September 17, 2014

The Monkey Lesson

from The Chuang Tzu

An arrogant prince took his friends on a boat trip to an island famous for its monkeys; but as the royal boat docked, the monkeys - with one exception - fled in terror and hid.

The one monkey who had not fled put on an extraordinary show of agility for the visitors. He swung through the branches, leaping and twirling in the most graceful way.

The prince drew his bow and shot an arrow at the monkey; but the animal caught the arrow in mid-flight.

The prince would not be twarted by such an ostentatious monkey; and so he ordered his guards to kill the monkey with all deliberate speed. Immediately a hail of arrows pierced the monkey who fell dead at the prince's feet. Then the prince turned to his companion, Yen Bu, "You see what happens to fools who advertise their cleverness. He wanted to be noticed, to stand out from all the others of his kind. Creatures who crave such attention soon get more than they bargained for."

Yen Bu considered the monkey's actions and his fate and the prince's contemptuous words. As soon as he returned home he approached a holy man and asked to be accepted as his disciple. "I seek the humble life," he said, "the life of one who does not perform for others and therefore does not have to rely upon their approval and generous natures - which they may not possess. I seek to find my happiness within myself; and when I find it I will regard it as a treasured gem and keep it safely hidden."

Yen Bu found his happiness within himself and in keeping it hidden, he kept himself out of sight, too. Everyone belived that he had to be a great man since he so easily shunned the court. And surely, they thought, he must have gained a great fortune to be so independent of royal patronage. Everywhere he went, people were in awe of him and sought to touch the hem of his robe. Without trying, he had acquired the mystique of greatness.