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

Notamonk wrote: The mantra of letting it be what in wants to be. A mantra for all to sea.
john wrote: The point of the young man's question was not about carrying the woman. It was about touching her. The wiser monk did not answer his question on why he broke his vow of touching a woman.

Had nothing to do with carrying her.
Prabakar D wrote: Absolutely beautiful and beautiful story! Life often teaches us many moral lessons through simple stories!
Gail wrote: I love that you used an old folk story from the zen tradition
Outis wrote: Ironic that this story would very well explain japanese ambivalence to their war crimes and their perspective on history which borders on the offensive. This isn't a hot take or clickbait, it happened and they act like it wasn't theirs to begin with. As far they're concerned, their victims are still carrying the proverbial woman on the back.
Shaemus Hughes wrote: Some rules are worth breaking if the rules themselves cause more suffering than breaking them
Denny wrote: The vow to not touch the woman was a vow of celibacy. The older monk was only helping her as person to cross the river because she asked for help, and given that they were monks she felt safe enough to ask them for help. So what good is it to be a monk if not to have compassion on people who must swallow their insecurities and pride and ask for help? The young monk was like society in general they are righteous 'til it happens to them. Even jesus tells the parable of the good samaritan. Every religion or belief have wise people in them.
Beryl jones wrote: Easier said than done. It’s hard to forgive yourself and move on.
Mike P wrote: As the mahabharata states: "do what you must. "
Jìntóu wrote: But what is a vow if not kept. The young monk learned a valuable lesson this day, not in resentment but in commitment.

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