Zen Reflections: The Story of the Monk and the Scorpion


The Story of the Monk and the Scorpion

The practice of metta meditation or loving kindness meditation is deeply rooted in the Buddhist philosophy. With regular practice of loving-kindness meditation, not only do we develop compassion for humans, but for all living beings. In Buddhist tradition, loving kindness and compassion are seen as the two sides of the same thing. Compassion is empathy towards all beings while loving kindness is wishing happiness and peace upon all living beings.

His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama’s teachings include 8 verses in training the mind in order to cultivate compassion, kindness, altruism, and an aspiration to attain Buddhahood. The second verse specifically deals with developing compassion and loving kindness for all living beings. Here’s the second verse:

Whenever I interact with someone,
May I view myself as the lowest amongst all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.

Here’s a Zen story which tries to reveal the true nature of enlightened human beings.

Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung.

He went back to washing the bowl when he noticed the scorpion fall into the water again. The monk once again saved the scorpion and was stung again.

The other monk asked him, “My dear friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting.”

“Because,” the monk replied, “to save it is my nature.”

Practicing compassion is not easy, but definitely possible. It’s in our nature. The Dalai Lama has continuously preached the importance of inculcating compassion for all living beings in order to enhance our own happiness. There is even scientific evidence to back the claims that inculcating compassion can make us happier and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. The world we are currently living in certainly could do with a lot more compassion, loving kindness, and peace. To achieve world peace, we first need inner peace.

In the story, the monk stuck to his nature of compassion despite knowing that he would get hurt in the process. Similarly, we may come across people in our lives who are full of negative energy and constantly trying to bring us down with their criticism. This is where you need to ask yourself – Is it really worth losing your peace of mind for something you can’t change? Perhaps it’s the nature of the person to be critical and cynical. By clinging to your nature of compassion, not only will you continue to reap the benefits of your own mental peace, but you may even bring a small transformation in the nature of the person bothering you, however less likely.


So why not be inspired by this Zen short story and take up the practice of metta bhavana? It’s certainly worth giving a shot.

Hope you enjoyed the story. Comment below and let us know!

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