The Muddy Road

A True Story About Judging People

 

Hara Tanzan was a Soto Buddhist monk who lived for most of the nineteenth century. He was well revered in life and even before his death, there were many stories retold about him. It’s hard to distinguish which of them are true and which are not. This, nevertheless, is the most famous one.

Tanzan was once traveling along a muddy road with his good friend, the cultivated, but strict Zen master Ekido. It had been pouring for hours and the rain didn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

As the Zen masters came around a bend, they noticed a beautiful girl in a silk kimono, visibly shaken by the tempest, trying unsuccessfully to cross the intersection.

“Let me help you,” said Tanzan straight away and, even before the girl could say anything back, he carried her over the mud in his arms.

Hours passed and Tanzan and Ekido reached their final destination – a faraway lodging temple. As they were preparing to get some rest, Ekido (who had been quiet all along) couldn’t hold back himself anymore and reprimanded Tanzan:

“Hara, you know that as a monk you are forbidden to go anywhere near a female. Especially as beautiful as the one you helped cross the road before! I’m sorry for lecturing you, but I just didn’t think appropriate to let it go!”

“I left the girl on the other side of the road,” said Tanzan calmly. “Are you still carrying her?”

 

The lesson:

  • In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his followers of the danger of judging others: “Do not judge others”, he says, “or you too will be judged.”
  • He is even stricter afterwards, claiming that many men are hypocrites seeing the mote in other people’s eyes, but not considering the beam in their own eyes.
  • And it happens often that we fail to see our own faults while judging others for some less severe slip-ups.
  • The story shows that it may not be always obvious as to which are bigger. It’s best to never be the person to cast the first stone.

 

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