The Monk and the Temptations
Summer. The sun brightened the clear blue sky. The sight was majesty. The flowers' fragrance filled the air, the birds were chirping, singing a melody unknown to man, a melody that could compete with those of the best human singers. In the dense forests of bamboo and trees that ran along the hillsides, a myriad of leaves glistened brightly. On top of one of those hills, a man was gazing on the vastness of the sea. The light blue of the sky and the dark blue of the sea seemed united like a painting. A painting that no human could paint, no matter how skilled he was.
The man gazing at the sea was actually a young Buddhist monk. He was wearing a red robe on top of a yellow one. Although his head was bald, as such is the costume of Buddhist monks, his face was handsome and exuded a sense of calmness. So calm that one would be excused for thinking that it may have been a facade and that the monk was just a very good actor. But his heart was really serene. So much that it seemed as he had left all of the world's worries behind him.
But had he ever witnessed the world's worries? No. Since a very young age, he had been training in the Shaolin Monastery. He rarely went out. This time was an exception. It seemed to him that his Master wanted to test him. Wanted to test his resolve. For if one does not faces temptation, how can he boast that he has conquered?
Seeing the beauty of nature, he sighed. It was the first time in his entire life that his serene face cracked. "What beauty! What fragrance! It is a dream!".
But then he remembered the words of his Teacher, Wang: "On your journey, you will face many temptations. You must not be fooled by them. Everything in this world is ephemeral and futile."
He drowned his excitement and regained his coolness. He walked downside the hill, towards the beach. As he walked downside, he entered further and further into the forest and the sun became less and less visible. He sensed a cool breeze. He could hear the sound of his footsteps crashing fallen leaves. He had entered a dark but majestic world, as beautiful as that of the sunny sea. The sea of blue had been replaced by a sea of green - green bamboo trees.
"Life is beautiful.", he said. "I've never seen such beautiful places in my entire life. I was always behind some closed doors, chanting hymns and praying to Buddha."
He had never thought before that he could have said such words. Maybe he always wanted to say them, deep inside him, but he never dared to. In the Shaolin Monastery he always had to follow a set of strict rules. Now, in the outside world, he was free. Free to say whatever he wanted. Free to do whatever he wanted. He was a free man!
"Freedom is one of the temptations you will face", Master Wang had warned him. "Freedom on itself is not bad. What is bad is to misuse this freedom. You have the freedom to choose between giving into temptation or conquering it. It is up to you to choose. But in order for you to be able to conquer your temptations, you must set some rules which you must follow. You must limit by yourself your freedom. If you choose temptation, however, you will lose even that little freedom. You will become a slave of your desires."
The Monk thought about it. He realized that one must limit one's freedom in order to retain a certain level of freedom. Otherwise, he would think that he is free while in reality he would have become a slave.
He continued walking towards the beach. As he reached the beach, he could see the sun shining brightly and reflecting on the blue sea, giving it a golden color. Then, he suddenly heard a splashing sound and saw circle of small ripples on the sea. He retreated by a few steps and hid himself behind a tree, which could both offer him a view of the sea and also hide him. It was the first time in his life he felt so scared.
Teacher Wang had said: "On the outside world, you shall also face fear. Until now, shielded into this Monastery, you had no reason to be afraid. But on your journey, you would be alone. Without a home. Without a friend. You would be totally alone. Then, even things you find ridiculous now, will cause you fear. You must not give in to fear. You must battle your fears. Conquer your fears."
There was a sudden splash and the monk could see first a head and then a back emerging from the water. It was surely the back of a girl. She had snow white skin and long raven hair. Her hair was dripping wet. He was awed. He had barely seen any girls on the Monastery, only those who wanted to pray and a few old nuns. And now, he was seeing the naked back of a girl. He could feel a cold sweat all over his face.
She turned towards him. At first, the monk blushed. But then he noticed that the girl had not seen him. He was still safely hidden behind the tree. Only then did he take a closer look at her. He saw her bright eyes. Her jade like skin. Her firm and fair breasts. Her slim waist. He dared not look further. He sensed a heat overtaking him. He had never felt something like this before. It was like a dream, it was like he was watching a fairy or a goddess.
"Has a Goddess descended from Heaven?", he whispered.
He then remembered the words of his Master Wang: "Women are the most difficult temptation to overcome. If you meet one, your body will want embrace her. You will feel a warmness, a heat overtaking you. You would have a desire to hug her, to kiss her and to...do other acts. You must resist that temptation. You must have a firm resolve. You must remember that all those desires are fooling you. For everything in this life is futile."
But while he had been able to overcome his amazement over how beautiful nature is, his sense of unlimited freedom and his fears, he could not overcome his desire to look again at the maiden. He gazed at her, completely mesmerized by her sight. He knew that what he was doing was wrong, but he did not want to leave. He had never seen a naked woman before nor would he ever again have the chance to see one. And especially not one so beautiful, with such skin, such eyes, such breasts. Everything upon her was perfect. She was above ordinary humans. She was above the beauty of the Gods themselves.
He felt like he was dreaming. She was an unimaginable figure, a living dream that was swimming among the sea's waves. She was like a maiden, like a magic ship floating on the sea, as magical as the ship of dreams.
The fragrance of her and the fragrance of the flowers, the sound of the sea's waves, the sun reflecting on the sea. All of those conspired to make this scene unforgettable. It was as if Mother nature wanted to give a present to the little monk. Or as if Buddha wanted to tempt him with the most beautiful woman and the most beautiful scenery on earth.
Images of his master praying were flashing into his mind. He was watching the naked woman and then his master chanting to Buddha. He was trying to get out of his mind the images of his master or the sight of the naked body, depending on which side of him temporary won in this internal struggle between his erotic desires and his holy nature.
He closed his eyes, but then he remembered his Teacher's words: "Avoiding temptations does not mean you have conquered them. You must face them to be able to boast such a thing."
So, he opened again his eyes. But the woman had disappeared. He suddenly heard a scream and a female voice shouting: "What are you doing here?"
He turn to his left and saw the woman, still naked and dripping wet. Shame and fear combined and stabbed his heart. He felt as if one thousand swords had stabbed him. He was completely lost. He could not think, he could not reply, he could not even see her. Images from her bathing and of his teacher were flashing constantly on his mind.
The woman could see that the monk was at loss. She quickly put up a white gown and said with a melodic voice: "I....I never thought anyone would come at this isolated beach."
The monk regained his composure and said with a trembling voice: "I...I..I am..am..sorry..for.."
'This is awkward', he thought. He turned around and was about to leave when the woman said, "Shall you allow me to offer you some tea at my home? It is not far from here."
He had to choose. If he went with her, he knew that he would never be able to commit himself to Buddha. But life was short. It is true that all things are ephemeral, but he preferred an ephemeral joy than an eternal apathy and coldness.
"Thank you.", he said. "I'll come."
The two of them walked together into the forest of bamboo trees. He had taken his road. His true road. Master Wang later learned about this and that his former disciple had married. He did not feel betrayed. He did not feel bitter. Nor he felt the need to forbid other monks from going out to test themselves.
He felt happy. For his disciple had found happiness. But most of all, because he thought that if one could not feel happy with committing himself to Buddha, he should not be a monk. The path of the monk was not the true path of his disciple. Only those who could return from that journey could be worthy of being fully admitted as monks.