Two Monks and a Woman – A Zen Story not a Bar Joke

One day, two monks set out on a journey to a temple in a distant village. Along the way, they came to a shallow and fast moving river where a young woman waited, full of despair for fear of falling in.

The monks looked at each other because the rules of their order forbid them from touching a woman.

The older monk bent forward, put the woman on his back, and crossed the water. When he reached the far side, he set her down gently, and resumed his journey.

 

Two monks at the river

Two monks at the river

 

The young monk scrambled out of the water, splashing in his hurry to catch up with his elder. The two walked quietly together for several hours.

The troubled monk couldn’t remain silent any longer, “Master, I don’t understand.”

“Yes,” the elder answered.

“As monks we are forbidden to look at a woman, much less touch her. How could you put her on your back?”

The elder monk stopped and turned towards him, “I set her down on the other side of the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

 

During a year of homeschool, I dictated Muth’s ‘Zen short’ to my daughter. He called it “A Heavy Load.”  Dictation, like the parable, seems to have lost its place in pedagogy today and that is unfortunate.  The practice is excellent for several reasons.

 

Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth

Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth link to Goodreads

 

First, I read a passage aloud once and only once, so the student must improve her listening skills and ability to recall. Second, she must write it out by hand and handwriting, as studies now prove (see link on Handwriting), helps the brain and reinforces learning. Third, the student learns mechanics, usage, spelling, and vocabulary.  She must determine when a sentence is complete, ensure subject verb agreement, use correct punctuation, and spell correctly.

A couple other things happened. She read the story back to me and later that day and later that week, she could tell the story from memory and in detail.  When the quality of the passage is good or excellent, the student develops fluency and a deeper understanding of excellent writing.  If the passage happens to instruct with a  lesson, it provides moral study.

I wish I read this parable earlier in my life, so it’s fortunate I could do so with my daughter. Hopefully the story will help her during difficult times. It’s not easy to set down our burdens, but perhaps, like the young monk, awareness of the things we carry is a good place to begin.

About mylinhshattan

I’m a writer who has worked in the private sector, taught at college, and served in the U.S. Army. I hold a B.S. in Mathematics from West Point, an M.B.A. from Florida Southern College, and an M.F.A. in Writing from Queens University.