A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents
Collected and Adapted by Sarah Conover
When the Buddha and his followers lived at Jetavana, a certain monk in the group was always upset – so much so that he could barely concentrate. When the Buddha asked him about it, the monk replied that he desired many things he couldn’t have; thus, he never felt content. “Oh, monk,” said the Buddha kindly, “these passions have been discarded even by monkeys. It is all the more important for one who lives the holy life to leave these feelings behind. “ And the Buddha recounted this old-world tale about the monkey king.
Once, in olden times, the Buddha came into the world as a monkey. He lived among the treetops of a remote jungle with a large family of monkeys. One day, a woodcutter came to this same jungle to fetch a good supply of logs for his family hearth. But when the woodcutter felled a large tree, he accidentally trapped the young monkey underneath as the tree dropped to the forest floor. When the woodcutter saw his surprise, he decided to bring the monkey home as a present to his king.
The bright monkey quickly tamed and was soon the favorite royal pet. The king let him run everywhere about the palace. So the monkey spent his days visiting the royal courts and kitchens, the guards’ quarters, and all the other enterprises within. The monkey easily learned to imitate the manners of the royal retinue, the ministers, the guards, and even the cook who chased him from her kitchen. It was impossible not to laugh at the monkey’s antics.
After a few years, the king requested that the woodcutter return to the palace. Then the king asked, “As a favor to this monkey who has pleased us so, would you bring him back to the jungle where he was captured? It would be kindest if we let him live out his years with fellow monkeys.” So the woodcutter did as the king bid: he brought the monkey back to the very same spot in the very same jungle and released him.
At once, as soon as the woodcutter had left, a hundred monkeys surrounded the palace monkey, all asking questions at once. “Where have you been living this long time? Where did that man take you? Did you go on a great adventure? Why did he let you go free?” On and on the monkeys clamored, full of curiosity.
When they quieted down, the palace monkey recounted his tale. He told them all about the king’s splendid palace and how he had entertained the king. He told them of the sumptuous feasts, the elegant dances, the noble ministers of the royal court, the king’s fearsome army, and the dark dungeons.
“But then, how did you escape?” They wanted to know.
“I was such a good pet, and I amused them all so, that they felt badly keeping me from my home. The king decided to set me free again, so here I am!”
Now the monkeys were really excited. “Oh, tell us all about the palace life!” They jumped and shouted. “Tell us about the ways of people! Tell us about the grand deeds of a king!” they insisted.
“No, you wouldn’t want to know,” cautioned the palace monkey. “You really won’t like it.”
But the monkeys would not let up until he agreed to show them what life was like for a king. So the palace money picked a monkey in the troop and said, “O.K. then, you be the king. Get up on this high rock and make it your throne. We will set to work and bring you the best fruit in the kingdom!”
So the monkey king sat upon his rock throne, surveying his kingdom and looking quite content. Soon a huge pile of delicious fruit surrounded him. After a time the king monkey began to feel distressed. “ But I could never eat all this fruit, even in a whole year! And how there’s nothing left for all of you to eat,” laments the monkey king.
“Of course you can’t eat it all,”said the palace monkey. But that dose’t matter to a king. The point is that you eat whatever you want, but you must not give any of it away. You must always keep a large pile so that others know you are very rich and very powerful!” So the monkeys, wishing to be like men, brought even more fruit and stacked it even higher around their king.
“What else do we do?” asked the monkeys when there was no more fruit to be had.
“You must all come before the king and praise him in every way you can imagine.”
The monkeys liked this idea, so they tried it.
“Well, no wonder his is king!” pronounced one. “His coat glistens like water.”
“His fur is as thick as deep grass!” boasted another.
“I’ve never seen such a strong and capable animal!” exclaimed a third monkey.
“No one is as wise and dignified as our king!” And so they gathered around their king and enjoyed themselves in flattering him.
“Enough of that,” said the little palace monkey. “Now it’s time to come behind the throne and say terrible things about the king.”
The monkeys didn’t like this idea at all and at first refused to do it. But the palace monkey preserved saying, “You have to try this if you want to learn the ways of people! See what it’s like.”
So the monkeys gathered behind the rock and whispered insults about the king.
“Have you noticed how old and confused the king seems lately?” asked a monkey.
“His eyes seem dull and he constantly forgets what he has said!” chuckled another.
“I think his fur is getting extremely thin; I think he might even be going bald in some very funny spots” tittered a third.
“I’ve noticed that the king eats more like a pig than a monkey!” said a fourth and they all howled.
At last the insulted monkey king could stand it no longer. He jumped off his throne and ran after them through the trees. But the monkeys each escaped in a hundred different directions from the frustrated king. When the monkey king as last returned to his throne, his eyes widened in astonishment. All the fruit had vanished!
“Where is the fruit?” cried the king. “All my fruit is stolen!” he bellowed.
“Yes, it’s a shame, but these things happen even to kings!” said the palace monkey. “Now your guards must go find the thieves. That’s what a king would do. And when the guards capture the thieves, they must be sentenced to death at once.”
“What?” cried the monkey king. “You want me to kill them? Oh, how could such a terrible thing come to pass?” he wailed. And he covered his ears with his hands and wept.
“No more! No more!” cried all the monkeys. “We don’t want to know anything else about the ways of people and kings!”
The palace monkey, the Former Buddha, then recited for them a little poem he had made up about life in the palace:
“This gold is mine, this gold is mine!’
so they cry both day and night:
These foolish folk who live in splendor
never think about the holy way”
“And,” said the Buddha, concluding his lesson, “the monkeys ran away from the rock throne and back up to the tree tops where they all lived happily ever after.”
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