not attain to insight into the Truth, nor he who is born in the Preta world, nor he who holds wrong views, nor the deceitful man, nor he who has slain his mother, or his father, or an Arahat, nor he who has raised up a schism in the Order, nor he who has shed a Buddha's blood, nor he who has furtively attached himself to the Order , nor he who has become a pervert , nor he who has violated a sister of the Order, nor he who, having been guilty of one or other of the thirteen grievous offences , has not been rehabilitated, nor a eunuch, nor an hermaphrodite--and whosoever is a human child under seven years of age, even though he regulate his life aright, will not attain to insight into the Truth. To these sixteen individuals there is no attainment of insight, O king, even though they regulate their life aright.'

  • The Tiracchā­na­manus­sa­nirayā­di S­utta suttacentral.net/pi/sn56.120-122 says a animal can realise the truth, similar to how Angulimala in MN 86 realised the truth. Angulimala was an "animal" because he engaged in violence against innocent people. SN 56.47 says animals ("non-humans") engaged in the mutual devouring & devouring of the weak. Thus immoral people, such as Angulimala, are "animals" in Buddhism. Such animals can learn & change and realise the truth, as stated in the Tiracchā­na­manus­sa­nirayā­di S­utta. Oct 15, 2017 at 20:52

My impression is Jataka are about the Bodhisatta. Regardless, the Buddha did not speak the Jataka, which are universally acknowledged to be belated texts. They were possibly commissioned under King Ashoka, who wanted to spread Buddhism. Ultimately, being stories for children, the Jataka probably contributed strongly to the materialism of reincarnation that now dominates much of Buddhism and resulted in the demise of Buddhism in India (since Buddhism became largely indistinguishable from Hinduism). Obviously, it is every difficult to argue the Bodhisatta in the Jataka was not an Atman (Same-Soul) reincarnated over many lifetimes. For the true meaning of "past lives", which is "past abodes ("pubbe nivasa"), I recommend to study SN 22.79 very carefully. A wise person would ask questions about SN 22.79. Because you are Indian, you should understand the words "nivasa" ("homes") & "jati" ("caste"; "identity") do not mean "past lives".

  • I never experienced caste related issues. But I understand what caste is. When a group of people believes that they and their descendants have only God given duties to be performed,then we say that group belongs to a cast. Brahmin caste - Duty to learn Vedas. Kshatriya Caste- Duty to fight war. Vaishya caste - Duty to do business. Shudra Caste- Duty to serve upper caste. Caste identity of person is not permanent. It changes. Buddha was never an animal. However an animal can be a potential Buddha(Bodhisatta) Oct 20, 2017 at 19:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .