Monday, November 16, 2009

The Monkey Trap

In Southeast Asia, wild monkeys can be a problem, at least for humans. A friend of mine, who has traveled to Sri Lanka, told me that they have a tendency to throw coconuts and other objects at tourists from their perches in the tress. So trapping and relocating monkeys is a thriving business over there.

In order to catch them, a small wooden box is made, with a hole in it just big enough for a monkey to reach through with one hand, and then the box is secured to a tree. Inside the small box is placed some kind of food, such as a date. Soon enough, a monkey comes along, and sensing the food in the trap, will reach a hand in and grab hold of it.

What the monkey soon discovers, however, is that it cannot remove its hand while holding onto the food because its fist will not fit through the hole. Apparently, the monkey will stay that way, with its hand stuck in the trap clinging tightly to the date, until someone comes along and captures it.

The solution is obvious, of course: if the monkey would let go of the food, it could easily free itself.

We are a lot like the monkeys of Sri Lanka. We see something that we want, and then we grab hold of it and won't let go; clinging onto it for dear life with a tight, grasping fist, unable to free ourselves from the suffering that this kind of behavior causes.

The Buddha said that the origin of suffering is "desire that gives rise to a sense of self." We see something we want, and the mind creates a thought such as, "I need that," or, "that should be mine." The object doesn't have to be a thing. Very often it is a thought or a way of being that we are clinging to so desperately, saying, "this is me!" We can't get our hand out of the trap, and so we are stuck in our habitual patterns of thinking and behaving.

Perhaps if we were to ask the monkeys how we might free ourselves from this mind trap, they would tell us the obvious solution: release the tight fist of clinging. By abandoning the origins of suffering, we can stop the suffering. If the suffering is caused by clinging, stop clinging! It's that simple, and at the same time, extraordinarily difficult.

When you notice you are suffering, when you are feeling stuck in an upsetting or difficult emotion, such as fear or anger, acknowledge first of all that you are suffering. Then imagine a tightly closed fist, and acknowledge that you are clinging to something. Finally, imagine that the tight fist opens and allow whatever it is that you are holding so tightly to be released, or to just be held lightly in the palm of your hand.

From Lama Gendun Rinpoche:
Happiness cannot be found through
great effort and willpower;
but is already present, in open relaxation
and letting go...
Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you relax this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there,
open and inviting.
Make use of this spaciousness,
this freedom and natural ease.
Don't search any further.
Don't go into the tangled jungle
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting at home,
in front of your own hearth.

1 comment:

  1. I am really enjoying reading your blog Roger - I know it's a lot of work to commit to doing it every day so I just wanted you to know I've been enjoying the effort.