“you’re still carrying that woman”

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Two travelling monks reached a ford in a river where they met a young lady of the night.  Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across.  One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders.  Together the monks strode through the river until they reached the other side.  The monk set the prostitute down on the other bank. She thanked him and continued her journey.

As the monks continued on their way, one was brooding and preoccupied.  Unable to hold his silence, he spoke with anger.  “Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women – let alone that sort of woman – but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”

“Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.”


Several years ago I heard this story and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Now, whenever Mr. Lively or I are unable to let go of something that happened earlier in the day or at work, we remind each other to “put down the woman.”

There is no use in carrying her further than necessary.


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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. ah. I released an audible ah-ha when i read this. It was just what I needed. If you’re familiar with Enneagram personality tests, I am a textbook Type One and I have a hard time letting things go. I will remember this story and repeat it to myself. thank you.

  2. CB

    I suppose the moral of this story is to let go of our grudges, but I guess I am bothered by the story in a way that distracts me from this main point. Does the second monk agree with the first monk that carrying the woman across the river was wrong? Or did he have a reason for helping the woman in need?

    Monk #2 doesn’t give a reason for acting in the way he did, but he doesn’t ask for forgiveness either. His response almost makes it sound like he acted arbitrarily and whether it was right or wrong doesn’t matter. I was glad the second monk helped the woman, and I was hoping he might try to resolve this by explaining to the first monk why he was acting out of compassion. If I were the first monk, I would be dissatisfied and confused by Monk #2’s answer because I would want to at least try resolving the moral dilemma.

    At some point, if the monks couldn’t come to an agreement, they would have to let go of the argument, agree to disagree, and move on. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t at least think about why they disagree.

    Regardless, thanks for posting! It is good material to think about. 🙂

  3. Marti

    Whaow !! Thank you so much This made a HUGE impact on me.

  4. Lindsey

    I’ve heard this story. I also know a different perspective on it. If you have a garden, you have to work the soil, clear out the rocks, and ready it for planting and fertilizing. You clean out all the rocks and put them in a wheelbarrow. Sometimes we’re carrying “rocks” with us and we have to remember to lighten our load.

  5. Jess

    Thank you everyone for your thoughts on this!

    CB, thanks so much for your reaction to the story!

    For me, the main point of the story (from my point of view) isn’t about the prostitute or whether he should or shouldn’t have picked her up. The main point that I refer back to time and time again is to not keep carrying on a reaction or feeling towards something that isn’t loving long past the actual event. It’s about letting go of things that we tend to keep carrying with us for no reason.

    And really, there are probably a few lessons to get out it, but for me it’s never about the prostitute and just about the second monk who couldn’t let things go.

    Lindsey, what a great companion story!!

  6. Caroline

    You should read Zen Shorts. It’s a wonderful, beautiful children’s book. In it are three amazing stories. This one is there but slightly retold. One monk is old and the other is young. The woman crossing is being carried on a sedan and is rich. She comes to the crossing and the men carrying her cannot help her across. The old monk helps her and at the other side she walks away without thanking him. The young monk broods for the rest of the day. Same ending. I too think about it all the time. Sometimes it’s hard to balance thinking something through when you are upset, but remaining upset by something and alternatively, letting things just go immediately. It’s always amazes me that you can actually make a conscious choice just to let something go and it really does go!

    I really enjoy your blog. Always thoughtful.

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