Quote of the Day: The Girl on Your Back

 

Once upon a time, two Buddhist monks, one young and one old, traveled from their temple in the mountains down to the nearest little town in the foothills of the Himalayas, to beg for alms. As they entered the peaceful valley with rice fields all around, they came to a wide river, by the side of which a beautiful young girl stood and wept.

The young monk’s mouth fell open, and he turned his back and covered his eyes, so as not to gaze upon a forbidden sight. But the older monk approached the girl and asked her what was wrong. “Oh, Sir Monk, she said, the river is too strong for me and I am afraid to cross it.” The old monk said, “Don’t worry, my dear. Climb up on my back, and I will carry you across.”

So she did. And he did.

When they reached the other side, he put the girl down, and she thanked him graciously, and ran off.

The young monk’s eyeballs almost fell out. If he had not, according to the custom of his fellows, shaved his head, his hair would have caught on fire. He was alternately horrified, and mortified, and furious. Truly, I tell you, smoke came out of his ears. He wiped the beads of sweat from his brow, and, the very picture of outrage, stalked the next 20 leagues, staring straight ahead, and without uttering a word. Eventually he had worked himself up into such a lather that he could contain himself no longer, and he burst forth with a cry:

“Master! We are celibate monks. Women are forbidden to us. How could you allow a woman to touch you, let alone carry her across the river on your back?”

The old monk thought for a moment, and then said, “My son, you saw me carry this girl a short distance across the river on my back. And then I put her down. We have walked for twenty leagues since then, and you have carried the girl on your back that whole distance. Why are you still carrying the girl on your back, and when will it be time for you to put her down?”


I first heard this little story when I was a college student, and I’ve never forgotten it. I was in an extended, and major, snit, and I was in a bit of a state. A very kind man, gently, but firmly, sat me down and sorted me out. I’m still grateful. I believe there are worse lessons to take to heart and to try to live by. What do you think?

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    She, thank you! This is one of my favorite Buddhist stories. And so very true. How many times do we continue to carry things in our hearts (if not on our backs) that we simply won’t let go of? It can be a terrible burden to bear, especially when we do it for years. Thank you for the reminder.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    There are many old stories like that with great wisdom. One might see the Parable of the Prodigal Son as being quite similar.

    • #2
  3. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    The girl was living rent-free in someone’s head. Reminds me of some people.

    • #3
  4. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Also, Matthew and Luke

    Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

    • #4
  5. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    I heard this story for the first time only a few months ago, during my continuing explorations of Buddhism. I thought it was wonderful, both surprising (it doesn’t go where you think it’s going) and wise.

    I am usually more like the old monk than the young one; I tend to dismiss things and move on, almost to a fault. But sometimes something “sticks in my craw,” as it were, and it’s amazing how much one can torture oneself over something that literally everyone else has forgotten. It accomplishes nothing except to make you unhappy.

    • #5
  6. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Also a favorite story of mine. I need to keep hearing it. I like to pick up all sorts of things, not just people, but worries about the future. Makes me think I am in more control than I am.

    • #6
  7. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Good thing she wasn’t a scorpion. 

    • #7
  8. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    From puberty on, men carry unclothed women in their heads.  I didn’t always like their presence up there, but there they were.)

    • #8
  9. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    The girl was living rent-free in someone’s head. Reminds me of some people.

    Yeah, but Trump will be out of people’s heads in a few years.

    The girl I sat next to on the school bus during 6th grade has been living rent-free in a small room in my head for 40 years.

    • #9
  10. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    This entry is part of our Quote of the Day series. We have 10 openings left on the  September Schedule for your wisdom. We’ve even include tips for finding great quotes. It’s the easiest way to start a Ricochet conversation, so why not sign up today?

    • #10
  11. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    From puberty on, men carry unclothed women in their heads. I didn’t always like their presence up there, but there they were.)

    I see I unconsciously switched to past tense in the second sentence.  That was probably because, at age 80, unclothed women are up there in my head, rent free as they say, only a few hours a day.  Sad.

    • #11
  12. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    The old monk had a point. It is a useful lesson.

    However, it could just as easily become rationalization and deflection. The question: why do you care so much? is a valid one. So too is: why did you think it right to break the code?

    Both questions should be answered, as we all have our shortcomings to account for. Oh yes, the old monk was just being helpful then immediately let it go on the other bank. Entirely selfless and innocent. Sure. Easy for him since he was the one with the beautiful girl wrapped around his body. 

    • #12
  13. Hank Rhody, Red Hunter Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Red Hunter
    @HankRhody

    I first read that story in a book in the video game Icewind Dale. In that game the acolytes in question were actually lizard people in disguise who were kidnapping and eating people. Not that I think even a majority of Buddhists are like that in the real world.

    • #13
  14. She Member
    She
    @She

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.  Like some of you, I see parallels with other faith traditions in this story.

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    The old monk had a point. It is a useful lesson.

    However, it could just as easily become rationalization and deflection. The question: why do you care so much? is a valid one. So too is: why did you think it right to break the code?

    Yes, that’s a good point.  I made a similar one about a week ago on a different thread, and got what I thought was a fair response referencing the Sabbath being made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  I do agree that the pulchritudinous maiden in this story adds an interesting dimension to it.  On that note, @kentforrester I see nothing in my story about the young lady being unclothed.  Where on earth is your mind?  I have no desire to be banned from Ricochet for corrupting the morals of the youth of America.

    • #14
  15. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    She (View Comment):

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Like some of you, I see parallels with other faith traditions in this story.

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    The old monk had a point. It is a useful lesson.

    However, it could just as easily become rationalization and deflection. The question: why do you care so much? is a valid one. So too is: why did you think it right to break the code?

    Yes, that’s a good point. I made a similar one about a week ago on a different thread, and got what I thought was a fair response referencing the Sabbath being made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. I do agree that the pulchritudinous maiden in this story adds an interesting dimension to it. On that note, @kentforrester I see nothing in my story about the young lady being unclothed. Where on earth is your mind? I have no desire to be banned from Ricochet for corrupting the morals of the youth of America.

    Clothed?  Don’t ruin the story for me, She.  I picture her naked. The story becomes pale and unsatisfying for me if she is clothed.   

    You can’t corrupt me. I was debauched long ago, much to my everlasting shame, by my current wife, both of us youngsters at the time, in a 1946 Dodge parked in a small parking spot, around midnight if I remember right, overlooking the city of Eugene, Oregon.  Sad.  😔 

    • #15
  16. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Did the girl self identify as a girl, are you sure that “she” wasn’t one of many other sexes? Which restroom did the monks use?

    • #16
  17. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Gol darn hippies begging for alms.

    • #17
  18. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    She: “We have walked for twenty leagues since then, and you have carried the girl…”

    At first I misread the words I’ve italicized as “before” and “a“.

    There’s a lesson taught by Christ in the text and one in this misreading of it.

    • #18
  19. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    The girl I sat next to on the school bus during 6th grade has been living rent-free in a small room in my head for 40 years.

    Wait,  so you’re Charlie Brown and she’s the little red-haired girl?

    • #19
  20. She Member
    She
    @She

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    Did the girl self identify as a girl, are you sure that “she” wasn’t one of many other sexes? Which restroom did the monks use?

    Pretty sure.  That’s one of the nice things about being the storyteller.  You get to choose.  (@kentforrester, she was clothed).

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Gol darn hippies begging for alms.

    As I understand it (and I may not, completely) it’s something like this:  The Buddhists view this tradition differently than we do, and the “begging” indicates only that the monks are making their rounds and are in a state where they can receive gifts from those who give them voluntarily.  People who call the monks over to give them alms (usually food or flowers), are blessed and wished a long and happy life.  And maybe a leg up on the next wheel of life.  It’s considered good luck to have helped the monks, so more-or-less a win-win all round.  They’re not sitting in a crowded space, banging on a begging bowl with a spoon.  As I understand it.

     

     

    • #20
  21. GFHandle Member
    GFHandle
    @GFHandle

    One of my favorites is this little dialogue.

    Student: Master, teach me enlightenment.

    Master: Have you had breakfast?

    Student: Yes, Master.

    Master: Then wash your bowl.

    I also remember a question asked of Chogyam Trungpa, tulku rinpoche by an earnest looking young man with a beard. He wanted to know how to raise his kids so that they would grow up healthy and enlightened and not influenced by the corrupt, consumerist world. Trungpa said something like, “You in the West have a myth of original innocence and you think babies are born innocent and need to be protected. But we in the East know that they come into the world already carrying all sorts of neuroses and psychoses. Your job is not to give them a matching grant.”

    • #21
  22. She Member
    She
    @She

    GFHandle (View Comment):

    One of my favorites is this little dialogue.

    Student: Master, teach me enlightenment.

    Master: Have you had breakfast?

    Student: Yes, Master.

    Master: Then wash your bowl.

    Oh, yes indeed.

    • #22
  23. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    She (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    Did the girl self identify as a girl, are you sure that “she” wasn’t one of many other sexes? Which restroom did the monks use?

    Pretty sure. That’s one of the nice things about being the storyteller. You get to choose. (@kentforrester, she was clothed).

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Gol darn hippies begging for alms.

    As I understand it (and I may not, completely) it’s something like this: The Buddhists view this tradition differently than we do, and the “begging” indicates only that the monks are making their rounds and are in a state where they can receive gifts from those who give them voluntarily. People who call the monks over to give them alms (usually food or flowers), are blessed and wished a long and happy life. And maybe a leg up on the next wheel of life. It’s considered good luck to have helped the monks, so more-or-less a win-win all round. They’re not sitting in a crowded space, banging on a begging bowl with a spoon. As I understand it.

    Yeah, but that’s not as funny.  :)

    • #23
  24. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    She (View Comment):

    Pretty sure. That’s one of the nice things about being the storyteller. You get to choose. (@kentforrester, she was clothed).

    Sez you. In post-modern criticism, the reader rules.  I’m the reader and in my fevered mind, I say she was naked.   Please don’t make me come up there.

    • #24
  25. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Pretty sure. That’s one of the nice things about being the storyteller. You get to choose. (@kentforrester, she was clothed).

    Sez you. In post-modern criticism, the reader rules. I’m the reader and in my fevered mind, I say she was naked. Please don’t make me come up there.

    Post-modernism.  Phthui.

    • #25
  26. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    The girl I sat next to on the school bus during 6th grade has been living rent-free in a small room in my head for 40 years.

    Wait, so you’re Charlie Brown and she’s the little red-haired girl?

    Nah, I wasn’t much of a Charlie Brown type until I started supporting a Republican Party dedicated to balanced budgets and immigration enforcement.  It’s been me, Lucy and the football for a long time!

    • #26
  27. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    • #27
  28. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    I heard a similar story, but in the setup there was only one wanderer, and he was a legendary physician (I don’t remember which one.) The woman is riding piggyback, and he is holding her wrists to stabilize her… and he surreptitiously takes her pulses. Rather than exhibiting the typical seasonal, diurnal, and emotional variation of a healthy person, or the even more complext pattern of a sick person, all 12 of her pulses are equal. By this he knew she was not human, but a goddess or other supernatural being.

    He stopped in the middle of the river, and threatened to drop her in unless she taught him the great secrets of medicine. She agreed, and he finished taking her across the river.

    She provided him with great secrets and he became widely renowned. But he didn’t find students worthy of the full teaching, so he withheld some of what she had taught him, hiding his manuscripts. This continued for generations until the great knowledge was lost, which exemplifies the reason why todays medicine is  not as great as that of our predecessors.

    • #28
  29. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Pretty sure. That’s one of the nice things about being the storyteller. You get to choose. (@kentforrester, she was clothed).

    Sez you. In post-modern criticism, the reader rules. I’m the reader and in my fevered mind, I say she was naked. Please don’t make me come up there.

    Post-modernism. Phthui.

    Phthui?  Is that a variation of “pooey?”  Or “patootie,” as in “cutie patootie”?   Or is it “phthuey” in Sanskrit?  

    • #29
  30. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Pretty sure. That’s one of the nice things about being the storyteller. You get to choose. (@kentforrester, she was clothed).

    Sez you. In post-modern criticism, the reader rules. I’m the reader and in my fevered mind, I say she was naked. Please don’t make me come up there.

    Post-modernism. Phthui.

    Phthui? Is that a variation of “pooey?” Or “patootie,” as in “cutie patootie”? Or is it “phthuey” in Sanskrit?

    Yes.  Showoff. 

    • #30
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