Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Monk and the Scorpion

Once in a monastery two monks walked about doing their morning duties. As they passed a small bowl, filled with rain, they saw a scorpion was drowning in the water. One monk reached in to save the creature. As soon as his fingers touched the panicking Scorpion, it stung him and the monk dropped the Scorpion back into the water. The monk sighed, and reached back in. This time he got his grip a little firmer, but still dropped the Scorpion when he was stung. He kept reaching in, as his friend looked on in confusion. After dozens of attempts, the other monk spoke up saying “Brother, why do you keep trying to save that scorpion? It stings you every time you come near it.  The monk paused before reaching in again and smiled. As another sting bit into his hand, he took a fallen leaf from the ground and pulled the scorpion out to safety. He finally said: “Because it is his nature to sting, and my nature to save. Don’t forget brother, soon either I’ll stop feeling the pain of the sting and he will be saved, or he will stop being afraid and be saved.’ Compassion cannot be stopped so easily.’
There are different versions of this story, but the main teaching is always the same. On your way to wisdom, you will realize that you cannot change people and you have to accept them just as they are. If you understand this simple principle, your life will change dramatically and you will be a happier person. Let me explain.
Many times we say, “when I marry this person, I will change him/her. I will change him/her from being a drunk, disorganized, lazy, or abusive”.  As a teacher or as a parent, many times you say, “I will teach my kids to be just like me”. The same goes with people who decide to have wild animals like tigers, lions or venomous snakes as pets and then are attacked or eaten by their pets. You can try to change people or animals mind, we can modify their characters for a time, but only them, can decide to change.
The same principle applies to our personal relationships, to our loved ones and to others.  For example, you had a long relationship with your spouse, and now something came up and the whole panorama changes. He/she is now using drugs, abusive, unfaithful, mentally unstable, overspends money. That is not the same person you married 10-15 years ago!
If you sincerely try to work the issue, if it seems there is no cooperation or communication from your partner, you don’t see any improvements in the relationship or in the negative behavior, and then you have to stop and think… do I want to spend the rest of my life in a relationship like that?
If you decide to stay in this relationship, you need to understand that you are not going to change your partner’s behavior, only them can change themselves…and if they don’t change, then you have to accept them as they are. Just like the scorpion that stings back every time you try to hold them to save them, your loved one might lash back at you every time you try to help them.  Can you take it? Is this a healthy relationship for you, for both?
This is what means to understand life as it is, you have to be very objective.  When you find yourself in that situation, you have two choices. The first one is to break away from the relationship and start all over again. Why do you have to stay in an abusive relationship?  Why do you have get beat up every night? Why do you have to be abused or have the same lengthy argument every night about money, about jealousy, sex if the same thing was already discussed the night before? Why do you have to go to bed crying or angry? Unfortunately, people always make the same excuse... “I don’t want to start all over again with my life.” Guess what?  Remember impermanence! We have to open our eyes and realize that every day is a new beginning and life changes every moment. Do you want to be unhappy for the rest of your life? Don’t make excuses for yourself or others.
Your other choice is to stay.  If you want to stay in that relationship, hoping to really make things better, then you have to be sincere and honest with yourself.  It is going to be a lot of work, and will take a lot of love and compassion and there are no guarantees that it will work, but at least, you tried to save the scorpion.
On the other hand,  if you return to that relationship just because there is only regret, or because your heart is full of resentment and anger  waiting for the moment to “make him/her pay back for what you had done to me”, you are never going to be truly happy. Be honest with yourself and recognize that if you are not going to forgive and accept things as they are, why stay in a meaningless relationship and suffer? Is it only to ‘save face “before society” and make people believe you are a perfect partner or a perfect couple? Or maybe you   like to play “the victim” so the whole world is now sorry for you. This is ladies and gentlemen what is known as “hell on earth.”
Lastly, same goes for our children and family members. We love them dearly and it hurts twice as much when a child or a close relative lashes back to us. They are our own blood, and as people say, blood is thicker than water. If you decide to live in family, the recipe for harmony is a simple one, love them just as they are, without any expectations.  That is why we love dogs so much. When you come home late from work, you may be in a bad mood, your hair or your make up a complete mess, you are hungry, maybe you are stinky with sweat, but guess what? , your dog will receive you always the same, with no judgment, no regret, and no expectations. Just love and excitement, wagging his tail like you are the most wonderful human being on this planet and we all love that.
To close, internalize the notion that you can’t change others. You may try as hard as you want, but you may become disappointed, angry and frustrated. The only person that you have full control and that you are able to change (if you really want), is yourself!
If somebody needs help, use your love and compassion and please help them. But just as the monk pulled the scorpion from the water with a fallen leaf, use your wisdom and know your own limits before you handle every situation.


  1. This was a very beautiful teaching of this parable. I appreciate it very much! So sorry I only just linked to it over two years later...

  2. This was a very beautiful teaching of this parable. I appreciate it very much! So sorry I only just linked to it over two years later...

  3. I think this is very profound, and have also shared :)

  4. Isn't it because I am weak and can not say 'No'?

  5. It's not about changing someone or not, it is about helping someone despite their nature and how you feel about their nature, because it is in your nature to help whomever the person is. It is about helping without judging.

  6. Beautiful.. Why aren't you still writing?

  7. I think we all at some point of life feel broken,when that feeling comes, this parable definitely helps,as Bible says judge not others,this parable conveys the same.😊