Once upon a time, far away in a deep forest, there was a nation of 80,000 monkeys. They had a king who was unusually large, as big as a fawn. He was not only big in body, he was also ‘large in mind’. After all, he was the Bodhisatta – the Enlightenment Being.
One day, he advised his monkey nation by saying, “My subjects, there are poisonous fruits in this deep forest, and ponds possessed by demons. So if you see any unusual fruit or unknown pond, do not eat or drink until you ask me first.” Paying close attention to their wise king, all the monkeys agreed to follow his advice.
Later on, they came to an unknown pond. Even though they were all tired out and thirsty from searching for food, no one would drink without first asking the monkey king. So they sat in the trees and on the ground around the pond.
When he arrived, the monkey king asked them, “Did anyone drink the water?” They replied, “No, your majesty, we followed your instructions.” He said, “Well done.”
Then he walked along the bank, around the pond. He examined the footprints of the animals that had gone into the water, and saw that none came out again! So he realized this pond must be possessed by a water demon. He said to the 80,000 monkeys, “This pond is possessed by a water demon. Do not anybody go into it.”
After a little while, the water demon saw that none of the monkeys went into the water to drink. So he rose out of the middle of the pond, taking the shape of a frightening monster. He had a big blue belly, a white face with bulging green eyes, and red claws and feet. He said, “Why are you just sitting around? Come into the pond and drink at once!”
The monkey king said to the horrible monster, “Are you the water demon who owns this pond?” “Yes, I am,” said he. “Do you eat whoever goes into the water?” asked the king. “Yes, I do,” he answered, “including even birds. I eat them all. And when you are forced by your thirst to come into the pond and drink, I will enjoy eating you, the biggest monkey, most of all!” He grinned, and saliva dripped down his hairy chin.
But the monkey king with the well-trained mind remained calm. He said, “I will not let you eat me or a single one of my followers. And yet, we will drink all the water we want!” The water demon grunted, “Impossible! How will you do that?” The monkey king replied, “Each one of the 80,000 of us will drink using bamboo shoots as straws. And you will not be able to touch us!”
Of course, anyone who has seen bamboo knows there is a difficulty. Bamboo grows in sections, one after another, with a knot between each one. Any one section is too small, so the demon could grab the monkey, pull him under and gobble him up. But the knots make it impossible to sip through more than one section.
The monkey king was very special, and that is why so many followed him. In the past, he had practiced goodness and trained his mind with such effort and attention, that he had developed very fine qualities of mind. This is why he was said to be ‘large in mind’, not because he simply had a ‘big brain’.
The Enlightenment Being was able to keep these fine qualities in his mind, and produce a very unlikely event – a miracle. First, he took a young bamboo shoot, blew through it to make the knots disappear, and used it to sip water from the pond. Then, amazing as it may sound, he waved his hand and all the bamboo growing around that one pond lost their knots. They became a new kind of bamboo.
Then, all his 80,000 followers picked bamboo shoots and easily drank their fill from the pond. The water demon could not believe his green eyes. Grumbling to himself, he slid back under the surface, leaving only gurgling bubbles behind.