Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 326:
idaṃ pure cittamacāri cārikaṃ ye’nicchakaṃ yatthakāmaṃ yathāsukhaṃ |
tadajja’haṃ niggahessāmi yoniso hatthippabhinnaṃ viya aṅkusaggaho || 326 ||
326. Formerly this wandering mind wandered where it wished, where whim, where pleasure led. Wisely this day will I restrain it as trainer with hook an elephant in rut.
The Story of Sāmanera Sānu
While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to a young sāmanera named Sānu.
One day, Sāmanera Sānu was urged by older monks to go up on the dais and recite parts of the Pāli texts. When he had finished his recitation he solemnly called out, “May the merits gained by me today for reciting these sacred texts be shared by my mother and my father.” At that time, the devās and a female evil spirit who had been the mother of the young sāmanera in a previous existence were listening to his recitation. When they heard his words, the evil spirit was elated and promptly cried out, “My dear son, how happy I am to share your merit; you have done well, my son. Well done! Well done! (Sādhu! Sādhu!).” On account of Sāmanera Sānu, the evil spirit came to be very much respected and was given precedence in their assemblies by the devās and other evil spirits.
As the sāmanera grew older, he wanted to return to the life of a lay man; he went home and asked for his clothes from his mother. His mother did not want him to leave the order and tried to dissuade him from leaving it, but he was quite firm in his decision. So, his mother promised to give him the clothes after his meal. As his mother was busy cooking his meal, the evil spirit, who was his mother in a past existence, thought, “If my son Sānu leaves the Sangha, I shall be put to shame and become a laughing stock among other evil spirits and devās; I must try and stop him leaving the Sangha.” So, the young sāmanera was possessed by her; the boy rolled on the floor, muttering incoherently with saliva streaming out of his mouth. His mother was alarmed; neighbours came and tried to appease the evil spirits. Then the evil spirit spoke out, “This sāmanera wants to leave the religious Sangha and return to the life of a lay man; if he does so he will not be able to escape from suffering.” After saying those words, the evil spirit left the body of the boy and he became normal again.
Finding his mother in tears and the neighbours crowding around him, he asked what had happened. His mother told him everything that had happened to him and also explained to him that to return to lay life after leaving it was very foolish; in fact, even though living he would be like a dead person. The sāmanera then came to realize his mistake. Taking the three robes from his mother, he went back to the monastery and was soon admitted again as a monk.
When told about Sāmanera Sānu, the Buddha wishing to teach him about the restraint of mind said, “My son, one who does not restrain the mind which wanders about cannot find happiness. So, control your mind as a mahout controls an elephant.”
At the end of the discourse, Venerable Sānu comprehended the four noble truths and later attained arahatship.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 326)
pure idaṃ cittam yenicchakaṃ yatthakāmaṃ yathāsukhaṃ cārikaṃ acāri
ahaṃ ajja taṃ pabhinnaṃ hatthiṃ viya aṅkusaggaho yoniso niggahessāmi
pure: earlier; idaṃ cittam: this mind; yenicchakaṃ [yenicchaka]: whichever way it likes; yatthakāmaṃ [yatthakāma]: wherever it likes; yathāsukhaṃ [yathāsukha]: happily; cārikaṃ acāri: roamed around; ahaṃ: I; ajja: today; taṃ: that mind; pabhinnaṃ [pabhinna]: in rut; hatthiṃ viya: an elephant; aṅkusaggaho [aṅkusaggaha]: like a mahout holding a bill-hook; yoniso [yonisa]: wisely; niggahessāmi: restrain
In the past this mind has wandered as it liked, wherever it liked, at its own pleasure. Now I will control my mind wisely, as a mahout must use his goad to control an elephant.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 326)
In Buddhist literature the image of the elephant being restrained is used as a parallel to the act of the spiritually advanced person restraining himself.