Two Monks and a Woman–Story

The story of Two Monks and a Woman is a very well known Zen story. There are many versions of it, but the origin is not clear.

Here, this story can both stand alone and also provide a different perspective to the post immediately below this one (Eliminating Mental Bias Decision Errors).

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.

The senior monk carried this woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing.

They both were walking and senior monk noticed that his junior was suddenly silent and enquired “Is something the matter, you seem very upset?”

The junior monk replied, “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The senior monk replied, “I left the woman a long time ago at the bank, however, you seem to be carrying her still.”

Comments:

The older monk, his mind free, saw the situation, responded to it, and continued to be present to the next step after letting the woman down.

The younger monk was bound by ideas, held on to them for hours, and, in doing so, missed the experiences of the next part of the journey.

Reference to Decision Making:

Mental attachment to an idea or earlier experience blocks the full experience of the present here and now. Attachments slow the mind, interfering with appropriate responses to the immediate situation.

In order to evaluate a situation requiring a decision, the mind must be open to the possibilities. Being anchored in the past restricts the choices. Examples of holding on, outlined in the Mental Bias post, are favoring current conditions and giving disproportionate weight to old information.

The mind cannot will itself to be free. There are methods to calm the activity of the mind in order to be more open. The first step is to develop awareness.

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6 Responses to Two Monks and a Woman–Story

  1. [...] These types of decison errors can often be traced to the tendency to mentally hold on to old ideas that interfere  with appropriate responses to the present situation.  A different perspective to this type of attachment can be seen in the Zen story Two Monks and a Woman. [...]

  2. [...] The story goes: 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. [...]

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