BEFORE Rahula, the son of Gotama Siddhattha and Yasodhara, attained to the enlightenment of true wisdom, his conduct was not always marked by a love of truth, and the Blessed One sent him to a distant vihara to govern his mind and to guard his tongue. After some time the Blessed One repaired to the place, and Rahula was filled with joy.
The Blessed One ordered the boy to bring him a basin of water and to wash his feet, and Rahula obeyed. When Rahula had washed the Tathagata's feet, the Blessed One asked: "Is the water now fit for drinking?"
"No, my Lord," replied the boy, "the water is defiled. Then the Blessed One said: "Now consider thine own case. Although thou art my son, and the grandchild of a king, although thou art a samana who has voluntarily given up everything, thou art unable to guard thy tongue from untruth, and thus defilest thou thy mind." And when the water had been poured away, the Blessed One asked again: "Is this vessel now fit for holding water to drink?"
"No, my Lord," replied Rahula, "the vessel, too, has become unclean." And the Blessed One said: "Now consider thine own case. Although thou wearest the yellow robe, art thou fit for any high purpose when thou hast become unclean like this vessel?" Then the Blessed One, lifting up the empty basin and whirling it round, asked: "Art thou not afraid lest it shall fall and break?" "No, my Lord," replied Rahula, it is cheap, its loss will not amount to much."
"Now consider thine own case, said the Blessed One. Thou art whirled about in endless eddies of transmigration, and as thy body is made of the same substance as other material things that will crumble to dust, there is no loss if it be broken. He who is given to speaking untruths is an object of contempt to the wise."
Rahula was filled with shame, and the Blessed One addressed him once more: "Listen, and I will tell thee a parable: There was a king who had a very powerful elephant, able to cope with five hundred ordinary elephants. When going to war, the elephant was armed with sharp swords on his tusks, with scythes on his shoulders, spears on his feet, and an iron ball at his tail. The elephant-master rejoiced to see the noble creature so well equipped, and, knowing that a slight wound by an arrow in the trunk would be fatal, he had taught the elephant to keep his trunk well coiled up. But during the battle the elephant stretched forth his trunk to seize a sword. His master was frightened and consulted with the king, and they decided that the elephant was no longer fit to be used in battle.
"O Rahula! if men would only guard their tongues all would be well! Be like the fighting elephant who guards his trunk against the arrow that strikes in the center. By love of truth the sincere escape iniquity. Like the elephant well subdued and quiet, who permits the king to mount on his trunk, thus the man that reveres righteousness will endure faithfully throughout his life." Rahula hearing these words was filled with deep sorrow; he never again gave any occasion for complaint, and forthwith he sanctified his life by earnest exertions.