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Fable:《和尚背女人》Monks carrying a woman

An elder monk gives a younger monk a quick lesson in following the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law. HSK 4-5.

An elder monk gives a younger monk a quick lesson in following the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law. HSK 4-5.

Source here.

Some language stuff

This post isn’t intermediate due to length – this fable is quite short. But it does contain some Buddhist vocab that must be fully understood in order to understand the story, so let’s take a look:

和尚 hé shang – Monk

化缘 huà yuán – In some Buddhist traditions, monks are not allowed to have money, and they are also not allowed directly ask for anything from anyone except water – that includes food. If you’ve ever been to Thailand or another Buddhist country, you’ll know that the way that Buddhist monks get food is they take an alms bowl, and every morning, they walk down the street and the local lay people come out of their homes and donate food to the monks. The translation of 化缘 means “to beg for alms”, but this is not begging for money, it is a daily ritual of walking around collecting food and anything else the locals choose to give.

出家 chū jiā – This word looks like it means “to go out of the house”, but it actually specifically means “to [leave one’s family to] become a monk” or “to take the holy robes”. My interpretation is that it does not mean to physically leave one’s home, but actually to step out of one’s family in order to dedicate oneself to the dharma, and if you have a basic grounding in Chinese culture, you’ll understand why a male child removing themselves from the family would be such a big deal.

六根清净 liù gēn qīng zhèng – When Buddhist monks are ordained, they take many vows. The vows are a little different depending on which order you join, but in some orders, one of those vows is to eliminate desires of the “eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind” – part of which entails no sexual relations with or touching women. Sexual chastity is what is being referred to in this story.

犯戒 fàn jiè – To violate religious commandments.

和尚背女人》

从前,有一大一小两个和尚出门化缘,起到一条河边时,看见一个妙龄女子被水围困着不能过河,于是大和尚毫不犹豫地将她背起过了河。小和尚大为不解,晚上便忍不住问道:

“师兄,出家六根清净,你背了那女人,不是犯了戒吗?”

大和尚答道:“我背那女子一过河就放下了,可师弟你,为什么到现在还背着她放不下来?”

Show English translation »
Long ago, there was one elder and one younger monk who went out to beg for alms, when they reached the riverbank, they saw a fair young lady who was surrounded by water and couldn’t cross the river. So without the slightest hesitation the elder monk carried her across the river on his back. The younger monk didn’t understand at all, and that night couldn’t help but ask:
“Older brother, those who take the robes follow the Six Precepts of purity and cleanliness, you carried that woman on your back, is that not a violation of the commandments?”

The elder monk replied: “I carried that woman and put her down as soon as I crossed the river. But Little Brother, how is it that you are still carrying her and have not yet put her down?”

2 replies on “Fable:《和尚背女人》Monks carrying a woman”

Hi Kendra,
Thank you for the article.

Just wanna let you know there is a typo in the pinyin of “六根清净 liù gēn qīng zhèng”.

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