King Ajata-shatru selected his greatest archers, for he was very eager to be sure that they would be able to target the Buddha accurately and kill him so that his friend Devadatta’s order would be secure and would exceed that of the Buddha himself.
But when the archers moved into position for their attack, they were so moved by the Buddha’s remarkable presence and especially by the Buddha’s great compassion for all creatures (including marauding archers) that they confessed their plot, asked his forgiveness, and became his followers.
Devadatta realized that he could not depend upon others to kill the Buddha, so he determined to do the deed himself. Devadatta began to keep watch on the Buddha so that he could learn his habits and how best to find him alone and vulnerable.
He learned that it was the custom of the Buddha to walk in the hills near Vulture Peak (Gṛdhrakūṭaparvata) in Rajagaha, and in some places rocks overhung the path on which he walked. One evening Devadatta waited behind a loose bolder on the hillside where it towered over the path, and when the Buddha passed below, he pushed the boulder down the hillside at him.
The boulder rolled down the hill, and it should have crushed him. However, suddenly it disintegrated into small pebbles. One pebble had a sharp broken edge, and it struck the Buddha’s foot, and drew blood, but it was the only stone to strike him.
When he returned to the hermitage the wound was easily tended by a doctor named Jivaka (Jīvaka), who had been King Bimbisara’s personal physician and had become a follower of the Buddha. The wound quickly healed.
The elephant simply bowed respectfully before him.
Drawing by Brianna Hom, Eleanor Roosevelt College (UCSD), by permission And so the Buddha went on with his routines, as though he had no idea he had even been attacked.
After this failure, Devadatta became more determined than ever.
He knew that the Buddha would go begging in the town of Rajagaha, and he arranged that a raging elephant would be loosed in his path. The elephant was named Nalagiri (Nālāgiri), and it was known for its bad temper and ferocity. Some say that Devadatta had the elephant made drunk in order to make him even more dangerous.
The Buddha passed without harm, not even seeming to have noticed.
Drawing by Alina Marcus, Thurgood Marshall College (UCSD), Class of 2009, by permission As the Buddha approached, Devadatta saw to it that Nalagiri was prodded and provoked and made very angry. He then was released just as the Buddha came into sight, and in great rage charged at the Buddha.
But when Nalagiri came into the presence of the Buddha, the elephant suddenly became very calm, and simply bowed respectfully before him, and the Buddha passed without harm, not even seeming to have noticed.