The band of Monkeys and the Sage

Mind In Progress

Maandelijkse posts met ervaringen, inzichten en inspiratie 

Door Bram de Wit

The band of monkeys and the Sage

There is a famous story in the Buddhist tradition of ‘The Rishi (sage or great meditator) and a band of brazen monkeys’ that describes beautifully how practicing meditation regularly can have a permanent effect on our restless and exhausted mind.

Once upon a time there was a great Rishi who meditated in the forest. In the same forest lived a band of particularly unruly and brazen monkeys with their leader. One day while the Rishi sat in perfect meditation posture on the forest floor, the band of monkeys came upon him while they traveled through the forest swinging from tree to tree. The leader of the band signalled for the monkeys to stop and follow him down to the ground. They eyed the Rishi with curiosity as he made for an odd sight on the forest floor. Eventually they approached the Rishi gingerly and started checking him out. Sniffing his hair, pulling his long white beard, tugging on his sleeves. But the Rishi didn’t move. He just sat there and gazed into the space in front of him with his hands in his lap. Sitting relaxedly in an upright posture. Utterly serene and exuding peace.

Eventually the monkeys grew tired of their pranks when they realized whatever they did wasn’t working on the sage. So then the leader came up with his most cunning plan yet, they would mock the sage by imitating him. That would surely irritate the sage and make him lose his composure! 

So the leader sat down in front of the sage in perfect imitation. Legs crossed, upright back, hands resting on his knees and eyes gazing serenely without fixing on anything. Intrigued, one by one the other monkeys followed the example of the leader and sat down. Restless at first but increasingly more quiet.

To determined not to give up on their ultimate prank the leader and his followers sat and sat and sat in perfect stillness. And without realising all of them entered into a state of profound meditation.

Just like the Rishi.   

Normally we are not in charge of what our mind does. Instead, the mind is in charge of us. Whatever it says, we listen to and obey.

The proces of meditation is a bit like the story of the Rishi and the monkeys. The band of brazen monkeys jumping up and down and swinging from tree to tree is metaphoric for our restless and unruly mind, never able to remain at ease even for an instant. The Rishi is a metaphor for the mind of someone who practices meditation and, although he is aware of the monkeys and their wild behaviour, he does not allow them to distract him. Instead he simply let’s them be for what they are without trying to control them. He simply sits there in perfect meditation, open, spacious and aware.


Normally we are not in charge of what our mind does. Instead, the mind is in charge of us. Whatever it says, we listen to and obey. This mind can drive us crazy with all it’s 24 hour chatter and gossip, worries and projections!

Sometimes we can start to fight our own mind. We try to shut it up by forcing it away. Sadly this only makes the thinking mind stronger and louder.

Neither of the two approaches are helpful. Instead we should try to make friends with our own mind. For this you and the thinking mind need a common interest.

The mind wants to be active. That’s his job. 

What we need to do is to give the mind a job. That job is meditation. With meditation, the thinking mind will be occupied and content while you gain back control. As a result of practising meditation in this manner, gradually your mind will become more pliable, free and happy.

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