Buddhist Murals: How an Elephant Warmed Buddha’s Bath


A monkey makes an offering of honeycomb to Buddha


The Buddha felt sad that the monks of his monastery were constantly arguing.

So, alone, he withdrew to the forest  in the hope that they would solve their conflicts themselves.

The forest was cold, but the Buddha found a cave to shelter in and a beautiful pool of water to drink from and bathe in.

Sensing his presence the animals of the forest came to worship the Buddha. One animal, a wise old elephant, wished to do something for Lord Buddha, and he knew the water in the pool to be too cold for comfortable bathing.

So every evening, the elephant rolled a large rock, which had been heated by the day’s sun, down a hill and into the pool of water. The rock heated the water and allowed the Buddha to bathe in comfort.

And then every morning, with great effort, the elephant pushed the enormous rock back up the hill so it could be heated again.

A monkey, too, wanted to do something for Lord Buddha. So, in the chaotic way of the monkey, he clambered high into the trees and snatched a piece of honeycomb from a buzzing hive, evaded the angry bees, and swung back down and presented his prize to Buddha.

Lord Buddha smiled at the monkey, but told him that should he squeeze honey from the comb the bees inside would die. So, the Buddha lay the honeycomb down to allow the bees inside the comb to return to the hive.

Later, how much later it is not known, the Buddha returned to the monastery and found that the monks had settled their differences.

This story illustrates three things:

Sometimes less action, or even withdrawal, is the best course of action. (The monks sorted their problems themselves)

Be careful of well-meaning but inappropriate actions (The monkey)

The value of significant actions. (The elephant)


There are hundreds-of-thousands of Buddhist murals in the temples of Southeast Asia.
Many have an interesting story to tell, but deciphering the message can be difficult for a non-buddhist like me. In fact, often the more you research the more confusing things become.
This series of mural posts is my attempt to make sense of what I see using various sources. It’s possible that despite my best efforts I get some things wrong. Be sure to let me know if that is so.
Other mural will be posted without explanation. Simply because I don’t have one…yet!

4 thoughts on “Buddhist Murals: How an Elephant Warmed Buddha’s Bath

  1. Pingback: Buddhist Murals: Thursday’s Pose | cambodian beginnings

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