Tag Archives: enlightenment

The Wisdom of the Mountain

21 Aug


In my reading I come across a lot of parables. I’ve adapted this one slightly. I hope you like it.


In ancient China, on top of Mount Ping stood a temple where the enlightened one, Hwan, dwelled. Of his many disciples, only one is known to us, Lao. For more than 20 years, Lao studied and meditated under the great master. Although Lao was one of the brightest and most determined of disciples, he had yet to reach enlightenment.

Lao struggled with his lot for days, nights, months, even years until one morning, the sight of a falling cherry blossom spoke to his heart. “I can no longer fight my destiny,” he reflected. “Like the cherry blossom, I must gracefully resign myself to my lot.” From that moment forth, Lao determined to retreat down the mountain, giving up his hope of enlightenment.

Lao searched for Hwan to tell him of his decision. The master sat before a white wall, deep in meditation. Reverently, Lao approached him. “Enlightened one,” he said. But before he could continue, the master spoke, “Tomorrow I will join you on your journey down the mountain.” No more needed to be said. The great master understood.

The next morning, before their descent, the master looked out into the vastness surrounding the mountain peak. “Tell me, Lao,” he said, “what do you see?” “Master, I see the sun beginning to wake just below the horizon, meandering hills and mountains that go on for miles, and couched in the valley below, a lake and an old town.” The master listened to Lao’s response. He smiled, and then they
took the first steps of their long descent.

Hour after hour, as the sun crossed the sky, they pursued their journey, stopping only once as they approached the foot of the mountain. Again Hwan asked Lao to tell him what he saw. “Great wise one, in the distance I see roosters as they run around barns, cows asleep in sprouting meadows, old ones basking in the late afternoon sun, and children romping by a brook.” The master, remaining silent, continued to walk until they reached the gate to the town.

There the master gestured to Lao, and together they sat under an old tree. “What did you learn today, Lao?” asked the master. “Perhaps this is the last wisdom I will impart to you.” Silence was Lao’s response. At last, after long silence, the master continued. “The road to enlightenment is like the journey down the mountain. It comes only to those who realize that it is the walk down not the climb up that makes the difference. We struggle to rise to the top of the mountain, to work on our perfection so that we might become enlightened. Yet, the more we struggle, the further we get from the truth. It is not the view from the top that matters, but the view from where you are. Like the cherry blossom, you have accepted your destiny and stropped struggling. You have given up your search for truth and thus you have found it.”

When the master stopped speaking, Lao looked out to the horizon, and as the sun set before him, it seemed to rise in his heart.

Desire isn’t a bad thing – it’s just a thing

7 Mar


An old woman had supported a monk for twenty years, letting him live in a hut on her land. After all this time she figured the monk, now a man in the prime of life, must have attained some degree of enlightenment. So she decided to test him.

Rather than taking his daily meal to him herself, she asked a beautiful young girl to deliver it. She instructed the girl to embrace the monk warmly – and then to report back to her how he responded. When the girl returned, she said that the monk had simply stood stock-still, as if frozen. The old woman then headed for the monk’s hut. What was it like, she asked him, when he felt the girl’s warm body against his? With some bitterness he answered, “Like a withering tree on a rock in winter, utterly without warmth.” Furious, the old woman threw him out and burned down his hut, explaining  “How could I have wasted all these years on such a fraud.”

To some the monk’s response might seem virtuous. After all, he resisted temptation, he even seemed to have pulled desire out by the roots. Still the old woman considered him a fraud. Is his way of experiencing the young girl- “like a withering tree on a rock in winter” – the point of spiritual practice?  Instead of appreciating the girl’s youth and loveliness  instead of noting the arising of a natural sexual response and its passing away without acting on it, the monk shut down. This is not enlightenment.

Excerpt from Tara Branch’s book Radical Acceptance (page 143-144).

Can You Hear the Mountain Stream?

4 Mar


A Zen Master was walking in silence with on of his disciples along a mountain trail. When they came to an ancient cedar tree, they sat down under it for a simple meal of some rice and vegetables. After the meal, the disciple, a young monk who had not yet found the key to the mystery of Zen, broke the silence by asking the Master, “Master, how do I enter Zen?”

He was, of course, inquiring how to enter the state of consciousness which is Zen.

The master remained silent. Almost five minutes passed while the disciple anxiously waited for an answer. He was about to ask another question when the Master suddenly spoke. “Do you hear the sound of that mountain stream?”

The disciple had not been busy thinking about the meaning of Zen. Now, as he began to listen to the sound, his noisy mind subsided. At first he heard nothing. Then, his thinking gave way to heightened alertness, and suddenly he did hear the hardly perceptible murmur of a small stream in the far distance.

“Yes, I can hear it now,” he said.

The Master raised his finger and, with a look in his eyes that in some way was both fierce and gentle, said, “Enter Zen from there.”

The disciple was stunned. It was his first satori – a flash of enlightenment. He knew what Zen was without knowing what it was that he knew!

They continued on their journey in silence. The disciple was amazed at the aliveness of the world around him. He experienced everything as if for the first time. Gradually, however, he started thinking again. The alert stillness became covered up again by mental noise, and before long he had another question. “Master,” he said, “I have been thinking. What would you have said if I hadn’t been able to hear the mountain stream?” The Master stopped, looked at him, raised his finger and said, “Enter Zen from there.”

Excerpted from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth (2005, pg. 236-238).