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 practiced 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 happened, he never lost this glimmer of inner happiness. 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 dishonor 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 protect the people from danger, and to increase their prosperity and welfare. He always had to worry about neighbouring kings, some of whom were unfriendly and threatening. He often had to make peace between his own rival ministers of state.
Sometimes his wives fought for his attention, and for the advancement of their sons. Occasionally, a dissatisfied subject even threatened the life of the king himself! And, of course, he had to worry constantly about the finances of the kingdom. 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. Considering 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 practicing 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 respects 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 patience and I will tell you the source of his happiness. 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 burden of worrying about wealth that has to be protected. 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 returned 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.