Monday, January 30, 2012

Carrying the Stone

Last night Dave and I watched "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring," one of my favorite movies. (Just bought the DVD from Amazon!) It's a Korean film about a Buddhist monk who lives in a floating temple in the middle of a lake. A boy comes to live with him and the monk trains the boy in Buddhism. The film follows the boy's life as he grows up, strays from the path and commits a murder, and struggles to redeem himself.

Near the beginning, the boy is playing in the forest. He ties a stone to various small animals -- a fish, a frog, a snake -- and laughs as he watches them struggle. He doesn't know his teacher is also watching.

That night, the teacher ties a large stone to the boy's back. When the boy awakens the next morning, he pleads with the monk to remove the stone. The monk tells the boy he must first remove the stones from each of the animals he'd trapped the day before. He warns the boy that if any of the animals are dead, he will carry a stone in his heart for the rest of his life.

The rock still strapped to his back, the boy struggles into the forest. He finds the frog alive and releases it. But the fish and the snake are dead. The boy cries inconsolably.

That lesson always impresses me. I don't remember ever consciously tormenting an animal as a child, though I'm sure I caught my share of fireflies. I remember trying to save frogs from another boy on the elementary school playground, as he ran around stabbing them with a stick. I did my best to throw them over a fence before he could get to them.

I do remember harming an animal, ironically, when I was in the Peace Corps. I was out in the countryside with my Moroccan colleague, treating wells with large chlorine tablets to purify the water. We'd drop a tablet or two in each well to kill any bacteria. We came upon an underground spring that bubbled up into a pool, covered with a concrete cap and a door. When my counterpart opened the door, we saw numerous turtles swimming in the water.

It seemed amazing to me that these aquatic turtles were living in the arid environment of the Anti-Atlas mountains. But my Moroccan colleague was not amused. "This water is very dirty," he said, and proceeded to dump about ten chlorine tablets into the spring.

We didn't hang around to see what happened to the turtles, but I don't see how they could have survived. I felt so guilty about it afterwards that I decorated one of my shirts with drawings of turtles to memorialize them -- not that it did them any good.

The monk was right -- I still carry that stone in my heart!

(Photo: Two lizards on a house in Notting Hill.)


  1. Wow, what a story. About the turtles, of course.

    In most of the world, the demands of survival trump the urge to be kind to all beings. We're lucky to live in luxury so we CAN be kind.

    the film sounds fascinating. A little psychopath, trained by a monk. Wow. I'm going to try to find a copy to rent.

  2. Cruelty to animals always saddens me.

    As a child I can't remember if I was ever a witness to cruelty to an animal I didn't stop. I can't believe I wasn't. Now I so adamant about it that I consciously go out of my way to teach my students about being kinds to all creatures. I want my students to learn to appreciate, cherish and have respect for all the living things we share this planet with.

    Sounds like a good movie. If I ever see it on, I will watch it.

    Ms. M
    Ms.M's Blog
    A Teacher's Plan

  3. I remember frightening our cat, the only time I ever came close to hurting an animal. He avoided me for days afterward. From this I learned that trust is important and that animals will love people who take care to appreciate that they have feelings.

  4. Oh that is a heavy weight to carry- So sorry, If it makes you feel any better I accidentally killed my son's guinea pig, and his turtle! Left them out in the sun and forgot they were there. cooked! bummer!We cried and cried and my son's trust in Mum was never the same.Another thing-
    I am confused and need your help- is there advantage to buying the travel card oyster thing for getting around London these day? I used to be able to sneak on the tube back in my life of danger and stupidity...

  5. LS -- There is an advantage to the Oyster. It's cheaper per ride than a conventional fare. You pay a £5 fee to get a new Oyster card and then top it up as much as you want. If you return the card, you get your fee back. (Not sure how this works.) You can read more here:

    (You wouldn't want to sneak on nowadays -- I don't even think it's possible!)

  6. I look forward to downloading that film -- I think Tricycle Magazine is doing a Buddhist film festival right now (online) -- you should check it out.

    Your turtle story is a powerful one --

  7. As a kid I plugged a dove with my BB gun. I think everybody who gets a BB gun does that and it becomes sort of a defining moment. I never got over it. That was the day I stopped fishing too. Even when I lived in Colorado, I loved the idea of fly fishing, but I never wanted to catch anything, so I was always tying on gaudy flies and poppers totally ill suited to catching a trout.

    The technology of sport is fascinating to me, but that's where I draw the line.