Peter Malakoff – India Journals

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India Journals



Peter is in
Tiruvannamalai, India a town in the state of Tamil Nadu
situated 185 km from Chennai/Madras and 210 km from
Bangalore (Karnataka).


Thieves, Scorpions, Frogs and the
Nature of Mind


Today, my house was broken into and
things were stolen. I saw who did

it. There were three of them and
they were just to the left of my door

when I came home. I saw their faces.
Two of them were young and one

was older, I especially liked the
older ones face when I first saw

him. I thought he had a sort of
nobility to him. I had no idea that he

was going to go after my things. It
seemed he had a look of

disinterest, but I was


I had been dropped off at my house
in a three wheeled taxi after

purchasing some articles in town. I
got out and unloaded a desk off

the top of the taxi that I was going
to use as my writing desk. I set

it on the ground outside the door to
my house and then went to open

the door to let myself in. As soon
as I went back to pick up the desk

and carry it in, they went for it.
Really, only the older one went

for it. I unlocked the door and
pushed it open, then, as I turned my

back on the door to pick up the
desk, he ran past me and into the

house. He was so quick and silent
that I did not even see him go by.

Then, by the time I had turned back
around with the desk in hand, I

saw him exiting my house with a bag
of something in his hands. I

dropped the desk and yelled at him
but he only ran faster. He was

amazingly quick. I took off after
him as he ran up the stairs onto the

verandah of my roof. I thought that
I could trap him up there and

force him to give up what he had
taken. The younger two had been

scared and ran off in another
direction. As we got to the top of the

stairs, I confronted him, he was
still holding the bag. We looked at

each other, eye to eye. Then, before
I could do anything else, he

leaped off the edge of my house
across the wide open space to the

house next door which was a good
twelve feet. I would not even try to

duplicate that jump. He got


The thieves were three monkeys and
the oldest one had stolen a bag of

apples, fresh from the market. He
took it right off the shelf inside

the door,. The quickness of the
monkey was amazing. He was also very

bold and extremely good at just
‘taking everything’ as it comes. He

went into my house through the only
entrance, so he must of been

prepared that he might have to go
out the same way. He knew that I was

out there. He gave it not a thought,
he was just ‘winging it’. I

beleive they do that all the time
and are extremely good at it. In a

space of mere seconds, he found
food, a bag with four apples, grabbed

it and was out the door.


The experience happened all of a
sudden. There was a quality like an

accident about it. ‘Shit
happens’ like that. You are walking along

all of sudden you step in it, or it
hits you, or your car is stolen or

somebody holds you up and robs you.
The whole thing, especially the

number of the monkeys- three,
reminded me of a story that Sri

Ramakrishna told about three
thieves. It went like this:


A man is retuning from the market,
walking through the jungle when he

is suddenly set upon by three
robbers. The first robber says, “Lets

kill him”. The second robber
says, “No, lets just steal his things,

tie him up and leave him here”.
They all decide to follow this advice

and they take his things, tie him up
and leave him alive in the

jungle. After a while, the third
thief returns. He unties the poor man

and says to him, “I am not
going to hurt you. Let me set you free. I

will not steal anything further from
you. I am sorry about what we

have done to you.”


The poor man who had just been
released was beside himself with joy.

He thanked the third robber
profusely and wanted to show his

appreciation. He said to the thief,
“Dear sir, please come to my home

which is nearby so that I can give
you some food or drink and properly

thank you for your kindness”.
The robber replied, “Thank you sir, but

I cannot take you up on your offer.
I am only a robber and I cannot

come to your home with


Ramakrishna said, that in this
story, the three thieves or robbers

represent the three Gunas or
qualities of life itself. These Gunas

represent the subtle elemental
forces that are inherent, in differing

proportions, in absolutely every
aspect of life. The first thief or

robber, who wants to kill the man,
portrays the quality of Tamas which

represents dullness or inertia. When
predominant or in control, Tamas

will tend to deaden or even to kill
a person. The second thief who

suggests leaving the man alive but
bound, represents the quality or

Guna of Rajas or desire. The third
Guna or quality is Sattva or

purity. It sets a person free from
the bonds of Rajas and Tamas but is

still a robber or thief. It robs us
of our Divine nature. Because it

is a thief it cannot come home with


Ramakrishna made the point that the
confusion of Sattva with God or

Divinity is a very important
distinction. Sattva is a result of God

Communion or Realization, it is not
the cause of it. If this confusion

of cause and effect is not
rectified, spiritual life will turn into an

attempt to gain purity or Sattva and
the transcendence and surrender

of all and everything altogether is
changed into an attempt to be pure

and sattvic. It would be like saying
that living in the richest part

of town is ‘True
happiness’ and everybody should strive to live

We all know that it is not the case
and that not all rich people are

happy. Ramakrishna is pointing out a
similar thing relative to Sattva

or purity- it may look good, but, it
is not God Realization.


In the Indian tradition,
transcendence or surrender of everything is

the ‘cause’ of true Sattva
while the attempt to gain purity only,

hardens one in bondage to
‘purity’ and thus leads one inevitably

suffering. Of course, it is a unique
type of suffering. The chains are

made out of gold, not steel or lead,
but they are chains and bind just

as surely, none the less.


As the story points out, sattva or
purity is a thief and cannot come

home with us. All sorts of trouble
and confusion result from not

seeing this. The most serious
suffering is that people, or more

specifically, spiritual seekers,
waste their life in a fruitless

attempt of putting the cart before
the horse, putting purity before

surrender, trying to break into
heaven through willful action.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi once said that
this was why people who practice

Hatha Yoga in India (he meant people
who took up Hatha Yoga as a means

to realize God) are known to be very
angry. They have tried to force

(one of the meanings of the word
hatha is ‘force’) their way to peace

and God. Of course, they failed and
that is the source of their anger.


As for the monkeys, they represent
the gunas perfectly. They were just

there. They seemed innocent enough,
sitting there outside my door when

I first came home. They gave no
signs of malice or intent to steal.

But, their minds were fixed one
pointedly on getting something,

anything. As soon as the door was
opened, they went for it come what

may. It is their nature.


Many of us have heard the term,
‘monkey mind’. It, like many things,

also comes out of India. Here is


The way they trap monkeys in India
is they take a hollowed out, dried

up, whole coconut. They drill a hole
of about 3/8” in one side of the

coconut and then they drill a hole
of about 1-1/4” directly opposite

on the other side of the coconut.
Then, a six foot rope is taken in

which a large knot is made at one
end of the rope. the unknotted end

is passed through the large hole
going into the coconut and then

pulled out through the small hole on
the other side of the coconut. It

is pulled all the way through until
the knot on the end of the rope

hits the inside of the small hole.
Then, the rope is tied to a tree

and the coconut is now effectively
tied to the tree. Then the coconut

is placed on the ground and some
food is placed inside the hollowed

out shell. At this point, the humans
go away. After a while, a monkey

comes up, sees the coconut, smells
the food inside and reaches his

hand in through the hole and grabs
the food making a fist. When the

monkey tries to withdraw his hand
from the coconut he cannot do it as

his fist now makes his hand too big
to fit back through the hole. He

screams, jumps about and bashes the
coconut on the ground, but. he

cannot escape. The coconut is tied
to the tree and the monkey will not

let go of the food which he is
holding in his fist. This is what is

called ‘Monkey


It is the tendency of all beings to
try and get what they want, to

obtain pleasure from our mind and
senses. The tendency of our mind is

to be just like a monkey, we will
not let go or surrender what we want

and are subsequently trapped by our
own desiring. Usually, we

complain, protest and scream instead
of unclenching our fist and

letting go.


Now, let me get back to the actual
monkeys at my house:


The monkey had taken the apples off
a shelf. They had been left there

by my cook who also purchases my
food. The apples were sitting right

next to some recording equipment and
my camera. I was greatly

concerned that the monkeys would now
steal shoes or tools or anything

else I had left around outside. I
had been hoping to sleep up on my

roof and I now saw that area as an
open territory that I shared with

the monkeys. I asked my Indian
friends if the monkeys would steal a

computer or camera or anything like
that. They said, ‘No, they only

want food’. That put me at
ease. But, then again, they had not warned

me about the monkeys in the first
place. They had seen them when the

taxi first pulled up, so, taking
this all into consideration, what I

heard was, ‘Sort of, kind of,
not really’. What happened next will let

you know how right ‘sort of,
kind of not really’ was.


I had brought back from town that
same day, a large mosquito net,

about 10’ by 12’. I wanted
to put it up on the roof so that I could

sit there and meditate in the
morning and evening with a wonderful

view of the holy mountain Arunachala
and not be bothered by




I also wanted to sleep there when
the house got too hot and the

electricity was off and the fans did
not work, which happened a lot. I

had the netting made by tailors in
town and set it up, tying it to the

bamboo thatched roof that had been
previously erected by the owners to

provide relief from the sun. After
my netting was placed with the help

of several friends, I went down to
rest in my room for the afternoon.




A few hours later, I heard noise
coming from up on the roof above my

head. I thought that my friends who
helped me erect the net had come

back to place large rocks around the
outside edges of the net to keep

it from blowing in the wind. I got
up, washed my face and went up the

stairs to see what they were doing.
I found about 12 monkeys using the

mosquito net as a playground. They
were running across the top of it

and climbing the walls. It was
Disneyland for them.


Most of the monkeys were running
across the top of the net, but, there

was a baby monkey trapped inside in
the space of the net. All the

monkeys took off when I came up
except for the baby monkey who was

trapped and immediately started
screaming and the eldest and largest

of the monkeys, the exact same one
who had taken the apples.


I quickly took in the situation and
went immediately to the net to

lift it up so that the baby could
get out. As soon as I started to do

this, the older monkey charged at
me, aggressively baring his teeth

and threatening me. I turned towards
him, spread my arms wide, bent

down and thrust my head towards him
shouting, ‘Hey! back off!’. I was

miming his aggression. He stopped.
We both looked each other in the

eyes. He continued to growl and hiss
at me. I raised my arms, spread

my fingers and backed him off for a
moment, but he only backed off a



I saw what was going on. He thought
I was threatening his little one.

I had sympathy with his feeling. But
if he did not allow me to lift

the net, the little one could not
get out. I said clearly, in English,

and I know that monkeys do not speak
English, but, I wanted to make an

image with my voice and express it
to him, that ‘I wanted to help the

baby and did not want to hurt
him’, but, as soon as I turned to lift

the net he charged at me again.
Again I backed him off. This time,

even though he was growling and
hissing at me, I tried to be more

calm and calming. I again told him
that I wanted to free his baby and

that I did not want to hurt him.
But, he was unaffected by anything I

said. He only saw the young baby
trapped in a net and a male human was

approaching the baby. He saw the
baby screaming in terror. Perhaps he

had seen something similar before
and it did not turn out for the good

as far as he was concerned. It was a
standoff. I could not turn my

attention to lift the large net
without being attacked by the elder

monkey. The scared baby continued to
run up and down the net inside

squealing in fear.


I knew what I needed-technology. I
went back downstairs and into my

house where I had a three foot long
bamboo stick. Then, I went back up

the stairs with it. The large elder
came to the top of the steps and

hissed and threatened me. When he
did so, I smacked the stick down on

the steps with great force making a
large and powerful sound and he

immediately backed up. I did this
several more times as I came up the

stairs, which definitely backed him
off. Once I got up on the roof, I

smacked the stick once again on the
ground for good measure and then I

lifted the net to let the little one
out. Now that I had the stick,

the elder did not make a move
against me but only hissed at me from a

distance. Finally, the baby ran out
and without any gratitude offered

from either of them, they ran


Before I set up and started to make
my mosquito-free paradise up

there, the monkeys were not
interested in being on the roof. I don’t

think they went there to ‘mess
with me’ in any way. They are just

monkeys and that is what monkeys


As they say in Ayurveda, “A
thing and the nature of a thing are

eternal”. Based on this working
principle, Ayurveda goes on to

distinguish, judge and evaluate all
things, from food to season, from

time of day to stage of life, from
body type to genetics all to

determine their qualities. This way,
a person can understand

differences where before he saw none
and then intelligently use those

differences and qualities to create
balance or health.


The knowledge of these qualities are
then put to use based on the

observation and principle that
‘like increases like and opposites

decrease each other’. In
Ayurveda, health is thought to be a sate of

balance or ‘Sama’. Having
been an Ayurvedic practitioner for the last

7 years, I have seen again and again
that without good judgement and

discrimination of what to eat and
how to balance themselves, people

are at the mercy of their
environment, trapped like the baby monkey

within the net of ever changing
circumstances and resistant to the

wisdom of available help like the
elder monkey.


“The nature of the thing, shows
itself in the nature of the symptoms”


The Charak Samhita, one of the three
‘Bibles’ of Ayurveda, puts forth

the relationship between the quality
of the elements in a persons body

at any time and the type of symptoms
that person will express. If you

see a person with a red face,
reddish eyes, red hair, drinking alcohol

and arguing then you will have a
good idea of what type of symptoms

that person is going to have
physiologically. Water is wet and flows

downward. Fire is hot and burns


I am reminded of the Indian story of
the frog and the scorpion: Once

there was a scorpion who came to a
river and wanted to get over to the

other side. He saw a frog sitting
there in the water and he said to

the frog, “Excuse me sir, but
would you be so kind as to take me

across the river on your back. I
cannot swim and you can. I would be

most obliged”. The Frog heard
what the scorpion had said and replied,

“Mr Scorpion, I would
ordinarily be very happy to help anyone across

the river, but, when I see you with
that big stinger you carry on your

back I am most afraid that you will
sting me”. The Scorpion replied,

“Mr Froggy, surely you can
understand that I would not do such a

thing. If I stung you when we were
out on the river then we both would

drown. If only for my own sake, I
would never do that”.


The Frog thought about that and
reasoned it up one side and down

another and it all made sense to him
and he wanted to be of service so

he swam up to the shore of the river
and invited Mr Scorpion to climb

on his back. The Scorpion did so and
the frog kicked out towards the

other shore. All was going well
until they got to the middle of the

river when the scorpion all of a
sudden stung the frog. The frog

quickly found himself unable to swim
and both scorpion and frog were

about to die. “How could you
sting me when you had told me that you

would not do such a thing”?
“I cannot help it. It is my nature to

sting” said the Scorpion. They
both drowned.


It is essential to know things for
what they are. It is sometimes

obvious and often subtle. Veda
Vyasa, the great sage of ancient India

and compiler of the Vedas and author
of the Mahabharata said,

“Sometimes virtue appears as
sin and sometimes sin appears as virtue.

Only the wise know the


When I hear someone say ‘We
should not judge” I am astonished at how

this ‘point of view’ ever
found its way into our culture. It is an

astonishing piece of poor thinking.
Like telling a child to go out and

play on the freeway. We need to
judge. We need to be wise. We need to

be able to evaluate. We need to know
what is good and what is bad,

what to support and what not to. We
need good judgement to know how to

act and who to trust and who not to.
We need to know if someone is

full of shit and acting out, or if
they are lying or whether they are

telling the truth about something,
or whether the truth that they are

telling is not ‘true’
because they are unintelligent, unconsciously

prejudiced or are unable to tell the
truth even if it hit them in the

face. The possibilities are endless,
but, just like any frog, we need

to know about scorpions. Here in
India they do not advise that a

person approach and pet a poisonous
snake. That is a judgement of the

character of snakes and


There are a lot of animals here in
India that are not seen in America.

Where I lived in Northern
California, I did not feel threatened by

animals in any way, except maybe the
occasional dog or a sting of a

bee. There, man is pretty firmly in
control, on top of the heap and

unthreatened. In India, that is not
the case to the same degree. All

the windows in the houses are barred
to keep monkeys out. Fifty feet

from my front door there is a hole
in the ground in which lives a very

large black cobra. That story and a
few tales about snakes from the

Indian tradition I will write about
in a later post.


In the meantime, “Trust in
Allah and tie your camel”. I will keep my

door locked when I turn away, even
if only for a moment. I learned

something: Monkeys and the monkey
mind can be very, very quick, too

quick for thought. It is their


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