Cross The River, An Old Zen Story

Cross the river, an old Zen story

An old Zen story goes that a teacher was responsible for training two young disciples. Both were very good, dedicated and disciplined apprentices. Both aspired to evolve and become teachers in their turn. They did everything they could to achieve this every day.

Above all, the professor sought to instill in them detachment . Attachments are the main source of suffering for Zen philosophy. Detaching yourself, letting yourself be and letting go are very important objectives in this philosophy. The way of detachment is the way of peace. This is the essential component of happiness.

The Zen story tells us that the two young people tried by all means to depend  less  on  things and people. They ate only what was necessary, and even fasted for several days, with great happiness. Their clothes were humble. Their rooms and beds very modest. None of this seemed like a sacrifice as their goal was to evolve.

A walk by the river that changed everything

The teacher once asked them to accompany him to bring food  to a nearby village, which was very poor. The old Zen story goes that the two disciples accepted with great enthusiasm. They volunteered to carry heavy baskets. They distributed the food with humility and a helpful attitude when they arrived. Both were happy to be able to help others.

On their return,  the  Zen master asked them to walk in a forest near the monastery. It was early and everyone could contemplate the beauty of the flowers, the sky and the animals. The river was also very close. What a joy to drink in its crystal clear waters:

old zen story

All three walked in silence for a long time. Everyone enjoyed the caresses of the sun and the wind. They also breathed the smell of grass and listened to birdsong. They finally reached the river. They had never imagined  seeing what was there: a beautiful woman smiling at them.

A disconcerting turning point in the old history of Zen

The two young monks were surprised by the beauty of this strange woman. She was more beautiful than any woman they had ever seen. They both got very nervous and started walking shyly at first and conspicuously afterwards. All  of them stumbled. They completely  forgot  what they were doing and only had eyes for her.

The woman smiled flirtatiously when she saw their confusion. Then, in a seductive voice,  she asked them to help her across the river. One of the young people hastened to help him. He hugged her as she looked at him implicitly. The young monk smiles. He then left her on the other side and returned to meet the professor and his companion, whom he had left behind.

The professor looked deeply at this young man, then they all set off again. The other monk remained in expectation. He looked at the professor and looked at his companion. He pressed his lips, but said nothing. They thus arrived at the monastery.

A teaching: moving from theory to practice

The days passed and the young monk was still waiting. He couldn’t understand why the professor remained silent about what he considered an affront. How was it possible that the other monk gave in to the girl’s charms and preferred to help her, rather than her master? Just thinking about it filled him with anger.

The other monk was very calm. He continued with his usual routine and didn’t even notice his mate’s anger. Her relationship with the professor was still normal. The latter never referred to the episode with the beautiful woman. His companion began to harbor a dull grudge that did not leave him in peace. Unable to bear it any longer, he decided one day to complain to the master.

old zen story

How is it possible that you didn’t tell him, that he left us by the river, flirting with this stranger as he took her across? Won’t you tell him anything? Why don’t you blame him for his selfishness and lack of consideration? Why don’t you recognize him for giving in to lust? “, he said to him.

The master looked at him in silence for a long moment. He then spoke a phrase the monk would never forget, which he etched forever in that old Zen story. He replied: “ Your companion took the girl, helped her across the river and left her there. You, on the other hand, could not detach neither from him, nor from her, nor from the river “.


29 Zen phrases to live differently
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I would like to share with you 29 Zen phrases for living differently. Their integration will allow you to see life in a different and positive way …

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