A story of two monks and a woman

Two monks were on a pilgrimage. They had already walked many miles avoiding where they could run into people for they were from a particular order of monks that were forbidden to speak to or touch women. They had no wish to offend anyone so they kept to the by-way and lived off the land.

It was the rainy season and as they walked across a broad plain they were hoping that the river they had to cross would not be impassable. From afar they could see that the river had burst its banks. Nevertheless they were hopeful that the ferryman would be able to take them across in his boat. But as they neared the crossing point they could see no sign of the boatman, the boat, it appeared, had been swept away in the current and the ferryman had stayed at home.

There was, however, a woman. She was dressed in fine clothes and carried an umbrella. She implored the monks to help her cross, for her mission was urgent and the river, thought wide and fast, was not deep.

The younger monk ignored her and looked away. The elder, however, said nothing but swept her up onto his shoulder and carried her across, putting her down, completely dry, on the other bank. For the whole of the following hour as they journeyed on through thick and tangled woods, the younger monk berated the elder, heaping scorn upon his actions, accusing him of betraying the order and his vows. How dare he? How could he? What was he thinking of? What gave him the right to?

Eventually, the monks entered a clearing, and the elder monk stopped and looked square into the eyes of the younger monk. There was a long moment of silence. Finally in a soft tone, his eyes bright and gentle with compassion, the older monk simply said: »My brother, I put that woman down an hour ago. It is you that are still carrying her.«

Source: The Magic of Metaphor: 77 Stories for Teachers, Trainers & Thinkers by: Nick Owen, 2001

Two monks
Which monk would you be? The one standing and watching or the one carrying the women?

I found another version of this story, that goes like this:

Two monks were making their way from one monastery to another. They had been practising meditation together for many years and were very good friends. In fact, not only were they close friends, but there was also a teacher-student relationship in place – one of the monks was much older and had been a monk since long before the other monk was even born. The journey was a long one and involved many days traveling on foot. As the two monks walked through the forests and countryside, they spent a great deal of time discussing various aspects of the Buddhist Suttas as well as the various Buddhist commentaries.

At a certain point in their journey, the monks heard the screams of a woman coming from a nearby river. They rushed to see what was happening and in the middle of the river they saw a naked woman who was drowning. The older monk swiftly threw off his robes, dived into the water, and rescued the woman. He brought the naked woman to the banks of the river and proceeded to cover her with his spare robes. After assuring himself that she was safe and well, the two monks continued with the second leg of their journey.

However, the second part of their journey was quite different from the first. The river incident had quite an influence on the younger monk who, for the rest of the journey, had a surly comportment and refused to even speak to the older monk.

A few days later, the monks arrived at their destination – a monastery they were going to be staying at for the next few months. At this point, the young monk started to ostracise the older monk and refused to even acknowledge his presence. The older monk was rather dismayed and worried about the comportment of his friend and so one day he confronted the younger monk saying: “Please, young sir, why have you changed? What have I done to warrant being treated in this manner? If I have said or done something that has hurt you then I am truly sorry and I must have done it mindlessly and certainly without intention”.

The young monk replied: “You are not a true monk – you have broken the rules of the Vinaya Pitaka and as such I may no longer be associated with you”.

The older monk was rather shocked to hear this and asked what rules had been broken. The younger monk replied: “Not only did you touch a woman but you touched a naked woman and gave her the robes of a monk”.

“How very true” replied the elder, “I saved the woman and carried her to the banks of the river, I made sure that she was warm and well and then I left her on the banks of the river. However, it would appear that you are still carrying her around on your shoulders! In all these years of so-called practice of the Buddhist path, you have learned absolutely nothing. You cannot live without your rules and regulations – what a small and wasted life!”

Source: https://edoshonin.com/2014/04/16/the-dangers-of-being-attached-to-rules-the-story-of-two-monks-and-a-naked-lady/

Lessons from this story:

  • Rules are there to guide you, so you do not get “lost” in life. They are a waypoint, not your path.
  • Let go of the past.
  • Live your life in a way that in a couple of days, weeks, months and years you will look back and be proud of your choices.
  • If you do not understand something, or someones decisions do not judge them to fast. Get all the facts without judgement first.
  • People have to live with their decisions. Make sure that you will be able to live with yours.

Are there any lessons I missed? Please let me know in the comment section.

Source of the featured image: Finding balance in life

I hope you found this post helpful. Let me know what you think. Talk to you in the comment section.


Leave a Reply