Leave Her at the River

Live in the moment. Much of our suffering arises from our inability to let go of the past. The Dhammapada, a collection of the teachings of the Buddha, addresses this inability, “He abused me. He defeated me. He robbed me. Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.” But what of our attachment to actions that have no direct effect on us? How can this cause us suffering?

The story of a monk and a novice provides an illustration. The early monastic tradition in Buddhism discouraged monks from any physical contact with women. Even today, in the Theravadan tradition common in Southeast Asia, this prohibition continues. Physical contact is believed to cause a rising of lust and desire. This, in turn, hinders the path to enlightenment. One day, a monk and a novice were walking through the countryside. They came upon a young woman standing by a stream. “I must cross the stream,” she said,” but my fine clothes will be ruined and I fear that the current might sweep me away.” Saying nothing, the monk lifted the woman and carried her to the other shore. Reaching the other shore, he bowed and continued on his way. This shocked the novice. Were not they to avoid touching women? Why had the monk violated this rule? As they continued walking, the novice became increasingly agitated. Finally, he could restrain himself no longer. “Master, are we not to refrain from touching women. Why did you carry her across the stream?” The monk replied, ”You fool, are you still carrying the woman. I left her at the river.”

In this case, the monk lived in the moment. A person needed help; he provided that help. Afterwards, he continued on, not dwelling upon who the person was or what he had done. The novice, however, could not let go of the image of the woman in the monk’s arms. It was this memory that caused him suffering. Who are we more like, the monk or the novice?

As individuals, and a society, we seem consumed by the thought of placing blame. Rather than live in the moment and take the actions necessary, we constantly debate who is at fault for our problems. We delude ourselves into thinking that once we have assessed blame the suffering will disappear. If only we can find the culprit the misery will end. Instead, the lack of action prolongs the suffering.

The Buddhadharma teaches that the root of our suffering is internal not external. When we become attached to thoughts, memories, or to the actions of others, we perpetuate the cycle of personal anguish. Overcoming this attachment liberates us from our suffering. Everyday, situations occur that are, in many ways, similar to the story of the monk and the novice. Our choice is to be like the novice and carry the woman in our mind, or like the monk and leave her at the river.

For more information about Buddhism and Zen meditation in Kenosha, contact me at BASEWI@aol.com