For over a year, almost every Sunday, my teacher Zen master Taiken Yokoyama has been giving talks to a network of students located all over the country from various US locations in Hawai`i, West Coast, East Coast, the South and Southwest.
During one of his recent lectures, he urged us to think of all the talks, readings, diagrams and other lessons he gave us as maps. Study all these materials, he said, but always recognize and remember that they are merely maps. They are not the journey; what is important, Yokoyama Roshi said, is to make the journey.
And each of us must make that journey ourselves.
His words are true for not just his students, but everyone who wants to understand Life and Reality.
Twentieth-century Rinzai Zen master Amakuki Sessan tells a story about a Tang Dynasty Emperor asking a mountain sage practicing the Way what happens in the mountains. The sage replied:
What is there in the mountains?
In the mountains the white clouds are many.
But this is something you have to enjoy by coming yourself.
I cannot take them and present them to you.
The sage explained further that he could not catch the clouds, box them up and give them to the Emperor as a gift. Instead, the Emperor would have to go to the mountain himself if he wanted to see the clouds.
Similarly, Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki wrote:
“. . .all that Zen can do is to indicate the way and leave the rest all to one’s own experience; that is to say, following up on the indication of the way and achieving the goal – this is to be done by oneself and without another’s help. . . [The teacher] is helpless to make the disciple take hold of the thing unless the latter is inwardly fully prepared for it. Just as we cannot make a horse drink against his will, the taking hold of the ultimate reality is to be done by oneself.”
That is, those seeking Reality must truly want to find it and must make that journey themselves.
Thus, just as Chinese Taoist writer and philosopher Lao-Tzu long ago said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Are you ready to take your first step?