The Monkey Bridge
The Buddha sat and all around him listened to the stories he told.
“My children,” he said, “I have not come now among you as your Buddha for the first time: I have come many times before; sometimes as a child among little children, sometimes among the animals as one of their kind….and sometimes among the flowers…
A giant-like monkey once ruled over 80,000 monkeys in the Himalayan Mountains. And through the rocks where they lived streamed the river Ganges before reaching the valley where cities were built. And there where the bubbling waterfall fell from rock to rock stood a magnificent tree. In the spring it bore tiny white blossoms; and later it was full of fruit so wonderful that none could be compared to them.
How happy the monkeys were! They ate the fruit and lived in the shade of the wonderful tree. From one side of the tree the branches spread over the water. Therefore, when the blossoms appeared the monkeys ate the fruit and picked the blossoms for their chief, seeing the danger, had warned them, saying, “Beware, let not a fruit fall into the water lest the river carry it to the city, where the men, seeing the beautiful fruit might search for the tree; following the river up into the hills, and, finding the tree, they would take all fruit and we should have to flee from here”
Thus the monkeys obeyed and for a long time never a fruit fell into the river.
But the day came when one ripe fruit hidden by an ant’s nest, unseen between the leaves, fell into the water and was taken by the flow of the river down, down the rocky hills into the valley where the large city of Benares stands at the bank of the Ganges River. And that day, while the fruit passed by Benares, the King Brahmadatta was bathing.
King Brahmadatta gazed at the fruit and marveled at its beauty. “Where on earth grows such a fruit as this?” he wondered. Then, calling some woodcutters from the near river bank, he asked if they knew of the fruit and where it could be found.
“Sire,” they said, “it is a mango, a wonderful mango. Such a fruit as this grows not in our valley, but up in the hills of the Himalayas, where the air is pure and the sun is bright. No doubt the tree stands on the river-side and a fruit having fallen in the water has been carried here.”
The King then asked the men to taste it and then he himself tasted it. “Indeed,” they all said, “such a fruit is divine; never can another compare!”
Days and nights passed and King Brahmadatta longed to taste the fruit again. “It MUST be found,” said the King one day and he gave orders that a boat be prepared to sail up the river Ganges, up to the Himalayan rocks where the fruit might be found.
Long was the journey but alas, there beneath the moonlight stood the tree with the golden fruit.
But what was that moving on each branch????
“MONKEYS!” exclaimed the King; “eating the fruit! Surround the tree so they cannot escape. At dawn we will shoot them and eat of their meat AND of the mangoes.”
These words came to the ears of the monkeys and, trembling, they came to their leader: “Alas! You warned us, beloved chief, but some fruit has fallen into the stream. These men have come here, they surround our tree and we cannot escape for the distance between this tree and the next is too great for us to leap.”
“I will save you my little ones,” said the chief, “fear not, but do as I say.” The mighty King climbed to the highest branch on the tree. As swift as the wind, he jumped a hundred bow lengths over the river and landed on a tree on the opposite bank. There he thought, “I will bind one end of a reed to my foot and another to the tree. Then I will spring again to the mango tree and act as a bridge over which my subject may flee!”
But the reed was too short and the monkey chief was only able to grab a branch of the mango tree. With all of his effort he called to his 80,000 followers: “Run over my back on to the reed, and you will be saved.”
One by one the monkeys ran over him on to the reed. But one among them stepped too hard and broke his back. That heartless monkey kept running and left his chief to suffer alone.
King Brahmadatta had seen all that had happened and tears streamed from his face as he gazed upon the monkey chief. He ordered that the monkey chief be brought down and bathed and clothed like a king. The King then sat beside him and said: “you made your body a bridge for others to cross. Did you not know that your life would come to an end in doing so? You have given your life to save your followers. Who are you, blessed one, and who are they?”
“O King,” replied the monkey, “I am their chief and their guide. They lived with me in this tree, I was their father and I loved them. It is not a sword that make one a king; it is love alone. I ruled them not through power but through love because they were my children. When I am no longer here never forget my words, O Brahmadatta!”
The Blessed One then closed his eyes and died.
But the King and his people mourned for him and the King built for him a temple pure and white so that his words may never be forgotten.
And King Brahmadatta ruled with love over his people as the monkey chief had once done over his followers and they were happy ever after.
Cited from Twenty Jataka Tales retold by Noor Inayat Khan