BY SOFO ARCHON
This is the transcript of a spontaneous talk.
Once upon a time, there were two monks on a pilgrimage. After days of walking, they encountered a wide and wild river, which they had to cross. On the bank of the river, they noticed a young woman who looked sad and frustrated. The older monk approached her. He said, “What is the problem?” And she replied, “I want to cross the river, but I’m scared to do so. I feel that if I attempt to cross, its wild current might take my life. And I have to cross it in order to reach back home.” The older monk said, “Don’t worry. I have crossed the river many times before. It is difficult but doable. I can take you on my back and carry you across the river. Would that be fine with you?” The woman said, “Yes, that would be really helpful.” So the older monk took the woman on his back, and they all crossed the river. Once they crossed it, the older monk let the woman on her feet, and with a smile on her face, she said: “Thank you. What you did is deeply appreciated.”
The two monks continued their journey, and for many hours they did not speak a single word to each other — they stayed in silence. The older monk was enjoying the journey, he was observing the scenery around him, and he was feeling so grateful for being alive and such a deep sense of contentment, while the younger man was becoming agitated. With time, he was growing more and more frustrated and angry. He wanted to speak, but he did not dare to, until a point came when he could not stay silent any longer. At that moment, he said to the other monk, “What did you do back there at the river? You carried a woman on your back! Is that not prohibited by our religion? You broke the monastic rules! And that’s a very, very bad thing to do. How dare you do it?” Upon hearing that, the older monk said, “I left the woman by the riverside. Why are you still caring here in your mind?”
This story has a few powerful lessons to teach us. The first one is that when we follow a dogma, we are bound to hurt ourselves or others. The younger monk, who was very rigid when it comes to the rules of his religion, would not have helped the woman, even if that was causing pain to her, and even if he could have easily helped her. While the older monk was not so rigid. He realized that the woman needs his help. Whether that was against the monastic rules was not something he considered. He followed what his heart was telling him, he was acting out of true compassion.
You see, many times religions are teaching compassion but the people who follow them act otherwise. They might be preaching love, but they often act in hateful ways. Who in this case was the most loving person? The older monk. Yet the younger one might think that he’s more loving because he’s stricter when it comes to following the beliefs and rules of his religion. Those beliefs are limiting his compassion and his intelligence. He is not thinking for himself, he is not following his heart, he’s just following to the letter the rules that were imposed upon him by other people.
The second lesson that we can extract from this story is that dogma is causing division. The young monk judged the older one for what he did. He started to see him as a bad person because he acted against the rules of his religion, which is something that religious people often do. And not just religious people, but anyone who is blindly following an ideology or rules. They think anyone who does not follow them is a bad person. So they create division. They’re like, “Those who have the same ideology, those who are living in the same way that we are living, are good. Those who are not, are bad. They are sinners. They are puppets of the devil! And we need to protect ourselves from them, we need to avoid them or change them. That is why, blinded by ideology, blinded by dogma, people are causing so much damage to each other. That’s why wars have been committed in the name of peace or God. The older monk in the story acted out of compassion. And compassion, true compassion, knows no boundaries, knows no color, no religion, no nationality. True compassion is unconditional. True love is boundless.
The third lesson that we can extract from this story is that when we are attached to a dogma, and we try our best to follow it, we cannot live fully and carefree. We cannot savor the moment. We saw in the story how the older monk was enjoying every moment of his journey, while the younger monk was so stuck in the past. This is what so many religious people experience when they have committed a wrongdoing according to their religion. They feel bad about themselves. They feel guilty or ashamed, and they feel regrets about what they did. And those regrets are so heavy that do not allow them to live their lives. They are living in a constant state of fear to follow as best as they can the dogma and to please God or whoever they’re trying to please. And they also are always concerned about how others live. The younger monk in the story was so fixated on what the older monk did that he could not enjoy his journey. He was so judgmental and so angry that he could not let go and relax.
Now, I’m not saying that if we have made mistakes, we should not pay attention to them. But when others impose rules upon us or when we impose rules upon ourselves that are unnatural, then obviously we are going to fail, or we are going to suppress ourselves so much in the process in order to be perfect at following them, that we cannot enjoy life. And I also want to make another thing clear: I’m not saying that rules are all bad. Rules can sometimes be very helpful — they can provide us with some guidelines. The problem is when we are following them blindly or out of fear, or when we are so rigid when it comes to following them that they restrict our freedom instead of making our lives better. Even the best of rules should at times, depending on the circumstance, be broken. So if we want to live intelligently and mindfully and compassionately, we should be very wary of the rules that we follow or have set up for ourselves, because they can limit us and enslave us as well as divide us.