The Burden–Lessons for Life (A Zen Koan)

A story from a Zen Koan compiled by Paul Reps, retold by Jon J. Muth and then readapted by the editors of this site.

The servants were holding five heavy packages apiece.
 
“And don’t you dare put down any of the packages.”
 
Two monks were nearby watching the rude woman scream at her servants who looked at each other nervously and maybe even a bit scared
 
The young monk crossed through the water when the light changed, but the old monk lifted her up and carried her across the puddle so she did not get wet at all. When he put her down, she turned towards her servants and rudely said, “Hurry up. I do not have all day.” She said nothing else.
 
The two monks walked on for a few more hours. Finally the young monk could not keep silent any longer. “I need to ask you a question,” he softly said to the older monk. “That woman back there was rude and selfish, yet you picked her up and carried her across the puddle”–and here the young monk began to get louder–”and she didn’t even say thank you!”
 
The older man did not stop walking. He simply turned to the young monk and said, “I set the woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
 
Editor’s note: This story is paraphrased from a story compiled by Paul Reps in his book, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, and then from a children’s book by Jon J. Muth,  Zen Shorts. Both authors adapted the original story from Zen Buddhism literature written many centuries ago.

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