It’s cold. Days are short. Time to tell stories that warm the heart*.
It’s no surprise that stories for peace are popular in January. The creation of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday has given us a well-deserved break in the middle of the month, but it’s more than that.
We want to come together and share.
This is a story that I have told before audiences of all ages and all persuasions. A discussion guide follows, but you don’t have to talk about it, just enjoy the story.
*To all my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, for whom this is summer time… Well, you know what I mean!
Peace of mind… Adapted from the Zen by Mark Binder
TWO MONKS WERE walking down a road. These were not your ordinary monks—they didn’t have long shaggy fur, prehensile tales and go “ook-ook.” These monks were holy men who wore bright orange robes and shaved their heads.
Their monastery had very strict rules. They were not allowed to eat meat, could not marry, owned no possessions (except their clothes—and even this was a point of argument at times) and were not allowed to carry any money. There were rules about when they should sleep, when they should eat, and even rules about who they could touch and talk with. For example, they were not supposed to talk with young unmarried women, nor were they supposed to touch anything unclean.
It was a very beautiful day. The birds were singing, a breeze was blowing through the leaves in the trees up above, and all of a sudden they saw a gross, slimy monster.
“Eeek!” shouted the younger monk, “A gross slimy monster, let’s get out of here!”
The older monk squinted and leaned on his cane. “Wait a moment, Grasshopper.” (Grasshopper was the younger monk’s nickname.) “I want to ask that monster a question.”
The old monk grabbed younger monk by the ear and dragged him down the hill to the bank of the river.
As they drew closer, the younger monk realized that this monster was not only gross and slimy, it was terribly ugly. It had bulging eyes that popped out of its head on long tentacles. Its mouth was filled with fangs that dripped poisonous venom. Its skin was green and slimy, covered with bumps, lumps, scales and warts. It had seven fingers on each of its three hands, and no legs, just a long wiggly tail, like an enormous snail or a slug.
“Master, if we get any nearer, that monster is surely going to eat us.”
“Look closer,” the older monk suggested. “You have missed something.”
But the closer Grasshopper looked the more terrified he felt. Everything he saw repulsed him. The monster’s skin was the color of moldy stale bread in some parts, and the color of the gross slimy stuff that grows underneath the bathtub in other parts. And the smell! Phew. A stable full of unwashed cows smelled better.
“I can’t see anything,” he said at last.
“The monster is crying,” said the older monk. The old man stepped forward. The young man tried to hold him back, but the old man shrugged him away.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the elder monk began. “I couldn’t help notice that you’re crying. I wonder if you might tell me what is the matter.”
“Oooooogh!” croaked the monster in a truly revolting voice. “My sister has had a baby.”
“Why that’s wonderful news,” said the old monk, “but still, you seem more upset than happy.”
“I am upset,” agreed the monster. “My sister lives on the other side of the river. There used to be a bridge, but it has been washed away. And I can’t swim.”
“That’s too bad,” said the younger monk. He tugged at the older monk’s sleeve. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Shh, Grasshopper, be polite,” said the older monk. “I wonder if my associate and I could be off assistance.”
“How could you possibly help me?” said the gross slimy monster. Her voice sounded positively filled with despair.
“We could carry you across,” said the older monk. “You don’t look too heavy, and I have this young fellow here to help me.”
The gross slimy monster turned all of her seventeen eyes toward the older monk. “Oh, would you?” she slurped. “That would be so kind!”
“Yes, yes, far too kind,” said the younger monk. “We really…”
“Silence!” ordered the older monk.
“But she might eat us!” whispered the youngster.
“Shhh. Be polite.”
And so, the gross slimy monster oozed itself onto the backs of the two monks, and with a great effort, they lifted it up. Grunting and moaning the whole way, the young monk led, and the old monk took the rear. It was hard going in the stream. The water rushed quickly by, and was very cold. The rocks were wet and slippery sometimes, and sharp at others.
“I know this story,” mumbled the young monk. “It’s like the gingerbread man. We’ll get into the middle of the stream and she’ll eat us.”
“She said she can’t swim.”
“Then it’s the story of the scorpion on the frog’s back. She’ll eat us in the middle of the stream and then we’ll all die. Or she’ll wait until we drop her on the other side, and we’re exhausted, and then she’ll bite us and chew us into tiny little pieces to take with her to feed her sister’s baby…”
Fortunately, the monster was somewhat deaf, or excessively polite herself, and didn’t seem to hear a word.
At last the two monks and their gross slimy load reached the far side of the stream. The monks gently lowered the monster down, and she opened her mouth.
“Ahh!” shouted the young monk. He jumped back.
“Thank you,” wheezed the monster. “You are kind souls.”
“Wait!” said the older monk. “My associate here was wondering if you were planning on eating us.”
“Aggh!” screamed the young monk, certain he was about to die.
“Eat you? Hmmm…” For a moment the monster looked thoughtful, but then she continued. “Oh no. Monks are notoriously tough and stringy. And besides, the Lord Buddha would be very angry with me.
And off she slithered into the forest.
The two monks jumped back into the river and began washing themselves off. Fortunately, they had no hair, so the gross slime came off fairly quickly. Twenty minutes later, they were on their way again, walking back to the monastery.
The older monk was enjoying the beautiful day, the cool breeze, and the songs of the birds flying through the bright blue sky.
The younger monk, however, was fuming.
“I can’t believe… It’s a miracle that we’re even alive… I just don’t understand…”
At last, they stopped under a coconut tree for a break. The older monk sat down calmly and began to meditate. The younger one threw himself down with a thump.
At last the older monk spoke. “Excuse me, Grasshopper. I couldn’t help noticing that you seem a bit upset. I wonder if you might tell me what is the matter.”
“The matter?” the younger monk exploded. “The matter! I’ll tell you what’s the matter. First of all, when you see a gross slimy monster down by the river, you don’t go up to it and ask what’s the matter, you run away. Second, if the monster tells you a sad story about its sister and a baby, you don’t carry it across a river, you run away. Then, if you make it to the other side of the river you don’t ask the monster to eat you, you RUN AWAY!
“That monster could have eaten us. Worse still, it could have eaten you and then I’d have to go back to the monastery alone and explain what had happened. Even worse still, we are monks. We’re not allowed to touch unclean things like monsters and women! It’s just not allowed!”
“Are you finished?” asked the older monk.
“Yes,” said the younger, catching his breath. “I am.”
“I carried her across the stream,” the master said, “But I left her on the other side of the river. You have been carrying her along with you this whole way, as if she is still with us.”
For a moment or two more, the younger monk sputtered and stamped his feet, and then bowing his head he agreed. “I guess your right.”
The younger monk helped the older monk to his feet, and the two of them walked slowly back to the monastery, enjoying the dancing lights of the setting sun at the end of a beautiful day.
And the moral of the story, for such stories always have morals: Monks live wonderful and peaceful lives, filled with valuable lessons, moments of enlightenment, and the occasional monster, but they really don’t know how to end a story.
Two Monks and the Gross Slimy Monster Discussion Questions
- In the original Zen story, one of the monks carried a woman across a puddle, upsetting the other monk.
In The Two Monks and the Gross Slimy Monster, the younger monk loses his composure. How does he regain it?
- What lessons does he learn? Is this something you could do by yourself?
- How do you develop peace of mind?
- Can you tell a story about a time you were upset, and still managed to create calm and peace?
- What do you do when you are in a scary situation? Do you “run away” or do you confront the fear? Obviously, this depends on the situation. What changes fear into an ability to engage in conversation?
- Are you able to leave conflict behind or do you carry it with you? How do you do that? What tricks can you share with others?
A note about permissions:
Please feel free to share and enjoy this story, provided you include these paragraphs. Schools may distribute copies to students.
The Two Monks and the Gross Slimy Monster
Excerpted from STORIES FOR PEACE
Copyright 2010 by Mark Binder, All Rights Reserved
For more information, visit http://markbinder.com and http://storyamonth.com