One day, two Buddhist monks were walking together back to their monastery. Their journey led them to a raging river. Sitting by the river’s edge was a young woman, alone and weeping, wondering how she would safely make her way to the other side.
Seeing the approaching monks and desperately needing help, she asked them if they would carry her across the river. Knowing it was forbidden for a monk to touch a woman, the younger monk kept on his way, ignoring all her pleas.
Without saying a word, the elder monk picked the woman up and carried her across the river. Leaving her safely on the other side, he and his companion continued on their way.
As the day went on, the elder monk walked in peace, as he enjoyed the beauty of the country side. The younger monk had an experience that was much different. In the silence of his mind, he brooded in disgust and condemned the elder monk for the vow that had been broken with this young woman.
Later, after much time had passed, and not being able to contain himself anymore, the younger monk turned to his elder companion in contempt and said, “You took a vow not to touch a woman, and yet you carried her upon your shoulders across the river! You were not supposed to do that!”
A few moments later, a wise old monk said kindly with a smile, “I just carried her across the river. You have been carrying her all day long!”
While the elder monk briefly picked up the young woman to physically carry her across the river to set her down on the other side, the younger monk picked the young woman up mentally and carried her for many hours longer. The difference? The elder monk was unattached and unaffected, while the younger monk was deeply affected and very attached.
It is a wise one with a clear mind who knows when to go by the letter of the law, and when to go by the spirit of the law.
May we not be so rigid in our thinking that we don’t know the difference.