Letting Go of the Past : Monk and the Burden

Two MONKS were walking from their monastery to another one nearby. One was an old wise monk and the other was a novice, an apprentice monk. As they walked in silence, they came across a river. Unseasonal rains had caused the river to run high. On the banks of the river was a young lady in a kimono, not sure whether it was safe for her to cross. When she saw the two monks, she looked relived and asked for help. 

The young monk was aghast. He exclaimed, ‘Don’t you see that I am a monk? I took a vow of chastity.’ ‘I require nothing from you that could impede your vow, but simply a little help to cross the river,’ the young woman replied with a smile. ‘I will not . . . I can . . . do nothing for you,’ said the embarrassed young monk. 

At this point, the elderly monk stepped forward and said, ‘Climb on to my back and I’ll help you cross.’ Upon reaching the other side, the old monk put the lady down. She thanked him and he responded with a ‘welcome’. With that, he started walking towards his destination. 

The young apprentice was agitated. ‘How could you do this? This is against our order. You are supposed to be my mentor. You are supposed to show me the way. When we return, I am going to ask them to change my mentor.’ 

The young monk went on and on till they reached the next monastery. 

On reaching the gate, the old monk paused, looked at the young monk and said, ‘I did carry the lady, but I put her down on the banks of the river. It seems like you are still carrying her.’


The empathy of the old monk to put the needs of the maiden before his own spiritual practice, and his spiritual ability to then let go of the fact that he had strayed from the path of his spiritual commitment, without feeling guilty, is a lesson for all of us.

We mustn’t allow our past actions to affect our current life, because letting go of the past is necessary to truly thrive our future. 

-The Empty Boat-

A monk decides to meditate alone, away from his monastery. He takes his boat out to the middle of the lake, moors it there, closes his eyes and begins his meditation.

After a few hours of undisturbed silence, he suddenly feels the bump of another boat colliding with his own.

With his eyes still closed, he senses his anger rising and by the time he opens his eyes, he is ready to scream at the boatman who dared disturb his meditation. But when he opens his eyes, he sees it’s an empty boat that had probably got untethered and floated to the middle of the lake.

At that moment, the monk achieves self-realisation, and understands that the anger is within him; it merely needs the bump of an external object to provoke it out of him. From then on, whenever he comes across someone who irritates him or provokes him to anger, he reminds himself, “The other person is merely an empty boat. The anger is within me.”

Take time for introspection & search for answers: Empty boat is a famous & fabulous metaphor. Its value lies in its implementation.