Helping a Lady Across the River – A Zen Story
This is a striking story about the Zen master Tanzan and how he imparts an important lesson to a younger monk in his own subtle and gentle way.
Story: One day while Zen monk Tanzan and a young monk were traveling, they came to a river with a strong current. As they were preparing to cross the river, they saw a young lady in distress also attempting to cross.
Tanzan offered, “Here, let me carry you across,” and placed her down gently on the other side.
The lady said, “Thank you very much. Goodbye.” The two continued on their journey for more than half a day.
Finally, the younger monk could not contain himself any longer, and blurted out, “I thought we monks were supposed to avoid women. Why did you just do that?”
“Oh, you mean the woman way back there? I put her down long ago. Are you still carrying her?”
If you say, “I do not want something,” only that will happen, because in the mind there is no subtraction or division. Addition and multiplication will happen. Forcefully, you cannot take away a particular thought from your mind. It is just that if your aspiration is for something higher, all these things may evaporate. Being a monk, being a Brahmachari, is not a rigid vow that, “I will not touch a woman.” You have taken a certain commitment to achieve something higher in your life, to touch another dimension where mundane things are meaningless to you.
If you are very focused on going to the top of the mountain, what is at the foothills is not your concern. But if you try to dodge the foothills, how will you go to the peak? If you are focused on the top of the mountain, you will cross the foothill and not even notice it.
A lady needed some help so the elder monk did what was needed, left her there and went on. Probably it did not even bother him whether it was a man or a woman. The younger monk who was trying to avoid the woman cannot keep her down and that continues in his mind.