To cross the border
monks were seven in all: head monk, his brother, his best friend, his
enemy, an old monk, sick monk and a useless monk. They settled in a
remote cave, quite far from the nearest village. Someone from the
village would come, serve food. But there were times the monks chose to
travel to the village for alms. The village was bordered by a river.
Whether he liked it or not, the head monk had to lead all his
He did not have any issue with his best friend - obviously! His
brother did not cause him any trouble. The thing with the enemy was that
they both could not just get along well. The enemy did not respect the
head monk. The old monk is the eldest of the group. He was quite old and
would die any moment. The sixth monk, the sick one, was also nearing his
death any moment. And the useless monk, the seventh, was actually a
nuisance. He snored a lot - aloud too - during meditation sessions. When
they had to recite together, he would often go out of track. He did not
even know how to keep his robes properly.
So on this particular day when the group had to travel to the
village, they had to cross the river. They did not know the village was
captured by a gang of bandits. They had surrounded the river and the
monks could not go any farther.
This looked like a demon in the river barring the path.
“Who is the head here?” A well-built bandit questioned. He looked
The head monk came forward. But he didn’t say a word.
“Okay, here’s a deal. We can let you cross the river, but none of you
can get back here. To make sure of it, we will have to kill one of you.
So head monk, I give you five minutes to decide.”
So who had to go? Ajahn Brahmavamso does not forget to pose this
question whenever he narrates this story in his public talks.
Enemy? No. Enemy did not respect the head monk, but the latter never
loathed him. Then, the eldest monk? He will die any moment. No, not him
either. He will die any moment, true, but he is not supposed to die now.
The sick monk? No, not even him. Other answers too follow: brother and
best friend. Obviously they won’t be the head monk’s choice.
Then it should be himself! Well, we think we hit the nail on the head
with that answer. It is natural because our traditions uphold sacrifice.
We admire people who have sacrificed themselves in favour of others. But
sadly this is also not the answer.
Ajahn takes a moment to explain.
“The head monk’s love for his brother was exactly the same, no more
and no less, than his love for his best friend - which was exactly the
same as his love for his enemy, for the old monk, the sick monk, and
even for the dear old useless monk. He had perfected the meaning of
those words: the door of my heart will always be open to you, whatever
you do, whoever you are. The door of the head monk’s heart was wide open
to all, with unconditional, non-discriminating, free-flowing love. And
most poignantly, his love for others was equal to his love for himself.
The door of his heart was open to himself as well. That’s why he could
not choose between himself and others.”
Spreading loving kindness begins at home. We are our home. So the
door of our heart must be open to us before anything. If that is so,
what happens at the end? The traditional story won’t give out any
details. But Ajahn Brahmavamso figures it out.
Unafraid, the head monk reached the bandits. He had no reason to be
afraid, because he was equipped with enough practice of loving kindness.
Not only has the head monk told the bandits he cannot make a choice, but
also explained why he cannot do so. He enlightens them how warm love and
forgiveness are. That was enough to impress the bandits. They let all
the monks pass the border.
And they too tagged along with the retinue.