The Theosophical Society in America

The Banana Trap

Originally printed in the September-October 2000 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Bland, Betty. "The Banana Trap." Quest  88.5 SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2000): pg 196-197.

By Betty Bland

In a remote village, long ago and very far away from us, some hunters set out to capture a monkey. Monkeys, however, are very intelligent creatures, who not only look very much like humans but even think like us. So to capture one of them, you have to use a creative approach. In one end of a coconut, the village hunters drilled a hole large enough to insert a banana. Then they fastened the coconut to a tree. Soon a smart little monkey came along and, smelling the banana inside the coconut, reached into the hole to grab the fruit. But then the monkey was caught in a dilemma. It could not withdraw its fist while holding onto the banana. It could drop the banana and escape, but it didn’t want to lose the fruit. So it was trapped. Smart little monkey! Smart little monkey-mind!

We are just like that monkey when we do not want to let go of our resentment over wrongs others have done to us. We are trapped by our unwillingness to let go of resentment over whatever slights or offenses we remember. Our monkey-mind thoughts will not let go of the past. And so we are trapped in the incident, playing its broken record somewhere in the back of our minds. Whoever gave the offense may be free, but we are not. We are trapped in pain and resentment until we can convince ourselves to let go and to forgive. Maybe one day we will learn to be smarter than the monkeys!

Forgiveness seems like such a simple thing. Of course I can forgive--if I want to. I just may not feel like it. But that is exactly the point. We are caught in our feelings. If we live anywhere with other people, forgiveness is a necessary ingredient in our everyday lives. Most of us have learned to let many little infractions pass, with forgiveness easily meted out in order to live in harmony with our fellow human travelers. The problem comes when we cannot let go, when we cannot forgive an infraction on our space, whether big or small, intentional or unintentional. Then we get stuck in a situation that we cannot release, and we continue to blame the other person for our stuck-ness!

Forgiveness is letting go of our self-attachment to a situation. It is an ultimate act of selflessness--moving beyond our wounded personality self. Forgiveness is in fact one of the great initiatory processes exemplified in the Christian tradition. Jesus was able to walk through his tragic persecution and crucifixion without wavering in his God-connectedness, without getting attached to blame or resentment, leaving this physical plane with forgiveness on his lips. Would he have been remembered as a great Teacher if he had died vilifying his detractors? Certainly not. His ability to forgive was a major step in his initiation.

The self-torment of resentment can end. We can wake up at any time. We can begin to know ourselves, and through that self-knowledge and self-devised effort, leave some of our traps behind.

As we are trying to travel the spiritual path and to develop our latent powers along the way, one of those powers is forgiveness. The third object of the Theosophical Society is "to investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in humanity." People often think of that object as focused on paranormal, psychic phenomena, powers called the lower siddhis or lesser spiritual gifts. In fact, the powers H. P. Blavatsky encouraged us to develop are those powers of the spirit that bring us closer to the master teachers of humanity, closer to our own true natures, closer to a unitive spirit. Forgiveness is an important discipline in the development of such spiritual powers. Forgiveness frees us from old constraints and resentments and makes our inner resources available for higher work. It initiates us to a higher level of living. We who are Theosophists can work to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity--our first object--only if we learn to forgive each other in our daily encounters.

Some of the early workers in the Theosophical Society received instruction and advice from great adepts in the form of letters. In letter 131 in the chronological series of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, the Mahatma KH exhorted his correspondents to move beyond self-focus, to let go of the past and move with hope into the future. That is the essence of forgiveness:

Beware then, of an uncharitable spirit, for it will rise up like a hungry wolf in your path, and devour the better qualities of your nature that have been springing into life. Broaden instead of narrowing your sympathies; try to identify yourself with your fellows, rather than to contract your circle of affinity. However caused . . . a crisis is here, and it is a time for the utmost practicable expansion of your moral power. It is not the moment for reproaches or vindictive recriminations, but for united struggle.

If we carry any resentment or animosity toward our fellows, in or out of the Society, then truly this present moment is our opportunity to let go of the banana in the coconut shell and grow into our own humanity. Life, the one great initiator, is beckoning us: Let go, and go forward.

Betty Bland is National First Vice President of the Theosophical Society in America and a board member of the Theosophical Order of Service, Theosophical Book Gift Institute, and Pumpkin Hollow Farm Theosophical Camp. She manages a small business marketing secure air grilles and filters.