It was just before New Year’s in Benares, in northern India. Everyone in the city was getting ready for the three day celebration, including the gardener of the king’s pleasure garden.
There was a large troop of monkeys living in this pleasure garden. So they wouldn’t have to think too much, they always followed the advice of their leader, the monkey king.
The royal gardener wanted to celebrate the New Year’s holiday, just like everybody else. So he decided to hand over his duties to the monkeys.
He went to the monkey king and said, “Oh king of monkeys, my honourable friend, would you do a little favour for me? New Years is coming. I too wish to celebrate. So I must be away for three full days. Here in this lovely garden, there are plenty of fruits and berries and nuts to eat. You and your subjects may be my guests, and eat as much as you wish. In return, please water the young trees and plants while I’m gone.”
The monkey king replied, “Don’t worry about a thing, my friend! We will do a terrific job! Have a good time!”
The gardener showed the monkeys where the watering buckets were kept. Feeling confident, he left to celebrate the holiday. The monkeys called after him, “Happy New Year!”
The next day, the monkeys filled up the buckets, and began watering the young trees and plants. Then the king of the monkeys addressed them: “My subjects, it is not good to waste water. Therefore, pull up each young tree or plant before watering. Inspect it to see how long the roots are. Then give more water to the ones with long roots, and less water to the ones with short roots. That way we will not waste water, and the gardener will be pleased!”
Without giving it any further thought, the obedient subjects followed their king’s orders.
Meanwhile, a wise man was walking by outside the entrance to the garden. He saw the monkeys uprooting all the lovely young trees and plants, measuring their roots, and carefully pouring water into the holes in the ground. He asked, “Oh foolish monkeys, what do you think you’re doing to the king’s beautiful garden?”
They answered, “We are watering the trees and plants, without wasting water! We were commanded to do so by our lord king.”
The man said, “If this is the wisdom of the wisest among you – the king – what are the rest of you like? Intending to do a worthwhile deed, your foolishness turns it into disaster!”