Prof. G.'s
Mindfulness/Anchoring Course

Two Monks and the River

Which monk is stressed and why?

Two young monks were dispatched by their Abbot to carry a message to the neighboring monastery. Having carried out their duties, they rested the night,and on the next morning they set out to return to their monastery.

An hour or so into their journey, they came upon a shallow river, and on the bank stood a young woman in a lovely silk kimono.

"May I help you cross?" asked the first monk." That way your garment won't get soiled."

"Why, yes, that would be most kind of you," replied the woman, bowing politely.

So the first monk hoisted the woman on his back and carried her across the river. Once across, they bowed and went their separate ways.

A few minutes later, after the woman was out of earshot, the second monk said to the first monk, "I can't believe you did that! I just can't believe it! We take vows of chastity, and you touched a woman! You even asked her! I know that touching a woman doesn't break our vow, but what's the Abbot to think? This is awful."

Several hours passed and the second monk erupted again. "How could you do that? She didn't even ask. You offered! What are we going to tell the Abbot when we get home? He's going to ask how our journey was, and we can't lie. What are we going to say?"

By late afternoon the two were nearing their monastery, and the second monk, now filled with anxiety, said, "I can't believe you did that! You touched a woman. You even carried her on your back. We must think of something to tell the Abbot. He's going to be so angry we'll be working in the onion patch for the rest of our lives."

The first monk stopped, looked at the second monk and said, "Listen, it's true that I carried that woman across the river. But I left her at the river bank hours ago. You've been carrying her all day."

Instructor's Comments

Two Monks and the River shows us how powerful our thoughts can be. How many times a day do you suppose you upset yourself by what you are thinking? The story shows that the source of stress, rather than outside of ourselves, is often in our own minds. By holding on to distressing thoughts in his mind for many hours, the second monk made himself very upset. The story didn't say as much, but you can probably think of physical symptoms that the second monk's upset might have brought about (how do you respond to stress?). The first monk was not stressed because he "left it at the river."

One of the most important skills you can learn and practice is to "leave it at the river." Like the first monk, as much as you can, let go of thoughts that have the potential to disrupt your state of mental, physical, and social harmony. The less you are upset and out of sync with yourself, the more likely you are to be healthy and well. When you discover that you are harming yourself with your current state of mind, tell yourself to be like the first monk and "leave it at the river." This may not make your problems go away, but it will put you in a much better state of mind and in a position to manage them if you want to.

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