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The Worm

There is a wonderful little story about two monks who lived together in a monastery for many years; they were great friends. Then they died within a few months of one another.

One of them got reborn in the heaven realms, the other monk got reborn as a worm in a dung pile.

The one up in the heaven realms was having a wonderful time, enjoying all the heavenly pleasures. But he started thinking about his friend, “I wonder where my old mate has gone?”

So he scanned all of the heaven realms, but could not find a trace of his friend. Then he scanned the realm of human beings, but he could not see any trace of his friend there, so he looked in the realm of animals and then of insects. Finally he found him, reborn as a worm in a dung pile…

“Wow!” He thought: “I am going to help my friend. I am going to go down there to that dung pile and take him up to the heavenly realm so he too can enjoy the heavenly pleasures and bliss of living in these wonderful realms.”

So he went down to the dung pile and called his mate. And the little worm wriggled out and said: “Who are you?”, “I am your friend. We used to be monks together in a past life, and I have come up to take you to the heaven realms where life is wonderful and blissful.” But the worm said: “Go away, get lost!” “But I am your friend, and I live in the heaven realms,” and he described the heaven realms to him. But the worm said: “No thank you, I am quite happy here in my dung pile. Please go away.” Then the heavenly being thought: “Well if I could only just grab hold of him and take him up to the heaven realms, he could see for himself.”

So he grabbed hold of the worm and started tugging at him; and the harder he tugged, the harder that worm clung to his pile of dung.

The author of this story is unknown and greatly appreciated!

What Is the Spiritual Moral / Meaning of “The Worm” Story?

This story offers us a glimpse into the intricate workings of karma and the spiritual journey that transcends lifetimes. At its core, it teaches us the importance of compassion and empathy, regardless of our circumstances or station in life. The first moral we can glean from this tale is the recognition of interconnectedness. Despite the vast differences in their current states, the bond between the two monks remains unbroken, echoing the timeless truth that we are all connected in the tapestry of existence.

The journey of the monk who ascended to the heavenly realms serves as a metaphor for the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and the allure of higher states of consciousness. His experience highlights the inherent desire within each of us to seek transcendence and liberation from the limitations of the material world. Yet, amidst the splendor of the heavenly realms, he is compelled by a deep sense of compassion to seek out his friend, demonstrating the universal principle of love and altruism that transcends all boundaries.

Conversely, the rebirth of the other monk as a lowly worm in a dung pile symbolizes the cyclical nature of existence and the impermanence of worldly pleasures. Despite his seemingly humble state, the worm finds contentment and fulfillment in the simplicity of his existence, illustrating the profound truth that true happiness arises from within, independent of external circumstances. This underscores the spiritual principle of detachment, reminding us to relinquish attachment to transient pleasures and embrace the inherent beauty of the present moment.

The encounter between the two monks, one in celestial splendor and the other in earthly humility, highlights the paradox of spiritual awakening. While the heavenly being seeks to uplift his friend and bestow upon him the blessings of divine bliss, the worm finds solace and fulfillment in the simplicity of his existence. This juxtaposition invites us to contemplate the nature of true happiness and fulfillment, challenging our preconceived notions of success and enlightenment.

The resistance of the worm to leave his dung pile offers a poignant reflection on the nature of attachment and the illusion of permanence. Despite the allure of heavenly pleasures, the worm remains steadfast in his attachment to the familiar comforts of his current existence. His refusal to relinquish his hold serves as a powerful reminder of the human tendency to cling to the familiar, even in the face of greater opportunities for growth and transformation.

Ultimately, the story reminds us that the path to spiritual liberation is not always straightforward. The heavenly being's futile attempts to forcibly uplift his friend underscore the futility of external intervention in matters of the soul. True transformation arises from within, through the cultivation of wisdom, compassion, and self-awareness. It is a gentle reminder that each soul must navigate its own journey towards awakening, guided by the light of inner truth and the boundless compassion of the divine.

In conclusion, this timeless tale offers us valuable insights into the nature of karma, compassion, and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Through its poignant narrative, we are reminded of the interconnectedness of all beings, the impermanence of worldly pleasures, and the transformative power of love and compassion. It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the enduring quest for truth and liberation that unites us all in the tapestry of existence.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Reflect on the bonds of friendship depicted in this story. How does the enduring connection between the two monks resonate with your own experiences of friendship and companionship?
  2. Consider the contrasting experiences of the two monks after death. How does the notion of rebirth and the different realms they inhabit prompt you to contemplate the cyclical nature of existence and the vastness of the universe?
  3. Explore the concept of contentment and fulfillment as portrayed by the worm in the dung pile. In what ways does the worm's refusal to leave his humble abode challenge societal notions of success and happiness?
  4. Reflect on the heavenly being's earnest desire to help his friend ascend to the heavenly realms. How does his journey to assist his friend prompt you to consider the nature of compassion and the desire to alleviate suffering?
  5. Contemplate the worm's steadfast refusal to leave his pile of dung despite the allure of heavenly pleasures. What does this resistance reveal about the human attachment to comfort and familiarity, even in the face of greater opportunities for growth and transformation?
  6. Consider the heavenly being's futile attempts to forcibly uplift his friend. How does this aspect of the story invite you to reflect on the limitations of external intervention in matters of the soul and the importance of personal agency in spiritual growth?
  7. Explore the symbolism of the dung pile as a metaphor for the mundane aspects of existence. How does the worm's attachment to this seemingly unremarkable environment prompt you to reconsider the value of simplicity and the beauty found in unexpected places?
  8. Reflect on the themes of acceptance and surrender woven throughout the story. How does the worm's unwavering commitment to his chosen path offer insight into the power of embracing one's circumstances with grace and humility?
  9. Contemplate the universal truths embedded within this simple tale. How do the struggles and aspirations of the characters resonate with your own spiritual journey and quest for understanding?
  10. Consider the overarching message of the story in relation to the interconnectedness of all beings. How does this narrative serve as a reminder of our shared humanity and the inherent unity that binds us together in the tapestry of life?