Once upon a time there was a kingdom of monkeys. They were ruled by a very large and very wise monkey king. The monkeys lived near a stand of mango trees which ran alongside a river and enjoyed a constant supply of these delicious fruits. One day the king noticed a castle being built downstream from the mango trees. He ordered the monkeys to gather all the mangoes from the trees. They dutifully responded, and collected all the mangoes bar one which was hidden behind a bird’s nest.
One day this mango fell from the tree into the river. The human king who inhabited the recently built castle was taking a swim when the mango floated by. He picked it up, and after learning from his Prime Minister that it was a delicious fruit, he ate it. So impressed was he that the human king determined to gain more mangoes, and set out with his guards in search of the mango trees.
When the human king found the mangoes he also found the monkeys. Though the monkeys were willing to share the mangoes with him, the human king wasn’t. Deciding he would have all the mangoes for himself he order his soldiers to pursue and slay the monkeys.
When news of this reached the wise monkey king he sadly knew that the day he feared had arrived. The soldiers chased the monkeys through the forest until they came to the edge of a tall cliff. The monkey king knew that if he could get his subjects across the other side they would be safe. But how to do it?
The monkey king took his huge body and used it to form a bridge between the cliffs. One by one his subjects climbed over him to safety. The king grew increasingly wearied and bruised, but knew he must hold on. As the monkey’s scrambled across their king grew ever weaker, yet still he held on. Finally, when the last monkey had cross the bridge, the monkey king collapsed.
The human king had witnessed the whole scene from high on the hill. He was so moved by the monkey king’s sacrifice that he ordered his guards to find a way down the rocky cliff and rescue the monkey king. The guards found him, barely alive, and brought him back to the king. The human king ordered his best doctors to care for the monkey king and waited from him to regain consciousness. When he did so the human king asked “You are their king, why did you bother to die for them?”
The monkey king replied, “Because I am their King”. And with that, he died.
Source: Adapted from a story from the Jataka found at “What Do You Think My Friend?” (www.serve.com/cmtan/buddhism/Stories)