Two Monks And A Woman

All knowledge is belief, but not all belief is knowledge


Two monks and a woman” is a well-known “Buddhist” story (although Taoists also view it as theirs). Let me recount one version of the story, and its most common explanation. Then I will add that there is much more to this version of the story than said “explanation”. The usual explanation criticizes the younger monk, whereas I will explain the older one’s motivations. Trust me to twist fairy tales into other dimensions!

Two Monks and a Woman – a Zen Lesson

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling 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.

Women Caused Lots Of Problems To The Wisdom Of Old

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 

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 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?”


Here is the traditional pious comment on this story:

This Zen story reveals a message about living in the present moment. How often do we carry around past hurts, holding onto resentments when the only person we are really hurting is ourselves? We all go through times in life when other people say things or behave in a way that is hurtful towards us. We can chose to ruminate over past actions or events, but it will ultimately weigh us down and sap our energy. Instead we can choose to let go of what doesn’t serve us anymore and concentrate on the present moment. Until we can find a level of peace and happiness in the present circumstances of our lives, we will never be content, because ‘now’ is all we will ever have.


There is much more to this story than just that it feels good to let go of resentment, and thus that eschewing resentment maximizes contentment: The older monk exerts judgment. He goes meta, comes out of the box: the senior monk captures the fundamental meaning of “not touching women”. Clearly crossing a dangerous river does not engage the same neurology and neurohormones as those involved in sex and reproduction. Instead, the older monk realizes that this is all about engaging the mental machinery of survival and care, a completely different mindset, noble and human in the best way.

(The preceding, realizing which neurology is appropriate to a situation at hand, relates to the problem of US healthcare: it conflates fundamentally two opposite mentalities, two neurologies which hate each other, care and greed.)

Thus the older monk sees the higher purpose, and sets himself to accomplish it. As it has only to do with surviving a river, it’s easy to forget, when the river is long gone.

However, the mind of the younger monk focused on the woman being a woman, and what monks are not supposed to do with women, although he wants very much to do it; the junior monk does not focus on the noble observation that the woman is in danger from the river.


Don’t Make Fun Of War, It Will Always Win, And Some:  

One can go one step further in the meta-analysis: why should we resent resentment? Resentment is a mental agency. It’s not exactly the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, but it has a somewhat similar inner purpose, providing a motivation to find out what really is going on. As all mental agencies, resentment evolved because it responded to some purpose. Here is a little Taoist story to enlighten us here:

All the people in the world are gathered in one room, and God asks, “Who wants world peace?” Everybody raises their hand except one man. God asks, “Who wants a war?” The one man raises his hand. God points at him and says, “He wins!”

Right, mosquitoes don’t care: lack of enlightenment is only a problem to the enlightened. Mosquitoes don’t resent, either (but even flies know fear, recent stories show!)

The older monk crosses the river with a woman on his back, because he cares. Mosquitoes care only about one thing. The older monk cares about accomplishing a good action, which will make him feel good, enlightened, and light, thereafter. The younger monk cares too, but not the sort of care which is just a gift to the other.

Resentment can be good when it leads us to feel again (that’s what re-sentment means!) what the emotional landscape was, and whether it was handled optimally thereafter. Not just handled optimally by us, but by others, and by the hand of fate. Amusingly, modern neurology is on the side of resentment: most of “feelings” actually originate in re-entrant circuitry. So most perception can be looked at as resentment! (Roll over, Friedrich Nietzsche!)

Homo is a thinking being, or is not. A wise human explains things. A wise cockroach, with its million neurons takes care of number one, itself! Munching over what happened, and why, and whether it could have been different, and better, if it had been different is not necessary idle thinking, because establishing theories is what humans do, and what human culture is made of. If resentment helps, so be it. Just as, if principles obstruct higher principles, they have to make way.

Patrice Ayme’ 

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6 Responses to “Two Monks And A Woman”

  1. Gloucon X Says:

    Dear Patrice:

    When I think of a topic, writer, or historical event or person I often check your archives to get your take. You are the only person on the web who focuses on the interrelated topics of plutocracy, religion, and ethics–and you backup your arguments with science and history.

    I read you every week and will continue to do so. Thanks again for yet another thought provoking post.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thank Gloucon! Compliments like yours keep me publishing what I write. I write much more than I publish, because I am often held back by whether it will be found of interest. I was sorely disappointed, overall, from my friend Obama, to family members, to academia, and friends, as far as thinking about things in an interesting fashion.

      The closest part of my US family disintegrated, from appartenance to the Obama power-world: my sibling-in-laws, once hyper tight with Obama and high power, divorced, their families disintegrated, they are apparently so ashamed, I can’t even contact them anymore than I can Obama… I don’t even know their addresses anymore… Funny what absolute power does… Earlier I was very deeply disappointed in academia… and keep on being disappointed that way… I believe the greedsters and careerists increasingly dominate academia. The most vicious rats do best, when the cheese is down.

      Many of my acquaintances turned against me because of not calling Trump an orange racist Russian clown and me not subscribing the Clinton cult (I was part of the Obama cult, in 2005, 2007, 2008… Giving years to Obama, before he went 180 degrees to the other side. But I didn’t cash on it, whereas I saw people who didn’t care about politics whatsoever, cash on it deliriously…) Now one of these ex-friends, who made an Internet campaign, calling me a “racist troll”, writing to universities to block me, is inviting me to his daughter’s 8th birthday (I stayed in very good relation with his daughter, who was for several years in my own daughter’s class) … Completely mad. Should I go?

      Real philosophers don’t just talk about the cave, while at the top of society, as Plato did, but they go live in a cave. As many did. Even artists did this. A visiting musician was astounded by the circumstances of Beethoven later life: he described him as solitary, isolated, in a very messy house, half deaf, with a broken piano. What was Beethoven doing? Writing the Ninth Symphony! Others lauded today, such as Leibniz (unmarked grave) and Boltzmann (suicided)… If one looks at top intellectual work, the one fact most marking, is that those who made them gave their life to their work, generally neglecting the rest. That’s the only way it can be. But it’s also hard to bear, personally, and the temptation to do like Rimbault, disappear from sight, is always there.

      When I see rather minor work, obvious all along, like so-called quantum decoherence, bring to the fore new stars, I shake my head. A friend who is a full math hero, highly successful in academia told me last week it was good to have heroes, society understood heroes. However, it’s a cheap way to make believe a field is active. In general, research would be doing better without heroes, and ten times the money…


  2. benign Says:

    I watched Obomba transform from an apparently honest (although too eloquent by half) left-independent politician into the most vile, repulsive, deceitful politician I have ever seen. This makes me believe he was indeed MK-ultra’d as a youth to some extent, with his CIA-Ford Foundation mother, or perhaps during the lost Columbia years.

    But as you tout your friendship, I have to ask: is Michelle a tranny? (Seriously.)



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