I was speaking with a client the other day and I brought up the Zen Story of Two Monks and a Young Woman:
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?”~ Zen Stories
The beautiful parable of the two monks is a powerful reminder of the importance of true gratitude and selflessness. This story, often attributed to a Zen master speaks to us of the importance of true appreciation. The senior monk teaches us that it is possible to do something that seems wrong—in his case, to touch a woman—if the motivation behind it is the recognition of a greater good. Despite his worries of breaking his vow, and any physical or mental constraints, he is guided by his appreciation for life and willingness to do what is right, despite the rigid laws of his faith
The younger monk’s reaction to the senior monk’s actions also provides great insight into the nature of gratitude. After experiencing the older monk’s selflessness and appreciation for the woman’s situation, the younger monk soon realizes the weight of his grievance. Despite the senior monk helping the woman across the river and being fully cognizant of the consequences he may suffer, the younger monk continues to carry his anger and resentment. This powerful lesson demonstrates how even when good intentions come from another person, it is often easy to take away from their actions something negative.
Gratitude serves us in extraordinary ways. It helps us view situations, ourselves, and others, with greater understanding, clarity, and appreciation. Life is often difficult by the many obstacles we encounter, so remembering to express thanks for even the smallest things can lead us to a greater understanding of how our actions and choices shape our lives.
The parable of the two monks teaches us that while rigid rules and injunctions do have a place in our lives, we must not forget the power of gratitude and appreciation in navigating our daily lives. Practicing gratitude is a way of truly understanding and honoring ourselves and the countless people who cross our paths, for each journey is unique, and our appreciation can often uncover life’s hidden treasures.