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A Zen lesson about not carrying necessary baggage.

What are you still carrying? The Zen story of two monks and a woman

This very famous Zen story is a powerful, spiritual metaphor which we can all use in our stressful, busy lives.  It is a story about letting go, putting things down and being in the present moment. I am sure that if you read this story you will always remember it and at times it will remind you to put down what you’re still carrying.


A senior monk and a junior monk were travelling 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 journey.

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 to touch 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?”



Isn’t it a simple tale?  Yet doesn’t it pack a punch – a home truth that we can all relate to?  For haven’t we all been in the shoes of the young Zen monk and carried something way longer than we really needed to?

The problem is that the human mind is very skilled in the habit of dwelling on the past.  It loves to hold tightly onto old grievances and wounds even when it actually only creates more suffering, drains our energy and compromises our capacity to be happy in the ‘here and now.’

Life passes us by in the blink of an eye and it up to you to squeeze every moment of joy and happiness out of the time you have.  So next time you realise that you are dwelling on the past, going back over something that no longer serves you remember the lesson of the two monks and ‘put it down.’ The more you practice this the more the mind will form a new habit – the practice of living in the present moment where peace and contentment can be found.

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