Friday, March 20, 2009

Carrying a girl across a river

Source: Zen Buddhism
Translated by: Unknown

One day, a Buddhist Monk named I-hsiu (literary, "One Rest") took his young student to go to town to do some business. As they approached a small river, they saw a very pretty girl walking back and forth looking very concerned.

"Lady", asked I-hsiu, "you look very concerned. What is troubling you?"

"I want to cross the river to visit my dad who is very sick, but the bridge had fallen. Where is the next nearest bridge?"

"The next closest one is many miles away. But, don't worry, I will carry you across the river."

So I-hsiu carried the girl on his back and walked across the river stream. Once they reached the other side, he put her down and, saying farewell to each other, went on their ways separately.

Observing the whole thing, the young student was rather uneasy. He thought, "the Master taught us that women are man-eating tigers yet today he carried a pretty girl on his back across a river! That does not make any sense. Isn't the Lord Buddha teach us to keep a distance from a stranger girl?"

Over the next couple of month, the whole thing was still bothering him in his mind. Finally, the student could not stand it any longer and raised the issue with I-hsiu.

Upon hearing this, I-hsiu bursted into laughter: "I had put down the girl ever since I had crossed the river. You must be very tired carrying her around for the last two months!"

1 comment:

  1. copy-paste:

    With such an understanding let us now examine an oft-quoted Zen story; indeed, popular enough to be cited by even non-Buddhist writers as their own.

    Two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, traveling on pilgrimage, came to a muddy river crossing. There they saw a lovely young woman dressed in her kimono and finery, obviously not knowing how to cross the river without ruining her clothes. Without further ado, Tanzan graciously picked her up, held her close to him, and carried her across the muddy river, placing her onto the dry ground.

    Then he and Ekido continued on their way. Hours later they found themselves at a lodging temple. And here Ekido could no longer restrain himself and gushed forth his complaints:
    “Surely, it is against the rules what you did back there…. Touching a woman is simply not allowed…. How could you have done that? … And to have such close contact with her! … This is a violation of all monastic protocol…”
    Thus he went on with his verbiage. Tanzan listened patiently to the accusations.

    Finally, during a pause, he said, “Look, I set that girl down back at the crossing. Are you still carrying her?”
    (Based on an autobiographical story by Japanese Zen master Tanzan)

    Tanzan (1819-1892) was a Japanese Buddhist priest and professor of philosophy at the Japanese Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo) during the Meiji period. He was regarded as a Zen master, and figured in several well-known koans, and was also well-known for his disregard of many of the precepts of everyday Buddhism, such as dietary laws. I’m not sure if there is anything virtuous in this.

    The first thing we should note is that this is an autobiographical Zen story; it probably did not happen, not exactly in this manner, anyway. For if it did, then it has a serious ethical problem, where one is good at the cost of the perceived evil or foolishness of another. I think it was the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) who quipped, “There are bad women because there are good women.”

    Indeed, a bodhisattva who is regarded as good or compassionate on account of the evil or lack in others, would actually be a selfish person, as the bodhisattva is not independently good. A true bodhisattva is one who, being himself highly virtuous, is capable of inspiring goodness in another, even if it is to the bodhisattva’s apparent disadvantage.

    Tanzan’s self-told tale has a serious moral flaw if he made himself appear virtuous on account of Ekido’s concern for the Vinaya. Such a person as Ekido, however, was simply rare in Meiji Japan, where priests were as a rule non-celibate (on account of the nikujiki saitaiior “meat-eating and marriage” law of 1872). As such, it was likely than Tanzan had invented a Vinaya-respecting monk as a foil for his self-righteousness.

    On the other hand, Tanzan’s tale also evinces his serious lack of understanding of the Vinaya rules. For, in a real life situation, even a Vinaya-observing orthodox Theravada monk would help this lady in every way he could, or he would ask his colleague or some other suitable persons to help the woman. If a Vinaya-keeping monk has helped the woman, he has done a good deed by breaking a minor rule, for which he only needs to confess before another monk, and remind himself not to wander into improper places the next time. There is no need of any skillful means here, only common sense.