; Minimalist Living: The Tale of the Monkey and the Gourd | The Blog of Tony Kwan | Musings of a Life Enthusiast
Minimalist Living: The Tale of the Monkey and the Gourd

Minimalist Living: The Tale of the Monkey and the Gourd

  • Share
  • Share

This post is inspired by an email from a good friend who had just been laid off from a high salaried job, to find himself re-evaluating the “priorities” in his life.

There is an old tale originating from Eastern Asia tells how a farmer came up with an ingenious, highly effectively method of catching monkeys. The farmer would make a small hole in a gourd, just big enough for a monkey to fit its hand in. He would fill the gourd with a generous amount of nuts or wheat, and tie it stoutly with a rope to a nearby tree where monkeys frequent.

The farmer then retreats into the bushes and waits.

A monkey would inevitably scurry over to the gourd, enticed by the smell of the food. It would reach its hand into the small hole and clasp on to the clump of food inside. Before long however, the monkey realizes that the hole is too small to extract its clenched fist of food, and the tied rope keeps the monkey from hauling the apparatus away.

The farmer calmly comes out of hiding, either with a net or a weapon and walks slowly over to the trapped monkey. Sensing mortal danger, the monkey frantically jerks its arm in attempts to free it. But at no point does the monkey simply releases its fist and scampers away to safety in a nearby tree. No, the monkey is usually killed, with its fist still inside the gourd, grasping at food it never gets to eat.

Reflect on this a little: those of us who felt sorry for the monkey should probably feel worse for ourselves. How many of us spend most of our time tenaciously chasing material wealth without evaluating the true price we pay for them?  Do you spend the majority of your time pursuing that extra zero in your pay cheque? Does that luxury item you can barely afford give you fulfillment, or is it frustration and resentment when you have to pay off the debt? It is a reoccurring scenario, chasing sugar high after sugar high of fancy cars and watches, or thinking someday you too would be “happy” with an arbitrary balance in your bank account.

The monkey spends but a moment with its hand in the gourd- many of us spend our entire lives in the trap.

Is your hand in a gourd?

About the Author


Wants to explore the world, write about it, and inspire others.

SaiDB  16 Dec 2010

i want my gourd!

Mlo  19 Dec 2010

I Like this your story….. 90% have no choice. 9% play by choice (blindly or recklessly). 1% know how the game works and work around it.

The story makes me think about why people exist and the reasons for their actions. Are we chasing material wealth or something else …… ? Would you agree that the true meaning of life is to reproduce and perpetuate the human existence? Think of all the things the average person does or desires. Let’s take simply my choice in hairstyle. I say to myself, “well my face looks better with shorter hair”. Inherently, what I mean by that is maybe I will be more attractive to the opposite sex which would give me a better chance to mate. Let’s say I like blankets that are silky and warm. Well that could translate into meaning that I need to keep myself warm and healthy so I can get a good night sleep, which would in turn help me to go ‘fight’ for dollars which in turn improves my chances of mating.


tonykwan  20 Dec 2010

There is sense to what you’re saying. I think, if pressed, we can explain 99% of modern human behavior based on evolutionary biology. Think of it this way, the human body is really an outdated artifact; meaning, it has pretty much the same wiring as our 7,000 year old ancestors living in caves. Our #1 mandate has always been to procreate (and perhaps survive, depending on how you look at it). Nothing much has changed, just projected differently in a modern world.

If you’re interested, I suggest reading the Red Queen by Matt Ridley and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Two great reads on human evolutionary biology.

Regarding whether I think the purpose of life is to reproduce, I am uncertain on how to answer. I think the word “purpose” needs to be defined better for me to answer the question. Does purpose mean our biological purpose? Do we amount simply to a bunch of sex-hungry cells? Or do we delve into deeper philosophical analysis? Is there some divine, universal order that we have to follow?

Ivan  24 Dec 2010

Hi Tony,

I’ve been reading your few but well done posts on here. I am older than you (33) and being in different walk of life I can relate to the story here. Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen friends and acquaintances, many of whom I have known since college who have fallen into the trap of chasing the “final cash out” in business, while not being cognizant of what they are missing out of life. It is disheartening but at the same time it reminds me of who I was not too long ago.

I would like to share this story with others verbatim, with your permission. I will of course attribute credit.

Thanks and let me know,


tonykwan  25 Dec 2010

Hi Ivan,

Thank you for visiting. I’m gIad you enjoyed the post.

I’ve sent you an email.

Happy holidays,


d3so  19 Jan 2011

Yes, my hand is in the gourd. There’s no choice because of today’s economy. It’s true that most people don’t stop to appreciate the simple and best things in life. But most have to work day after day to support themselves and/or their family.

Say Something

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Copyright © 2009 The Blog of Tony Kwan | Musings of a Life Enthusiast. All Rights Reserved.