What is the Solution?
The following post is based on a story I heard from Swami Adiswarananda, the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.
In the U.S., we see monkeys only in zoos. Many cannot imagine a group of monkeys wandering around in cities or villages, from place to place, mainly in search of food, and maybe in order to maintain or develop their “jumping” skills. They climb up on a tree and swing from branch to branch or jump around on the terraces of buildings a few stories high. In India, we see many such groups of monkeys.
This is the story of one such group of monkeys in search of food. In India, the weather is mostly sunny, so the windows remain open most of the time. In order to stop monkeys from entering into houses through the windows, houses have iron window grilles built in. Those people who cannot afford such windows have uninvited monkey guests in the house. I have known a few people who were shockingly surprised to see monkeys in their house. If the windows are without grilles, monkeys simply go to the kitchen, grab food, and jump out of the house. If windows have grilles and any food is near the window grilles, monkeys extend their hands inside and grab it.
A group of monkeys is made out of a family or a few families. One such group of monkeys was jumping on the terraces of houses looking for food. Among them was a small monkey who was learning all the monkey tricks and ways to get food. He was jumping around and all of a sudden he saw an apple lying inside a grilled window. It was a big, red apple. Any mouth becomes watery by seeing this apple. The little monkey jumped to the window, extended its hand inside the grille, and grabbed the apple.
The monkey was delighted to grab the apple. But, as soon as it tried to bring its hand out with the apple, it found that its hand is not coming out of the grille. The apple was much bigger than the space between the grilles. It tried grabbing the apple in different ways, but its hand could not come out with the apple. It seemed that there was no one in the house. The small monkey started screaming for help. The other monkeys came running to help this little one. They saw the problem and they all started thinking about how to solve it.
One monkey said, “Let us find some sharp object. Then slowly we will cut the grille.” That monkey found a sharp object and started cutting the grille. One monkey said, “Let us try to pull out the whole window. Then the little monkey will have to walk around its whole life with a window on its hand.” That monkey tried to pull out the whole window. One monkey said, “Let us pray to God. I am sure God will find a solution.” It started praying to God. One monkey said, “Try to think that your hand is not caught by the grille.” Among all the commotion, one elderly monkey came and told the little monkey, “Just let go of the apple and pull out your hand.”
Lesson learned: Many times we unnecessarily suffer because we have some desire to fulfill. If the desire is useless or unneeded, then it is better to give it up. With that act of giving something up, we may not lose anything. In fact, our mind will be free from hundreds of worries and struggles.
Sri Ramakrishna gave an example of this. A bird picked up a fish and wanted to eat it. The bird sat on a branch of a tree to eat the fish.
But, several crows saw that the bird had a fish. They all followed the bird with piercing cawing. The bird tried to run away from the craws and tried to sit on various trees and places. But, all the crows followed it and started poking it with their beaks. Finally, the fish fell from the bird’s mouth. All of the crows followed the fish and left the bird alone. The bird then peacefully sat on a tree. Thus, worries and struggles follow a desire.
The question might arise that, knowing this fact, should we give up all desires? It is true that each desire brings worries and problems. But, as long as we have a body, we will have desires; like desire to live and survive. So, what we should do?
Well, desires are of various kinds. The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita says, “I am the desire in all beings that is not contrary to dharma (7.11).” That means God, the Creator of the Universe, has created righteous desires in all beings. The desires which uplift us from the physical level to the spiritual level, destroy our bondages, and are not harmful to anyone are okay to fulfill. But, our mind runs around and fills itself up with hundreds of other desires, which make us slaves to our senses and are harmful to us and/or others. Such desires should be shunned. These useless and harmful desires bring us many worries and frustrations. Buddha said that the cause of suffering is desires. In life, we get tired by carrying a baggage of extra desires. If we want peace of mind, then we have to reduce the desires to a minimum—the desires which free us from all bondages.
Deeper Meaning of the Story:
Imagine an ocean filled with millions of waves. The Ultimate Reality (Brahman or Consciousness) is like an ocean. Each wave is an individual being or an object. All beings and objects appear as waves (as names and forms) for a little time and then merge into the ocean of The Ultimate Reality. When each wave thinks of itself as a separate entity, then it has conflicts with all other waves and has fears of disappearing as a wave. Similarly, if we think ourselves with our names and forms as separate entities from the Ultimate Reality, then all the problems start. We think that the whole world is against us, that nature is against us, trying to crush us down, and we have a constant fear of death. When we give up our separate identity, then all the problems and fears go away. At that time, keeping in mind ourselves as the Spirit (or Atman, a part of the Ultimate Reality), we just act, like actors/actresses of a play, in the world as separate entities with names and forms.
Notes: (i) The photo -1 is from the Bangalore Gallery , India (ii) Photo – 2 is from dreamtime.com and (iii) the sketch -1 is made by Sneha Shah.
(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing and Sneha Shah for providing an illustration.)