The Two monks and a woman

I came across an anecdote in one of the facebook comments I read while browsing my feed more than a week ago. It’s about the 2 monks and a woman. I was intrigue and researched where it came from. It turned out to be an old Zen story. Honestly, the short story was thought provoking. Here it is:

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side. The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman. Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey. The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them. Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?” The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”

I was surprised to learn that the facebook comment changed a few details from the original. (Was it really the original story? I looked for the oldest and most reliable post I can find on the internet. Link down below). Instead of a river, the facebook user mentioned a muddy road and added a rude interaction between the monk and the woman. The lady he carried pushed him aside and never said thank you.

As written by a few bloggers who read it, the main lesson of the anecdote is to focus on the present and let go of the baggages we carry from the past. For sure, it will hit you inside when you realise that you have been acting like that younger monk for a very long time.

This is the funny thing about human behaviour. We put things gently aside and find ourselves carrying them again. It’s a constant battle of letting go and grabbing it back to burden us.

Am I the younger monk?

Sometimes I ask the ceiling or a wall… Does our mind like to suffer? Do we like pain? We play images of things in the past… repeatedly and we create stories in our mind that might not even happen. We become fixated to an event or person who made us feel bad or changed the way we see ourselves.

It makes us a little bit crazy.

Do I act like the lady mentioned in the story?

On a different note, the facebook comment personally gave a stronger impact to me as a person because I see these characters in my daily life even online. You see, we all have the platform to say all things we want to say especially nowadays where everyone has a voice, an observation, a remark, an opinion. We even have the option to ignore kindness, respect and other good stuff that people do for us.

It is sad but that is reality.

Moreover, to me, it felt like the lady represented people who practice hate speech (not freedom of speech). She is somebody who instigates cancel culture. The lady can be anybody… someone you work with, a family member or it could be… You. Unknowingly, I could be like her.

What I am saying here seems like an exaggeration but I feel like there is a young monk and a rude woman within our psyche.

Aware or unaware or our own actions, we should find an older monk to guide us and teach us how to let go of a bitter past. If there is something I learned from my previous experiences, there is no shame on asking for help or a little bit of guidance.

And when we succeed on getting out of that mental prison, we can share our wisdom like the older monk.

In conclusion to my reaction to this story, I think the entirety of it sounds like a challenge to find your own power to decide whether you want to dwell in the past or focus on the great things of your today.

So… Are the younger monk? the lady? the old monk? You choose.