Meditation & Health No 19 - Table of Contents


Losing Is Gaining

Gaining Is Losing

      A monk was making his way down a hill after collecting firewood. At the foot of the hill, he saw a boy catch a butterfly, happily cupping it in his hands to prevent it from flying off into the clear day.
      The boy saw the monk and suggested, “Shall we have a bet?” The monk asked him how he would like to play. The boy said, “Guess whether the butterfly in my hands is dead or alive. If you guess wrongly, your bundle of firewood will be mine.”
      The monk agreed to his terms. He guessed that the butterfly was dead. The gleeful boy opened his hands and the butterfly flew off. “Ha ha! You lost! The bundle of wood is mine!”
      The monk gave the bundle to the boy and walked away with a smile on his face. The boy was puzzled by the monk’s happy expression, but he didn’t give it much thought as he carried his prize home. He was too busy relishing the arrogance of the victor. He proudly related to his father how he had bested the monk.
      To the boy’s shock, his father slapped him and said angrily, “Do you really think you have won? You have lost and you don’t even know it!” The father instructed him to carry the firewood and together they made their way to the temple. Upon seeing the monk, the father returned the bundle and apologized profusely, repeating, “Please forgive my ignorant child.”
      As they made their way home, the baffled boy finally sought an explanation from his father. “The monk said the butterfly was dead so that you would release it and win the wood,” said his father. “If he had guessed the butterfly were alive, you would have crushed it dead in order to win the bet.” His father stopped walking and looked at his son for a long moment. “The monk only lost a bundle of wood. In return, he gained a heart of compassion.”


      Our perspectives on gain and loss can cause us much suffering. Often when we think we have profited, in fact we’ve ended up losing, and the reverse is true too. Obsessing over gain and loss spurs people to act in an unprincipled manner in pursuit of an ego boost and material gain. Such fixation is woven into the fabric of suffering, obscuring the happiness that could be ours. Instead, focus on compassion for oneself and others, which transcends the transient ups and downs of life.


Meditation & Health No 19 - Table of Contents