On the other shore, once she had climbed down, thanked and left, the younger monk commented that it was unseemly for a monk to carry a young woman in that intimate fashion. The older monk said simply that he had tried to help her.
They continued on their way and walked many miles when the young monk again said,
“Don’t you think it is not right for a monk to bodily carry a young woman like that?”
The older man said, “Look, I unloaded that woman at least ten miles ago. You seem to be still carrying her and can’t unburden yourself.”
When I look back at my life, I am taken aback by at least three types of burden that I have a hard time putting behind me.
The first is the temptation to hover over injustices done to me. These are the cases where, at least in my mind, there was a villain who did something wrong and caused me harm. Everyone can think of a villain like that, in the family, at work or in the community. I had a cousin who came to stay with us and stole the pocket money I had earned by tutoring. I can remember lazy bosses who loaded their work on me, corrupt bosses who undermined my decisions to curry favor with clients or suppliers, unscrupulous bosses who passed off my painstakingly crafted reports as their own. I have encountered my share of racist cops in the US and pompous bureaucrats in India. For years, their rudeness and dishonesty have rankled with me and the memory has weighed with me.
The second kind of burden on my mind has been my regret for bad decisions I have made from time to time. Here I can blame only myself. I am the villain. That doesn’t make it any easier for my peace of mind. I keep remembering how foolishly I made a wrong choice and bought, in one case, the wrong car most unsuitable for the hilly country I was going to. I think repeatedly of the construction worker who took a large advance for fixing the roof of my home and then just disappeared. I recall annoyedly the absurdly high speed in which I drove in the Virginia countryside and had to spend three hours in the court and pay the sky-high fine. Irritatingly, these memories continue to return periodically and make me wonder how foolish and gullible I can be.
Then there are the bad things that have happened to me for no reason and recur in my mind now and then. Here there is no identifiable source of my pain; fate or providence, if you like, is the villain. The time on a plane a flight attendant dropped a whole pot of warm coffee on my lap. Or the time my bank slipped in making a timely payment for my hospital bills, with a downturn in my credit score. Or the times I seem to get broken eggs in the egg cartons I bring from the local store. Trivial things, I know, but they keep coming up in my mind and arouse the common, carping question, Why me. It feels singularly unfair to have all this heaped on me.
When I talk to friends, neighbors and colleagues I hear them so often complaining of the same kinds of things. After hearing them for a while, I get tired and I feel like saying, “My dear fellow, all this has already happened. Why keep calling it up and moaning about it? Such things happen.” I remain silent, partly because I want to be polite, but partly also because an uncomfortable thought has occurred to me. I realize that I am not alone in carrying these burdens. Others have their miserable loads too, and I am just like them in clinging to my private burdens.
The resolutely pious among us may find it hard to accept it but bad things happen, and happen frequently, to good people – just as, infuriatingly, good things happen to bad people we know. It is a question of letting bad thing so scar us that we have difficulty accepting or appreciating good things when they come. If we let that happen, we have done to ourselves something worse than what our worst enemies could design.
It may not be a bad idea to listen to the older monk and leave aside what we have long silently borne, the onerous cargo of our past miseries, mistakes and misadventures, embrace the present joys and walk unburdened into a radiant future of our choice.