Hearts at Work

A Column by James Tipton
(Reprinted By Special Request)

“Those Bullies We Still Carry”


cristo-budaA beloved Buddhist story goes like this: Two monks, one mature and the other still a student, were walking down a gentle path that ran beside a river.  As they were walking and talking about Buddhist practices, they saw two bullies walking toward them. The older monk smiled as the bullies approached and wished them a good afternoon.  The younger monk, although worried, attempted a smile and wished them a good afternoon as well.

One of the bullies pointed to the other side of the river and said, “We need to cross that river, but we do not want to get our feet wet.”  The older monk continued to smile at them.  The younger monk stared at his feet.

“You will carry us across,” the bullies ordered.  

The two monks bent over, allowing the bullies to jump on their backs, and then set out to wade across the river.  Once on the other side, the bullies jumped off and without even a thank you walked away.  The monks re-crossed the river and resumed their morning walk.  Hours later, the younger monk spoke.

“Those two bullies have made me so angry.  What right did they have to do that to us?”

The older monk smiled.

The younger monk said, “Aren’t you angry that we had to carry them across the river?”

The older man rested his hand on the shoulder of the younger monk and said, “The difference between me and you is that you are still carrying yours.” 

I have told this charming story many times, partly to offer it to others, but partly to continue to remind myself about the importance of being detached from anger, or if angry, of simply witnessing it in myself rather than being driven by it. 

That young monk was angry, but the older monk taught him how to respond.  Likewise we are often hurt, and we ourselves can become angry, when people cast, like a net, their anger over us—often taking us by surprise. 

I was involved romantically for too many years with a woman who was proud of “being in touch” with her anger, no matter how inappropriate or irrational her anger was in terms of the situation or the person she chose to attack.  She would, for example, regularly return home from her group therapy sessions to release still more anger on to me, even as I was preparing dinner for her, even though hours later she would sometimes acknowledge I was not responsible for her  anger of that moment.  I asked her one time, “If I was on my deathbed, and you came home so angry from your group therapy sessions, and you knew for certain that anger was not about me, would you still feel the need to take it out on me?”  Without hesitation, she answered, “Yes, of course…I don’t want to get cancer!” 

Well, some situations are so preposterous that you simply need to turn and walk away.  Best to let every bully like that slip off your back and head down their own dark road alone while you return to the path that is truly your own. Indeed, why should we let others determine how we are going to think, or how we are going to feel, or how we are going to live? What bullies do we still carry on our backs? Time to let them slip off and be on their way. Only then can we step back on to our own shining path.


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