It is said that, for every human, there are three monkeys living in my hometown of Ayodhya. They live for generations in every temple and rooftop dotting this town in Northern India.
As a little girl, I liked to act like a monkey. I would climb trees and try to match the amazing flexibility and hanging upside-down skills of the quick and furry creatures. When my father called me his monkey, and perched me on top of his shoulders, I felt as proud as any monkey sitting on the rooftop of any temple in Ayodhya.
Monkeys visited our home on a regular basis—yes, the same large house that I shared with my father, mother, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmother, and of course, my grandfather, Baba.
Some monkeys even had temporary homes on the rooftop. Their favorite activity was to sit up on the roof and peer below at my family members as they went about their day. They also often offered unsolicited advice, and they all spoke at the same time.
The monkeys especially loved meal times in our home. This was because meals were always cooked ranging from several dozen people at lunchtime for family members and Baba’s students, to several hundred for dinner during the evening spiritual discourse.
All day, the monkeys would wait and watch, scheme and plan. They would carry out amazingly organized meal coups. Fruits would disappear from the fruit basket; fresh-made chapattis would vanish from the large metal container. Once, an entire pail of freshly mulched milk disappeared from the cow shed, and everyone simply said, “The monkeys!”
Then, there were days when the bolder male monkeys, showing off, would take up a challenge with each other and snatch an entire plate of food from any kid in the home (including me), right amidst the human activities, and take off to eat noisily on the roof.
The monkeys were clearly able to do as they pleased.
The only person the monkeys were afraid of seemed to be my grandmother, Baba’s wife. When she came charging through the kitchen, they scuttled off in a hurry. If they hooted at her, she hooted right back. She made amazing sounds, loud and authoritative, claiming her territory back every time.
But Grandmother was Grandmother, and she could not bear to have the mamas with suckling young ones go hungry. So, she kept aside for them laddus (Indian sweets made with wheat, nuts, and sugar), bananas, and dates. They knew to look for her. They would come up to her in groups with their young ones, show their sad, smoldering, hungry eyes—and off Grandmother ran to get them food. Even at that age, I could see that Grandmother and the mommy monkeys had something special going on between them.
All the same, the mother monkeys would not let Grandmother come too close to their babies. One extra step toward them and they would snatch their babies and run away while making terrible sounds and faces to warn her to keep her distance.
The loud exchanges were normal, so I rarely got too concerned and merely enjoyed the spectacle with delight every time.Then, one day, there was lots of screaming and scuffling on the rooftop. It appeared that some rather large and mean-looking monkeys had arrived from a faraway neighborhood and were attacking the families that lived above our home!
“There is an open war going on,” said my older boy cousin, who was the family’s expert on “monkey matters.” He and Baba’s older students made loud sounds and even took up sugarcane sticks to ward off the intruding creatures. We were now protecting “our” monkeys from those “other” monkeys!
Eventually all the excitement settled down, and I figured the invading monkeys had left.
That evening, when Baba was addressing his students in his evening discourse—sharing words of wisdom by which we can protect the health of our body, mind, soul, and planet Earth—one monkey came down close enough to watch. The humans did not like it and there were some whispers and quiet commotion at the back, until my grandmother and mother sighted a familiar face.
It was one of the monkey moms Grandmother fed regularly, whose baby was at least eight weeks old by now. She clutched her infant rather wildly. The baby’s scalp was bleeding, and it looked limp, like a rag doll.
My mother addressed the mother monkey with care and concern, “Oh no, what happened to your baby? Did the mean monkeys who came earlier hurt your baby?” Then Mother and Grandmother made lots of soothing human mommy sounds to show they understood her fear and pain.
Hearing them, I myself was ready to cry.
I imagined what the mother monkey must have been feeling—the same as my own mother and father feel when my sister or I get hurt. My mother almost always cries every time I cry. And Baba had said, “We are all One Self, though we exist in different bodies.”
Then, something unexpected happened. Emboldened by the sounds from Mother, Grandmother, and the other women in my family who were sitting at the back, the mother monkey slowly crept forward. She approached where Baba was sitting.
Baba had been completely still all along, watching silently. The mother monkey now sat barely a few feet away from Baba, looking directly at him, conveying something only Baba could understand. Then she spoke in her tongue and Baba responded.
He responded by closing his eyes and bringing his hands together to his heart, since humans can understand monkey language by heart, not ears. Then, when she had spoken and Baba had heard, the monkey mother became quiet. She placed her baby, whom she had been clutching all this while, down on the earth and edged him towards Baba—as if handing her sick child to him.
The humans uttered shocked noises of surprise….Baba took the baby monkey and cocooned it in his arms, as if they belonged together. The mother turned around and scrambled back up onto a higher perch, a safe distance from the rest of the humans.
The whole audience was still. It was pin-drop silence. The eight-week-old monkey looked up at Baba with complete trust, a familiar light shining through his eyes. Baba looked at him reassuringly, shining that light back.
Baba asked his students to bring Ayurvedic herbs and ingredients for a poultice. The rest of the evening was a spectacle of One Spirit manifesting across species, and body and language barriers. The baby monkey lived and played with my cousins and me as he healed over the next couple of weeks.
Grandmother and Mother adored his every action. Special healing porridge, called khichidi, was made for him with a yellow healing spice known as turmeric; yams and fresh water chestnuts were brought to support the healing of the fresh wound and fill the scar naturally.
The mother monkey would swoop down and take him away into the trees or rooftop to feed him from time to time. Otherwise, she watched him like a hawk as he lived below, under the watchful eye of Baba. When he was happily healed, the baby monkey returned to his rooftop family and never came down again, but often talked to us from there.
With my little friend gone, I amused myself by dangling from some tree branches with my cousins. I heard the call of a cuckoo, the bark of a dog, the moo of a cow, and wondered what their hearts would tell me if I could understand. I wished that someday I could not only swing like a monkey, but speak with them, too, in their language of unconditional love.
Just like Baba.
Acharya Shunya is a globally-recognized spiritual teacher and Vedic lineage-holder who awakens health and consciousness through the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda, Vedanta and Yoga. She is the driving force behind an online wisdom school and worldwide spiritual community, and the author of best-selling book on the Vedic art of mind + body + soul well-being and health, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017) and forthcoming second book with Sounds True to be released in 2020, Sovereign Self. Acharya Shunya is a keynote speaker at national and international conferences, and serves as an advisor to the Indian Government in matters pertaining to global integration and cultivation of Ayurveda and Yoga. Receive her free online teachings and browse her current eCourse offerings here or see more about her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram. Subscribe to her YouTube Channel where she holds live Global Satsangs once per month. Study Ayurveda with Acharya Shunya in her online course, Alchemy through Ayurveda.