05
Sep
06

The Old Monk and the Little Monk


Master Cheng Yen Tells A Story
An old monk and a little monk were traveling on foot. Together they walked through forests and trekked over mountains and valleys. Wherever they were, the old monk always walked ahead, while the little monk, carrying their baggage, tagged along behind. Throughout their journey, the two of them kept each other company and took care of each other.

As the little monk sauntered along, he thought to himself: We are blessed to be born as human beings, but in our short lives we have to go through the cycle of birth, aging, illness, and death and endure the pain of reincarnation. What torment our lives are! But since I’ve decided to devote myself to spiritual cultivation, I must stay firm in my commitment to become a bodhisattva and relieve people of their suffering. I must never get lazy, and I must always do my best to cultivate myself.

As the novice was thinking these thoughts, the old monk suddenly turned around and said to him with a smile, "Come, give me the baggage and walk ahead of me." Although puzzled, the little monk did as he was told.

With the baggage gone, the little monk suddenly felt unencumbered and relaxed. His thoughts began to wander: The Buddhist scriptures say that bodhisattvas have to help all suffering beings the best they can. How tired a bodhisattva must be! The world is full of suffering people. How can we possibly save all of them? I’d better take care of myself instead of being bothered by the suffering of others.

As soon as this thought arose, the old monk called out to him in a stern voice, "Stop!" The little monk quickly turned around and was taken aback by the severe look on his master’s face. The old monk handed the baggage over to him and said, "Take this and walk behind me."

The little monk did as ordered. Soon he was thinking again. How we mortal beings suffer! I was happy and carefree a moment ago, but I became unhappy in the blink of an eye. A human mind is so fickle and unreliable. Realizing that an ordinary man’s mind fluctuates easily, he vowed once again to cultivate his spirituality in order to stay calm and serene and not be influenced by outside circumstances. Besides, as a novice, I’ll be able to meet many people and soothe their suffering hearts. It will be a most fulfilling life.

Just then the old monk turned around, took the baggage from the little monk, and told him to walk in front of him.

As the day wore on, the little monk repeatedly vacillated between doing spiritual cultivation and quitting. The third time the old monk chided him, the little monk finally asked his master why his manner kept changing.

The old monk replied, "Although you show an interest in spiritual cultivation, you aren’t resolute enough to carry it out. You’re quick to make vows, but you back out of them just as quickly. If you keep changing your mind like this, how can you possibly achieve anything?"

When he heard these words, the little monk suddenly felt ashamed of himself. He knew his master was right. After pondering for a while, he made the commitment to dedicate himself to spiritual practice again. When the old monk again told him to go before him, the little monk dared not do so. "Master, this time I am truly sincere in my vow. I’ll hold firm to it and never back out again."

Sensing his sincerity, the old monk smiled. After that, the two of them walked side by side, talking and laughing merrily together.


We all know that it is important to make good vows and persist in them. However, for many people, it is easy to make commitments but hard to stick to them. Life is impermanent–we may be safe and sound today, but who knows what will happen to us tomorrow? If we keep making vows but also keep breaking them, we will be wasting our precious time and never succeed in accomplishing anything. What a pity that would be!

When you have made a good vow, remain committed to it no matter what difficulties stand in the way. If you can carry out your vows resolutely, you will definitely make it in life.

 
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