HomeVOLUME 8December 2023 Mana the elephant

PAPIGUY from Montpellier reminds us that we have a lot to learn about generosity from the natural world around us, in this case from a very beloved elephant named Mana.

Once upon a time, ages ago, in the Himalayan forest, there was a white elephant. His name was Mana and he had two superb long tusks. He was the descendant of a whole line of white elephants that came from the Hui-Sai forests in Siam, and they could speak the human language.

No circumstance, however bad, altered his kindness and warm-heartedness. Mana was a model of generosity and wisdom for all the surrounding animals. Everyone was touched by the pure love and simplicity he radiated, and would in turn love and respect him. Through their songs and cries, the animals would often celebrate his incredible compassion, but he would say nothing.

The quest

When he was younger, the tall white elephant decided to go on a quest to faraway countries, and he met two remarkable men, Tierno and Hatim, who impressed him.

Tierno, who was notable for his wisdom, said to him, “The more beneficial action is the one that consists in praying for one’s enemies.” 
Tierno’s teaching helped Mana understand that evil begets evil. So he decided to behave properly with all living creatures and bless inwardly any creature he came across.

In the Syrian deserts, he met Hatim, a benevolent young prince of the Tai tribe. Hatim would say, “Generosity is a tree of paradise.” 

Chief of the elephants 

After coming back home, Mana became chief of all the herds of elephants in the Himalayas, which meant a great multitude ruled by wickedness and hatred. He did his best to calm down conflicts, always using kind words spoken through his tender heart.

When his ruling time expired, he lived a solitary life, thinking, meditating, and praying. All the animals respected and loved him. He would welcome, guide, and help whoever needed it. They called him “the good king of the elephants.” 

One day, the animals heard a man desperately trying to find his way among thorny bushes. Shrubs and vines barred his path and he looked lost, haggard, and finally exhausted. His clothes were torn, his body was covered with blood, and he hopelessly wrung his hands: “Please, help me!” but nobody answered. 

The white elephant found him, and held his trunk toward the man. Frightened, the man stepped back. The elephant froze. So did the man. The elephant made a step ahead, but the man stepped back again. The elephant approached more slowly this time. 
The man said to himself, “This elephant stops every time I step back. Maybe it does not want to hurt me,” so he stopped moving. 
Good-hearted Mana approached and asked, “Why are you crying and complaining, man?”
“I’ve lost my way in this forest, and I’m afraid I am going to die,” the man answered.
“Don’t be afraid,” Mana replied. “I’ll put you back on the road to Gorakhpur.”
He very cautiously put his trunk around the man, put him on his back and walked out of the forest. 
Feeling reassured, the man accepted Mana’s help. On his way, he thought, “What a lovely story to tell my friends!” 

On reaching the main road, the elephant set the man gently down and said, “Here you are. This is the road, man. It will take you right to Gorakhpur. Go in peace! But  don’t tell anybody how I helped you, whatever the questions you are being asked.”


Man was greedy

The man thanked the elephant and left for Gorakhpur in a lively mood. But he was greedy and covetous, so his thought went to the kind elephant’s beautiful tusks. 
He went on to Varanasi and popped into a shop that sold ivory objects, asking, “How much would you give for the tusks of a living elephant?”
The eldest said, “The tusks of a living elephant are far more expensive then those of a dead one? Bring them to us and you will get good money for it.”

As he walked home, the man said to himself, “The elephant looked very kind. I could convince him to give me one of his tusks. That would mean a lot of money.”

So he took a saw and went back to the Himalayan forest where the good king of the elephants lived. 
Surprised to see him back, Mana asked, “Why have you come back man? What brings you here?”
“Misery, my dear white elephant,” the impostor answered. “I have nothing to eat. Give me your tusks. I will sell them in Varanasi and that will earn me a living.”

Shocked by such a shameless demand, the white elephant thought the matter over and concluded that it had to be so. 
He answered, “Do you realize what you are asking for?” The man remained silent. “Okay, brother man. I will give you one of my tusks. Have you got a tool to cut it?”
“I have brought a saw,” the greedy fellow said.

So the elephant lay down and let the man saw one of his tusks.


Feeling happy, the man added, “My dear elephant, one tusk won’t do without its pair. Let me have it, so that I won’t have to come back when the money for the first one is spent.”
The determination and effrontery of the man dumfounded the elephant: “Are you going to leave me without any defense?” he asked. “They are precious to me and I am going to miss them. Thanks to them, I have survived. Well, brother man, if you really think they will be useful to you, take my second tusk.” 

Fearing neither God nor man, the ruthless man took the tusks away without expressing any thanks. He sold them for a very good price to the craftsmen in Varanasi. For some time, he led a debauched life and soon squandered all the money he received from the sale. 

Then he went back to the Himalayan forest to see the kind-hearted elephant and said, “Dear white elephant, I’ve sold your tusks, but the money has already gone. Again I am in a state of great misery, starving to death. Have mercy on me. Give me what is left of your tusks so that I may sell them too.”
“What is your name, man?” Mana asked.
“Goruk,” the man replied with a slight grin that distorted his embarrassed smile. 

The white elephant took a long look at the dishonest man. He had a glimpse of the man’s lost soul, locked in its gross coverings, passions, desires, and excessive jealousy. He said to himself that since he had already given his tusks, why not continue. Goruk cut them again, took the ivory away and left without thanking Mana. 


All the creatures were in turmoil

The animals had seen it all and spread the news across the Himalayas. They were in turmoil and could not understand how anyone could behave so poorly. Each one of them had a point of view, but they agreed to condemn the man’s attitude. 
The facts reached the ears of Lord Tiger who, feeling offended, said, “We won’t take it!”

It was not long before the man’s money was squandered anew and greedy Goruk was again on his way to the Himalayan forest. 
On meeting the white elephant, he stated bluntly, “You gave me your tusks and all that was left of them. Now you must give me the roots. You don’t need them anymore, whereas I could draw money from them.”

Good-hearted Mana lay down again and let ungrateful Goruk help himself to the roots of his tusks. Goruk purred with pleasure at the idea of the money he would get by selling them. But there were no thanks for Mana.

As Mana watched him go, he felt compassion and thought, “Well, I’ve given him everything he asked for. I hope it will help him. Let him be in peace!”

But the birds did not take the same view. They started squawking and blew the whistle for the whole forest. Suddenly, the man found himself surrounded by a myriad of animals, forming a barrier as inextricable as the thorns he encountered the first time he came in the forest. He heard a tiger roaring, coming nearer to him. Panicked, he ran back to the elephant, chased by flights of birds and grasshoppers.

Mana, still stunned by what he had just undergone, was surprised to see the man back so quickly.  
The man shouted, “Please, elephant, protect me, save me!”

The birds and the grasshoppers were soon joined by the threatening tiger, who addressed Mana: “You are our wise king, but don’t you see this man has shown disrespect to you! Eating one of his arms would be a reasonable punishment. And if he finds the verdict unbalanced, then I will eat his other arm.”

Goruk started to shake like the leaves of a poplar in stormy weather. 

The elephant said gently, “Let him go. We all have to pay for our deeds, words, and thoughts. Let him harvest the fruit of what he did. As for me, I thank him for having rid me of my precious tusks, so useful in this world but of no use in the other world. I am at peace with him. Please, calm down my friends. Ask yourselves if you have never been blind to the condition of somebody else, out of greed or fear. Are we any better than him? When I was young, I had a great wise teacher. He was a man who could speak the languages of animals. He gave me the following advice: ‘Pray for your enemies and for any person who will make you suffer.’” 

“Yes, dear king,” the tiger insisted, “but my mouth already waters when I think of eating one of this man’s arms!”

“Your satisfaction will be a selfish one, but what about your heart? Will your deeper conscience be satisfied too?” asked Mana.
“But I will be considered weak and foolish,” the tiger grumbled.
“Only the ignorant will take you for a fool. Though you may seem to be weak, you will express in the true core of your being a real strength of character.” 

In turn, the grasshoppers exclaimed, “Oh, beloved king, you have sacrificed a good part of yourself. But as for him, what is the use of your gift? Was it really useful? Was it wise?” 
Mana answered, “I don’t know. Only God knows whether it is useful or not. He is the invisible force that rules all our deeds.”


Mana’s story

Then Mana told them all a story.
“When I was young, I was anxious to learn. I was curious about everything, and thought that to become wiser I needed to store as much diverse knowledge as I could. This quest for knowledge went on for years and years. It was an endless one. I roamed the world for it. Every day I became more and more emaciated and exhausted. 

“I tried to join a wise man I had heard of in Palmyra, Syria, when I was lost in the endless desert. I was terribly thirsty and thought I was going to die, far away from home. I collapsed and some men came to my rescue and took me to the Tai camp of Prince Hatim, who took care of me, treated me as a king, and cherished me, although he knew nothing about me. He turned every single day into a day of feasting in my honor. My heart was touched by his compassion and I was impressed by the sort of man he was. Some people said he was so well-known in Syria for his generosity that the king of Yemen had become jealous. 


“One night a man arrived, seeking asylum for the night. He was as ragged as I had been. Hatim welcomed him as a brother and ordered that a feast be held at once. The man stayed for several days and finally said he had to go as he was expected in Palmyra for some important business. 
‘Can I be of help?’ Hatim asked. 
Then the man whispered, ‘I have to kill Prince Hatim. The King of Yemen has ordered me to do so.’ He added, ‘I am poor, so I live as an assassin and this murder I must do. If you want to serve me, after you have welcomed me as I was never welcomed before, please tell me what this noble man looks like, so that I may slaughter him. I have never seen his face.’

“Hatim laughed, bent down, and, with his hand on his heart, answered, ‘My dear guest, you need go no further, because I am Hatim Tai, the man you are looking for. Take my head. It is a present for you! Take it to your king, since you must be true to your word and fulfill the task you have been entrusted with.’
When he heard Hatim’s words, the ruffian knelt at the Prince’s feet, and amidst hot tears said, ‘If ever I kill you, may all the sand in the desert devour my body and reduce it to dust.’
“Hatim raised him up, ordered some food to be given to him, and the man went back to Yemen no longer a murderer. Hatim’s generosity and kindness had touched him so deeply that his heart opened and became tender. 

“When the king of Yemen heard his story, he considered Hatim a saint. Hatim’s story is still told in Syria and the surrounding countries. His tomb has become a place of pilgrimage.

“I could never forget Hatim, so I try to give willingly to all who ask for something.”

All the animals were impressed and drifted away. Cheeky Goruk, who thought his hour had come, stood in front of that elephant with bleeding wounds where there had been superb tusks. Mana radiated a love he had never seen before.

He felt a strong heat invade his chest, then a tidal wave of sobs. He knelt down and sobbed his heart out. He felt ashamed for his wickedness, his ungratefulness, and he regretted sincerely that he could not turn back the clock and change the events that happened. Mana comforted him and wished him well.


In the forest, no one ever saw that cheeky Goruk again. Later on, some passing birds related that a man from Gorakhpur had become well-known for his generosity, and would tell everyone ready to listen stories about a white elephant. 

That is the end of the tale. May its words illuminate your path and enchant your hearts. 

Illustrations by THOMAS KLEIN




Papiguy from Montpellier is a retired communication trainer, psychotherapist, and assistant of the director of the Grotowski Theatre Laboratory in Poland, leading creation sessions through the voice. In 1981, an encounter with Babuji rev... Read More