Letting Go Of The Past



Read this inspiring Buddhist parable in the book, What Got You Here Wont Get You There”, by Marshall Goldsmith. Something deep inside forced me to type it out.

Two monks were strolling by a stream on their way home to the monastery. They were startled by the sound of a young woman in a bridal gown, sitting by the stream, crying softly. Tears rolled down her cheek as she gazed across the water. She needed to cross to get to her wedding, but she was fearful that doing so might ruin her beautiful handmade gown.

In this particular sect, monks were prohibited from touching women. But one monk was filled with compassion for the bride. Ignoring the sanction, he hoisted the woman on his shoulders and carried her across the stream – assisting her journey and saving her gown. She smiled and bowed with gratitude, as the monk splashed his way back across the stream to rejoin his companion.

The second monk was livid. “How could you do that ?”, he scolded. “You know we are forbidden to touch a woman, much less pick one up and carry her around !”

The offending monk listened in silence to a stern lecture that lasted all the way back to the monastery. His mind wandered as he felt the warm sunshine and listened to the singing birds. After returning to the monastery, he fell asleep for a few hours. He was jostled and awakened in the middle of the night by his fellow monk.

“How could you carry that woman?”, his agitated friend cried out. “Someone else could have helped her across the stream. You were a bad monk.”

“What woman ?”, the sleepy monk enquired.

“Don’t you even remember ? That woman you carried across the stream”, his colleague snapped.

“Oh, her”, laughed the sleepy monk. “I only carried her across the stream. You carried her all the way back to the monastery.”




  1. Shourya, interesting passage. Letting go of the past is something I have a really hard time doing. When I make a mistake, I dwell on it, rather than move on. It can be a harmful practice and I appreciate you sharing this piece!


  2. This has long been one of my most favorite Zen stories. (Tho I gather from your note that this may predate or otherwise not be limited to the Zen branch of the Buddhist bush. I hadn’t known that, so thank you for the teaching.)
    I find it especially helpful in conveying certain principles in the classes I teach.
    There’s an apparent analog in many recovery communities as well. People will often refer to situations in which someone, having been troubled by another person and not being able to keep from focusing on that frustration or pain, is letting the annoying person “rent space in your head,” or worse, letting them “live in your head rent-free.”
    Cross-cultural parallel evolution…


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