Morning Musings: the Monks and the Maiden

by Frank Martin

Morning Musings is a regular series here on no set schedule, of short posts meant to inspire or provoke thought about an idea. This morning I’d like to share a story I first ran into soon after I started reading about Buddhism in high school. Called the Monks and the Maiden. the story is found in both Buddhist and Hindu traditions in slightly differing forms. It may be worth noting that in both traditions its considered off bounds for renunciates (monks/nuns) to have physical contact with the opposite gender. The reason I bring this up will become clear soon. The story, as I  heard it originally (though slightly paraphrased) follows:

One day, two monks were walking in the forest, observing the world around them and not speaking. After a time, the pair arrived at a river, where a young woman stood, unable to cross. Without a second thought, one of the monks stooped, lifted the young woman onto his shoulders, and carried her across, setting her down on the opposite side of the river, and the pair on their way. They walked for a time before the second monk could stand it no longer, and broke the silence: “Brother, why did you carry that woman across the river?”
“I may have carried her, but I set her down back on the river bank. You appear to carry her still” replied the first monk. Stunned, the second monk didn’t respond, and the pair continued on their way in silence again.