Once upon a time, two Buddhist monks, one young and one old, traveled from their temple in the mountains down to the nearest little town in the foothills of the Himalayas, to beg for alms. As they entered the peaceful valley with rice fields all around, they came to a wide river, by the side of which a beautiful young girl stood and wept.
The young monk’s mouth fell open, and he turned his back and covered his eyes, so as not to gaze upon a forbidden sight. But the older monk approached the girl and asked her what was wrong. “Oh, Sir Monk,” she said, “The river is too strong for me and I am afraid to cross it.” The old monk said, “Don’t worry, my dear. Climb up on my back, and I will carry you across.”
So she did. And he did.
When they reached the other side, he put the girl down, and she thanked him graciously, and ran off.
The young monk’s eyeballs almost fell out. If he had not, according to the custom of his fellows, shaved his head, his hair would have caught on fire. He was alternately horrified, and mortified, and furious. Truly, I tell you, smoke came out of his ears. He wiped the beads of sweat from his brow, and, the very picture of outrage, stalked the next 20 leagues, staring straight ahead, and without uttering a word. Eventually he had worked himself up into such a lather that he could contain himself no longer, and he burst forth with a cry:
“Master! We are celibate monks. Women are forbidden to us. How could you allow a woman to touch you, let alone carry her across the river on your back?”
The old monk thought for a moment, and then said, “My son, you saw me carry this girl a short distance across the river on my back. And then I put her down. We have walked for twenty leagues since then, and you have carried the girl on your back that whole distance. Why are you still carrying the girl on your back, and when will it be time for you to put her down?”
I first heard this little story when I was a college student, and I’ve never forgotten it. I was in an extended and youthful snit, and I was in a bit of a state. A very kind man, gently, but firmly, sat me down and sorted me out. I’m still grateful. I believe there are worse lessons to take to heart and to try to live by. What do you think?