In a time long past there was an old monk who, through diligent practice, had attained a certain degree of spiritual penetration.
He had a young novice who was about seven years old. One day the monk looked at the boy's face and saw there that he would die within the next few months. Saddened by this, he told the boy to take a long holiday and go and visit his parents. 'Take your time,' said the monk. 'Don't hurry back.' For he felt the boy should be with his family when he died.
Three months later, to his astonishment, the monk saw the boy walking back up the mountain. When he arrived he looked intently at his face and saw that the boy would now live to a ripe old age. 'Tell me everything that happened while you were away,' said the monk.
So the boy started to tell of his journey down from the mountain. He told of villages and towns he passed through, of rivers forded and mountains climbed. Then he told how one day he came upon a stream in flood. He noticed, as he tried to pick his way across the flowing stream, that a colony of ants had become trapped on a small rock in the midst of the flooding stream. Moved by compassion for these poor creatures, he took a branch of a tree and laid it across one part of the stream until it touched the little island. As the ants made their way across, the boy held the branch steady, until he was sure all the ants had escaped to dry land. Then he went on his way.
'So,' thought the old monk to himself, 'that is why the gods have lengthened his days.'