Stories of Kindness from Around the World

Two Monks and a Woman - a Zen Lesson

--by ahlhalau, posted Jun 20, 2014

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 

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?”


This simple Zen story has a beautiful message about living in the present moment. How often do we carry around past hurts, holding onto resentments when the only person we are really hurting is ourselves.

We all go through times in life when other people say things or behave in a way that is hurtful towards us. We can chose to ruminate over past actions or events, but it will ultimately weigh us down and sap our energy.

Instead we can choose to let go of what doesn’t serve us anymore and concentrate on the present moment. Until we can find a level of peace and happiness in the present circumstances of our lives, we will never be content, because ‘now’ is all we will ever have.

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Readers Comments

shannon wrote: My reiki teacher once told us this wise story and it really opened my eyes, such wisdom a very beautiful story
Madeleines wrote: Treasures in water
Colors so green
Only rivers truly meet the sea
The mantra of you and me
notamonk wrote: By sharing this we carry her
Sights on the other shore
So she may be passed along
The need to carry her no more
Fran wrote: My yoga teacher shared this story with us today and it brought tears to my eyes.
Had a very bad day and it helped me to focus on the moment and what is important.
Thank you joann
shivanand prabhoo wrote: Thanks for sharing this story.
shivanand prabhoo wrote: Thanks for sharing this story.
Richard LeClerc wrote: Be, know, do! Learn to do by doing!

bro wrote: It also has a predisposition towards letting down your self righteousness for actual righteousness. Serving others is the deposition of truth beyond your self perception of transcendence. That understanding usually comes with age.
Sandy wrote: You know when you meet someone and it ends up being for the pure reason that you needed them to be part of your life? It happened to me tonight. A man sitting at the bar where i bartend shared this monk story with me, and it was the perfect timing. I was/am going through a rough patch. We all forget sometimes what we are supposed to do, and this story, and the way he told it, brought tears to my eyes and lifted my spirit. I usually live life in a very optimistic way, but i was really down. His/this story reminded me of how sometimes i have to re-center myself and remember everyday is a new day and every day gets better as long as i am willing. I thank you so much, man at my bar. You made a huge impact on me and you don't even know it.
mrowe361 wrote: Am i the only one who thinks the older monk in the story is kind of a jerk? "be in the moment" is advice about how to live in the future anyway, so why not just explain the rationale behind the decision?

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