Once upon a time an elder monk and a young novice monk were travelling together. They came to the bank of a river and found the bridge was damaged. They had to wade across the river.
There was a pretty lady who was stuck at the damaged bridge and couldn’t cross the river.
The senior monk offered to carry her across the river on his back to which the lady accepted.
The young monk was shocked by the move of the elder monk and was thinking, “How can the elder brother carry a lady when we are supposed to avoid all intimacy with females?” But he kept quiet.
The senior monk carried the lady across the river and the novice monk followed unhappily. When they crossed the river, the senior monk let the lady down and they parted ways with her.
All along the way for several miles, the young monk was very unhappy with the act of the elder monk. He was making up all kinds of accusations about the elder monk in his head. This got him madder and madder. But he still kept quiet. And the elder monk had no inclination to explain his situation.
Finally, at a rest point many hours later, the young monk could not stand it any further, he burst out angrily at the senior monk.
“How can you claim yourself a devout monk, when you seize the first opportunity to touch a female, especially when she is very pretty? All your teachings to me make you a big hypocrite.”
The elder monk looked surprised and said, “I had put down the lady at the river bank many hours ago, how come you are still carrying her along?”
This very old Zen story reflects the thinking of many people today. We encounter many unpleasant things in our life, they irritate us and they make us angry. But like the young novice monk, we are not willing to let them go away. There is no point in remaining hurt by the unpleasant event after it is over.
We cannot change a single moment of our past.
The mind has a tendency to dwell in the past or wander into the future. The mind forges a chain to bind itself to the dead past, because it is fixed, while the present is in a state of flux. Therefore it constantly keeps avoiding the present.
When an event is past, do not nurse its memory. Cremate it and forget it. Otherwise it will decompose in the mind and stink.
We can clutch the past so tightly to our chest that it leaves our arms too full to embrace the present.
Life is neither lived in the tomb of the dead moments of the past nor in the womb of the unborn moments of the future. Life is not a continuous procession of past regrets and future anxieties. Life is lived in the dynamic present. The present moment is all that we have at our disposal.
The mind should be freed from the past (which exists but as memory) and the future (which exists but as worry, a mixture of fear and hope). Only the present is. It is a present from God. We must learn to respect our present.