One morning a young ant was eager for a day of foraging. It flexed its legs and took pleasure in a few playful movements of its body. Then, it headed out on its way. It happened to pass by a young caterpillar slowly making his way towards a tree.
The ant quickly overtook the caterpillar and said, “I’m going to get the best of what is up there to eat long before you even reach the base of this tree.”
The caterpillar heard this, nodded gently, and quietly continued on his way. The ant ran up the tree, found some of his favourite food, and on his way back laughed with pride at the caterpillar still pushing along towards the base of the tree.
On many occasions, the ant similarly passed by and mocked the caterpillar. Eventually, the caterpillar wove his cocoon and entered it. The ant observed this and thought, “What a pitiful insect! All his life he has moved around so slowly hardly going anywhere or seeing anything, and now he lays around all day doing nothing, imprisoned in a shell.”
The ant boasted of his great strength, travels, and fortune as he passed by the caterpillar’s cocoon each day and saw only by the occasional movement of the caterpillar’s tail that he was alive.
One day, the ant saw that the cocoon lay broken open and empty. He thought, “What a useless life this pitiful caterpillar had. He was always slow and quiet, he never got to enjoy the world like me, and finally he just curled up in a shell. Now some animal has come, broken his shell, and eaten him. What a terrible life. I hope I am never reborn as a caterpillar.”
As he was thinking to himself in this way, he suddenly felt a cool breeze and some shade come over him. He turned around and saw the colourful wings a beautiful butterfly flapping brightly in the sunlight.
“What do you think of your pitiful neighbour now, Brother Ant? Am I wasting my life? Am I missing out? Will I never get to see the world like you?” So saying, the butterfly arose in the air, caught a current in the breeze, and soared out of sight.
The ant represents our false ego. It is proud of the body and assumes health, wealth, ‘freedom’ to move about, and enjoyment of the environment are the best things that can ever be attained.
The caterpillar represents our spiritual conscience. It is slow to emerge, doesn’t make much of the immediate environment, and politely ignores the false ego. Its central focus is on living a simple life and engaging in the process of spiritual transformation.
As the ant mocks the caterpillar for missing out on all that he enjoys, so our false ego belittles the value of our spiritual practice and urges us to ignore it.
When we adhere to our spiritual conscience despite the un-ending objections of the false ego, then gradually our true self emerges and the self-evident greatness of the world of spiritual experience it opens for us speaks for itself.