Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Tales of the Holy Man

Word spread across the countryside about the wise Holy Man who lived in a small house atop the mountain. A man from the village decided to make the long and difficult journey to visit him. When he arrived at the house, he saw an old servant inside who greeted him at the door. “I would like to see the wise Holy Man,” he said to the servant. The servant smiled and led him inside. As they walked through the house, the man from the village looked eagerly around the house, anticipating his encounter with the Holy Man. Before he knew it, he had been led to the back door and escorted outside. He stopped and turned to the servant, “But I want to see the Holy Man!” “You already have,” said the old man. “Everyone you may meet in life, even if they appear plain and insignificant… see each of them as a wise Holy Man. If you do this, then whatever problem you brought here today will be solved.”

Many years ago there was a sailor who had travelled to many different countries around the world. He had been to many places and seen many different sights. One day as he was sailing across the seas, he came upon an island and decided to rest there for a while. He moored his boat on the shore and began to look around. All around the island was a beautiful white beach and behind the beach was dense tropical jungle. All was quiet until… He thought he could hear a faint noise in the distance and tilted his head to listen. He sensed it came from within the jungle and walked closer. Sure enough, once again he heard this faint noise in the background. He started to hack his way through the foliage in order to make a pathway. The more he moved inland the louder the noise became. He continued to cut his way through, until eventually he reached a clearing and there in the middle of the clearing he saw an old man sitting cross-legged on the ground. The old man had his eyes closed and was chanting “Mo, Mo, Mo” in long, soft tones. The sailor stood and watched and listened. “Mo, Mo, Mo,” continued the old man. Eventually the sailor approached the old man and tapped him on the shoulder. The old man turned slowly around and smiled. “Excuse me,” said the sailor, “I think you have made a mistake. I think you should be saying ‘Om, Om, Om.’” “Oh,” said the old man, smiling. “Thank you so much,” and began to chant, “Om, Om, Om.” The sailor felt pleased with himself and made his way back to his boat. He began to sail away, and when he had sailed for a while he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around, surprised to see the old man, who said, “Forgive me for interrupting your journey. Could you please remind me what the chant should be?” The sailor, in a state of shock, said, “Om, Om, Om.” “Thank you so much,” said the old man, and walked back across the water to the island.

Two monks came upon a girl struggling to cross a river. One of the monks offered to carry her across and the girl accepted, so he picked her up and waded to the other side of the stream, where he put her down safely. When the other monk joined him he remonstrated with the first monk. “I cannot believe that you carried that girl. It is against all our principles. You know that we are not allowed to touch or even think about women. And yet despite that you carried this young girl in your arms!” The first monk looked at his brother and replied, “Yes, I did carry the girl. The difference between you and me is that I put her down when I reached the other side, but you are still carrying her.”

One day a traveller was walking along a road on his journey from a village to another. As he walked, he noticed a monk tilling the ground in a field beside the road. The monk said “Good day” to the traveller and the traveller nodded to the monk. The traveller then turned to the monk and said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?” “Not at all,” replied the monk. “I am travelling from the village in the mountains to the village in the valley and I was wondering if you knew what it is like in the village in the valley?”  “Tell me,” said the monk. “What was your experience of the village in the mountains?”  “Dreadful,” replied the traveller. “To be honest, I am glad to be away from there. I found the people most unwelcoming. When I first arrived I was greeted coldly. I was never made to feel a part of the village no matter how hard I tried. The villagers keep very much to themselves; they don’t take kindly to strangers. So tell me, what can I expect in the village in the valley?” “I’m sorry to tell you,” said the monk, “but I think your experience will be much the same there.” The traveller hung his head despondently and walked on. A few months later, another traveller was journeying down the same road and he also came upon the monk. “Good day,” said the traveller. “Good day,” said the monk. “How are you?” asked the traveller. “I’m well,” replied the monk. “Where are you going?”, “I’m going to the village in the valley,” replied the traveller. “Do you know what it is like?”  “I do,” replied the monk. “But first, tell me, where have you come from?”  “I’ve come from the village in the mountains.” “And how was that?” “It was a wonderful experience. I would have stayed if I could but I am committed to traveling on. I felt as though I were a member of the family in the village. The elders gave me much advice, the children laughed and joked with me, and the people generally were kind and generous. I am sad to have left there. It will always hold special memories for me. And what of the village in the valley?” he asked again. “I think you will find it much the same,” replied the monk. “Good day to you.” “Good day and thank you,” replied the traveller, smiled, and journeyed on.


Note: The character of The Holy Man — often a sly old monk who teaches ironic lessons to strangers — is common to much of the sacred literature of east Asia. For a collection of parables, many of which feature a wise teacher, see Jataka Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology which presents 217 of the stories that the Buddha told of his previous lives.

Public domain. Selected and adapted by Michael Simms.

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Ming Dynasty carved wooden statue of a holy man sitting with hands folded for meditation. (source: Avantiques)

2 comments on “Tales of the Holy Man

  1. universalpantry
    December 17, 2018

    The story about the monks and the river has always been a favorite, but I hadn’t read the others. Fun! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ahenda fredrick
    December 16, 2018

    Worthy moral teachings…

    Liked by 2 people

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