The Happy Monk – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Joys of the Spiritual Life]
Once upon a time, there was a high class
rich man. As he became older, he realized that the
suffering of old age was about the same for rich
and poor alike. So he gave up his wealth and class
position, and went into the forest to live as a poor
monk. He practised meditation, and developed his
mind. He freed himself from unwholesome
thoughts, and became contented and happy. His
peacefulness and friendliness gradually drew 500
followers to his side.
At that time, long ago, most monks usually
looked pretty serious. But there was one monk
who, even though he was quite dignified, always
wore at least a little smile. No matter what hap-
pened, he never lost this glimmer of inner happi-
ness. And on happy occasions, he had the broadest
smile, and the warmest laughter of all.
Sometimes monks, as well as others, would
ask him why he was so happy that he always wore
a smile. He chuckled and said, “If I told you, you
wouldn’t believe me! And if you thought I spoke a
lie, it would be a dishonour to my master.” The
wise old master knew the source of the happiness
that could not be wiped from his face. He made
this happiest monk his number one assistant.
One year, after the rainy season, the old
monk and his 500 followers went to the city. The
king permitted them to live in his pleasure garden
for the springtime.
This king was a good man, who took his
responsibilities as ruler seriously. He tried to pro-
tect the people from danger, and increase their
prosperity and welfare. He always had to worry
about neighbouring kings, some of whom wore
unfriendly and threatening. He often had to make
peace between his own rival ministers of state.
Sometimes his wives fought for his atten-
tion, and for the advancement of their sons. Occa-
sionally, a dissatisfied subject even threatened the
life of the king himself! And of course, he had to
worry constantly about the finances of the king-
dom. In fact, he had so much to worry about, that
he never had time to be happy!
As summer approached, he learned that the
monks were preparing to return to the forest. Con-
sidering the health and welfare of the old leader,
the king went to him and said, “Your reverence,
you are now very old and weak. What good does
it do to go back to the forest? You can send your
followers back, while you remain here.”
The chief monk then called his number one
assistant to him and said, “You are now to be the
leader of the other monks while you all live in the
forest. As I am too old and weak. I will remain
here as offered by the king.” So the 500 returned
to the forest and the old one remained.
The number one assistant continued prac-
tising meditation in the forest. He gained so much
wisdom and peace that he became even happier
than before. He missed the master, and wanted to
share his happiness with him. So he returned to
the city for a visit.
When he arrived, he sat on a rug at the feet
of the old monk. They didn’t speak very much,
but every so often the number one assistant would
say, “What happiness! Oh what happiness!”
Then the king came to visit. He paid his re-
spects to the chief monk. However, the one from
the forest just kept saying, “What happiness! Oh
what happiness!” He did not even stop to greet the
king and show proper respect. This disturbed him,
and he thought, “With all my worries, as busy as I
am looking after the kingdom, I take time out for
a visit and this monk does not respect me enough
to even recognize me. “How insulting!” He said to
the senior of the two monks, “Venerable sir, this
monk must be stupid from overeating. That must
be why he is so full of happiness. Does he lie
around here so lazy all the time?”
The head monk replied, “Oh king, have pa-
tience and I will tell you the source of his happi-
ness. Not many know it. He was once a king, just
as rich and mighty as you! Then he was ordained
a monk and gave up his kingly life. Now he thinks
his old happiness was nothing compared to his
present joy!”
“He used to be surrounded by armed men,
who guarded and protected him. Now, sitting
alone in the forest with nothing to fear, he has no
need for armed guards. He has given up the bur-
den of worrying about wealth that has to be pro-
tected. Instead, free of the worry of wealth and the
fear of power, his wisdom protects himself and
others. He advances in meditation to such inner
peace, that he cannot keep from saying, ‘What
happiness! Oh what happiness!”
The king understood at once. Hearing the
story of the happy monk made him feel at peace.
He stayed for a while and received advice from
both of them. Then he honoured them, and re-
turned to the palace.
Later the happy monk, who once had been
a king, paid his respects to his master and returned
to the lovely forest. The old chief monk lived out
the remainder of his life, died, and was reborn in a
high heaven world.
The moral is: Unattached to wealth and
power, happiness increases.