Carrying A Girl Across The Stream

Posted by on Sep 23, 2007 in Philosophy | No Comments

Once there were two Japanese Zen monks who visited one temple after another. One day Tanzan and Ekido encountered a beautiful girl by a stream. Her foot was injured so she couldn’t cross. After finding out about her problem, Tanzan said, “I will carry you across the stream” and proceeded to do so. The girl was very grateful and thanked him. Then the two monks continued their journey. Half a day later…Ekido couldn’t contain his thoughts anymore. He talked to Tanzan “We monks do not go near women, right? Why did you do that earlier?” Tanzan replied, “That’s right, monks do not go near women. But to be a Buddhist we must also have a compassionate heart. What woman are you referring to? I put her down long ago. Why you still carrying her?”

Monks must observe rules and maintain self-disciplines but they also need to have a compassionate heart. When these goals conflict using wisdom to determine what’s most important is the only way to make the right choice. Tanzan had no feelings of lust when he carried the girl across the stream. He acted spontaneously and with imperturbability so he didn’t break his self-discipline. If the girl’s beauty had stirred Tanzan’s lustful desires, prompting him to help her, then he would have violated his training. Ekido on the other hand, lost his compassion by caring too much about following the rules. By continuing to carry the matter in his heart he also lost his freedom of heart.

Using discipline is one way to help people practice things that help them reach enlightenment: discipline is a tool. Martial art forms are also a tool; they are a practice that connects your body and mind. But remember, just because someone can play a nice form doesn’t mean they can use the form in a real fight. When people care about tools too much and neglect the goal, then they mistake the means for the end.

The Diamond Sutra, Section IV is titled “Even the Most Beneficent Practices are Relative.” Sakyamuni Buddha said to a student, “Furthermore, Subhuti, in the practice of charity a Bodhisattva should be detached. That is to say, he should practice charity without regard to appearances; without regard to sound, odor, touch, flavor or any quality. Subhuti, thus should the Bodhisattva practice charity without attachment. Wherefore? In such a case his merit is incalculable…” (translated by A.F Price at http://community.palouse.net/lotus/diamond1-5.htm)
Section VI teaches us further. “…the Tathagata always teaches this saying: My teaching of the Good Law is to be likened unto a raft. [Does a man who has safely crossed a flood upon a raft continue his journey carrying that raft upon his head?] The Buddha-teaching must be relinquished; how much more so mis-teaching!” (also translated by A.F. Price).

–Danny

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