Two Monks’ Conversation

February 20, 2019 Updated: February 20, 2019

“There are only two monks in this small temple—you and me,” a young monk said to an old monk. “People berate me behind my back whenever I go down the mountain and beg for alms,” continued the depressed little monk. “They say I am unruly.”

“Visitors to our temple don’t even leave enough money for us to buy incense. Master, how can our temple become a large one, with bells sounding continuously, as you had once said?” asked the little monk while sitting in the shabby little temple.

With eyes closed, the old monk listened without a word. The little monk droned on and on. Finally, the old monk broke his silence. Opening his eyes, he asked, “The northeast wind is blowing hard. It’s snowing and extremely cold. Are you cold?”

“Yes, my feet are frozen and numb,” replied the little monk, shivering. The old monk suggested they go to bed early that night.

After lying in bed for some time, the old monk asked, “Are you warm now?”

“Yes. I feel warm, as if lying under the sunlight,” the young one answered.

“The quilt on the bed is always cold, but if a person sleeps under it, it becomes warm,” said the old monk. “Think about it: Does your quilt make you warm, or do you make the quilt warm?”

“How can quilts add warmth to people?” said the little monk. “It’s clearly people who add warmth to quilts.”

“If quilts don’t provide warmth, and we have to add warmth to the quilts, then why should we need quilts in the first place?” challenged the old monk.

After some thought, the little monk exclaimed, “Quilts can’t give us warmth, but a quilt can hold in warmth for us!”

The old monk smiled. He asked his disciple whether monks who chant scriptures are like people who lie under thick quilts, and whether all sentient beings are like the thick quilts.

“As long as we are very kind, we can warm the quilts. All sentient beings—the quilts—will also hold on to the warmth,” explained the old monk. “Won’t we be warm sleeping under this type of quilt? Will bells sounding continuously at a large temple still be just a dream?”

The little monk suddenly understood. From then on, he descended the mountain early every morning to beg for alms. He continued to encounter many people who said unpleasant words to him, but he was very polite to them in return.

Ten years later, Bodhi Temple became a large temple where many monks and people went to worship. Bells at Bodhi Temple sounded continuously. By then, the little monk had become the temple’s abbot.

Translated by Dora Li into English, this story is reprinted with permission from the book “Treasured Tales of China,” Vol. 1, available on Amazon.

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