I want to share a story with you. It sounds like it’s about a monk. It isn’t.

It’s about you, and me, and anyone else on this planet who has to interact with other human beings. It’s especially about people who work jobs in which they help others. Nod your heads, you lovely nurses, bus drivers, policemen, social service people, and so many more. It’s an old story from another language, so I’m including multiple translations to give you the full range of the idea, and let you enjoy the nuances of how stories get sculpted across culture and time.

Here goes:

  1. A Monk was walking alongside a stream when he saw a Scorpion struggling in the water.
  2. Once in a monastery two monks walked about doing their morning duties. As they passed a small bowl, filled with rain, they saw a scorpion was drowning in the water.
  3. An old man meditating by the riverside opened his eyes to see a scorpion flailing helplessly in the water.
  4. One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water.
  5. One day two monks were walking by the river. While doing so, one of them noticed a scorpion struggling in the water. 
  6. Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning.

  1. Knowing that scorpions cannot swim, he quickly plunged into the water to rescue it. Carefully, he picked the Scorpion up with his fingers and walked to the bank.
  2. One monk reached in to save the creature.
  3. The water washed the scorpion nearer to a tree growing on the river bank. Supporting his body on one of the long roots stretching into the water, the old man extended his hand out to reach the creature.
  4. As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature.
  5. Knowing that scorpions can’t swim, the monk knew if he did not save the scorpion, it would drown. Thus, carefully picking up the scorpion, the monk rescued it from drowning. 
  6. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank.


  1. Just when he was about to set the Scorpion down, it turned and stung his hand.
  2. As soon as his fingers touched the panicking Scorpion, it stung him—
  3. His fingers barely touched the scorpion when it stung him.
  4. As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him.
  5. And as he was just about to set it down, the scorpion stung his finger. 
  6. In the process he was stung.


  1. The Monk, being in pain, drew his hand back and as a result the Scorpion was flung back into the stream.
  2. —and the monk dropped the Scorpion back into the water. The monk sighed, 
  3. The old man instinctively withdrew his hand.
  4. Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. 
  5. In pain, the monk drew back his hand and the scorpion went flying, back into the river. 
  6. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in.
  7. [alternate:] He went back to washing the bowl when he noticed the scorpion fall into the water again.


  1. When the Monk realized what happened, he went back into the water and picked up the Scorpion once again. But just as the Monk was about to set the Scorpion down, he was again stung on the hand by it. This scene repeated several times until the Monk finally saved the Scorpion.
  2. —and reached back in. This time he got his grip a little firmer, but still dropped the Scorpion when he was stung. He kept reaching in, as his friend looked on in confusion.
  3. A moment later, he got back his balance and again lay down on the roots to rescue the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him well and truly. The old man lay there in agony, his hand bloodied and swollen.
  4. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that his hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.
  5. As soon as the monk regained his composure, he again lifted him out of the water, this time with a stronger grip, out of the water. Again, before he could set the scorpion down, the creature stung him. This drama lasted for several minutes.
  6. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung. 


  1. A little boy was playing by the stream when he witnessed this whole incident. Being confused, he asked the Monk, “Excuse me. Why do you keep trying to save that Scorpion? It stings you every time you try to rescue it.”
  2. After dozens of attempts, the other monk spoke up saying “Brother, why do you keep trying to save that scorpion? It stings you every time you come near it.
  3. A traveler who was passing by saw the whole incident happen. He shouted, “What’s wrong with you? Only a fool or madman would risk his life trying to save that evil, vicious creature! Do you realize you could have died trying to save that scorpion?”
  4. At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted: “Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?”
  5. The other monk was observing this, wherein the monk would carefully and gingerly lift the creature out of the water to yet again fling it back in the water again, while at the same time also convulsing from the pain unleashed by each fresh sting. Eventually, unable to remain quiet the observing monk said to the other one, “Brother, why do you keep trying to save the scorpion? It stings you every time you come near it.”
  6. The other monk asked him, “Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know it’s nature is to sting?”


  1. The Monk replied, “Dear boy, just as it is the water’s nature to make me wet, so it is the nature of the Scorpion to sting. And just as it is the Scorpion’s nature to sting, it is my nature to save.”
  2. The monk paused before reaching in again and smiled. As another sting bit into his hand, he took a fallen leaf from the ground and pulled the scorpion out to safety. He finally said: “Because it is his nature to sting, and my nature to save. Don’t forget brother, soon either I’ll stop feeling the pain of the sting and he will be saved, or he will stop being afraid and be saved.’ Compassion cannot be stopped so easily.’
  3. Still lying there, the old man turned his head to look at the traveler calmly. “Dear brother, it is the nature of the scorpion to sting. That does not mean I can change my nature, which is to save. ” The scorpion behaved true to its nature. So did the old man.
  4. The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger’s eyes he said calmly, “My friend, just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.”
  5. To this the monk replied: “My dear brother, the scorpion is not stinging me out of malice or evil intent. Just as it is the water’s nature to make me wet, so it is the scorpion’s nature to sting. He doesn’t understand that I am getting him to safety. Quite simply, there is a level of conscious comprehension greater than what his brain can accomplish. But, just as it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, so it is my nature to save him. Just as he is not leaving his nature, why should I leave my nature? My dharma is to help every creature– human or animal. Soon, I will stop feeling the pain of the sting and he will be saved, or he will stopped being afraid and be saved. Compassion cannot be stopped so easily.”
  6. “Because,” the monk replied, “to save it is my nature.”

It is perhaps not inappropriate to quote Geico at this point:

“It’s what ya do.”

It’s what I try to do, as a bus driver, and it makes my days a lot easier. If Eastern philosophy isn’t your thing, that’s okay. We can quote everyone’s favorite multinational conglomerate for equal inspiration: Ya “just do it.” Maybe that scorpion will love you, or maybe he’ll try to get under your skin, or perhaps you’ll bring out the non-stinger in him over time… but you’re doing you, in the best way.

Doesn’t that feel good?


This lil’ grab bag of translations comes from all over the internet—here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I first heard the story in spoken form, and its historical origins are uncertain. But we have the story.

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Article Author

Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.