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Zen Student

The way of the Zen student

This is a story about Michio, who wanted to become a student but to do it in the Way of Zen – the way stressed by his grandfather who he loved. During his time away from his school, Michio would have long conversations with his grandfather, who knew the Way of Zen.

The dojo and the first meeting with Master Kim

The dojo that Michio attended was a place to learn: to learn the Way of the Zen student. He knew from the many conversations with his grandfather that this did not simply mean gaining information of subjects; it meant a way of life. Like all dojos it is a school, a practice hall and a temple all rolled into one. It is a place for training mind, body and spirit; a place to bring them into harmony.

Master Kim first informed Michio that he would not be given any information on any subject. ‘What, then, he thought would he be taught?’ Master Kim went on that any student who is prepared to apply himself to the effort could acquire information. Acquiring information was considered the least important in this dojo. Not because acquiring information was wasteful. It was simply because with application and effort it was simple. That was the most important lesson to learn about acquiring information: it required dedication and effort. But there was much more to learn than this. Wisdom was much more than information. Master Kim pointed out that true wisdom comes from experiencing. ‘You cannot climb a mountain by reading a book about it,’ said Master Kim. He did point out that some subjects are undoubtedly more experiential than others; but no subject is purely mental. Learning involves using the body. Michio appreciated that learning judo, karate and aikido, even learning the guitar or the flute, must be played with they body. Michio, however, was not clear how mathematics was experiential. One never questioned Master Kim in these sessions and so Michio made a mental note to discuss this with his grandfather on their next meeting. ‘You learn a subject from your soul,’ said Master Kim. ‘You learn it by harmonising your mind, body spirit in the effort. You become that which you wish to learn. In this dojo you practice and your experience. You cannot be taught a path; you must take it. You are a cloud and water: you float and flow with and without form; you live in the moment. There is no end, no destination, there is only the way: there is only this moment.’ Master Kim paused for a moment, ‘From one thing, know ten thousand things. This is the Way of Zen.’ With this he left leaving Michio and his fellow students in a sea of confusion.

First conversation with his grandfather

This coming weekend Michio would be home with his grandfather, and he was determined to discuss the way to experience all subjects. He could appreciate that the martial arts would only be learnt by doing them; art and music he appreciated influenced the senses and was as much a bodily experience as it was one of the mind. But when it came to mathematics, chemistry and economics how could these be experienced? It just made no sense to Michio.

‘You must look beneath the surface,’ said his grandfather. ‘Subjects are layers and layers of information, information that buries the core of its very essence. There is a beauty and elegance in numbers; patterns that give form and harmony to the universe around us. It is this that you must experience. You must let the beauty and elegance of numbers enter your very soul. Contemplate my grandson,’ said Michio’s grandfather, ‘the beauty of zero?’

Master Kim’s second lesson

‘You must open up your mind and consider that you are learning for the first time. Be as a child with a child’s enthusiasm to learn. Recall what it was like when you learnt to walk.’ Master Kim even seemed young himself as he said this. The smile on his face was like a baby’s smile. Master Kim then recounted the parable of the empty cup. A University professor visited a Zen master. He came to enquire about Zen. The professor talked and talked but did not listen. The Zen master called for tea and continued to fill the professor’s cup until it over-flowed. In surprise, the professor enquired why he had done this. ‘Like this cup, you are full of your own ideas. How can I teach unless you first empty your cup?’

‘When you study,’ said Master Kim, ‘then do it,’ he said emphasising the word ‘do’. ‘Don’t study aimlessly. Study with purpose even when you are not clear what it is you are learning. Become in tune with your subject. Every subject has its way of setting out ideas and relating them. Tune into this way of thinking; experience it and let it become part of you. Appreciate – in your very being – what is different in the way of doing mathematics, chemistry or economics. Whatever is your chosen subject become in tune with it: this is to experience your subject.’ Master Kim went on, ‘When you do your subject, remove internal obstacles. Be clear of impatience and frustration. You must not want to be at the end of the path without taking the path. You learn by taking the path and not when you reach the end. There is no end in Zen, there is only the way. And on the way note what makes your spirit uplifted. What it is about your subject that affects the core of your being. If you have no moments of this, then you are doing the wrong subject. These moments may, and often are, only fleeting but they will mean more to you than many hours of gathering information about your subject. They are moments of understanding when you appreciate the beauty and harmony of your subject.’

Master Kim expanded on what he meant by doing the subject. ‘You must do your subject without concern of reward. Write from the heart and don’t worry about accuracy. Know that you will make mistakes and learn from them. Do what your instinct tells you to do. Trust your instinct. Do each and every project with gust. In martial arts, students shout when they kick or throw a punch. The two are inseparable. It is not simply making a noise, it is emphasising their full effort and concentration into what they do. It is not just a punch: it is a full punch, a punch with purpose. Every punch is done in this way. Most of all do it with joy. Enjoy each and every moment of what you do.’

‘As you know a dojo develops not only your body but also your spirit. In this dojo you express your spirit through your subject regardless of your level of learning about it. You must free your spirit so you can express what it is about the subject that excites you. Your spiritual approach to the subject is more important than technique. If you can express your subject through a story rather than mathematics, then do so. This does not mean that technique is unimportant. We shall in this dojo practice and practice technique, but technique is not an end in itself. Technique allows you to express what is within you. Your love of the subject should come from the inside out and not the outside in.’ With that Master Kim left. The remaining days were practising technique. Each technique was broken down into small parts and each part was practised and practised until Michio could do it without thought.

‘The Zen approach to any subject never ends: the path goes on forever. You can never know all there is to know about your subject. At the same time,’ said Master Kim, ‘You should not be overwhelmed by the length of the journey. Take one step at a time and keep your concentration and focus on that one step. Then take another. Take joy in the journey. Master Kim then pointed out that the Way of Zen has many alternative paths and that each student must find his own path. They must search out the right approach for them, the right teacher and read the right books. They must seek out good role models and use them as roadmaps on their chosen path. They Way of the Zen student is to find the way which is best for them – learning from wherever they can and from whomever they can at a pace which is right for them. ‘How and when you learn is not important so long as it feels right for you,’ said Master Kim. Unfortunately all that Michio was thinking about was, ‘But how do I know what is right for me?’

Second meeting with Michio’s grandfather

The next weekend Michio was home with his grandfather. ‘Grandfather,’ said Michio, ‘Master Kim kept talking of search out the right teacher, reading the right books and finding the right approach,’ emphasising each time the word ‘right.’ ‘But how do I know what is right? I thought that is what I would learn at the dojo,’ Michio sighed, obviously frustrated at what seemed an impossible task. To Michio it seemed as if he were to know the Way of the Zen student before he even took the first step – and Michio made this very point to his grandfather.

‘This is because your focus is on the end of the journey and not on the journey itself,’ said Michio’s grandfather. ‘Every journey must start with a first step, and even this first step must be with purpose. There are things you must learn to do on the journey and there are pitfalls that you must avoid. But remember, my grandson, there is no end to this journey, there is only the path.’

‘But what are the things I must learn on the path?’ Michio asked his grandfather. ‘I know you do not man the subject matter. As Master Kim said this is just information and I can do this by putting in time and effort. So the Way of Zen must mean I learn other things.’ His grandfather replied, ‘Exactly so. The Way of the Zen student is to remain focused at all times. Learn to do one thing the right way one time, and then do the same with the next. Learn good habits one at a time and keep focused. Live in the moment and allow not even a small deviation. Small deviations have a habit of becoming large. So correct these immediately.’ At this point his grandfather took a sip of tea.

‘You must learn your subject and put in all of your effort in doing so. You must pay attention to what you are learning. But most of all you must discipline your mind and body in the process. You must not allow bodily discomforts to distract you from your studies. Your mind must teach the body to be subservient. To become so absorbed in the moment that there is no sense of body. When the body wants to complain with discomfort or a sense of hunger, then the mind must step in and say no. At times, my grandson, you will find the mind and the body will be at odds. At these moments you will come face to face with your motivations and your limitations. You will question why you are studying this particular subject; why you are having to put in all the hours of study; will it not be fair to go out with friends just this one time; and so many others too numerous to mention.’ Michio’s grandfather paused and took another sip of tea. He then went on, ‘How you answer these questions will determine how you progress along the path of Zen. You must strengthen your spirit and keep resolute. Your training is like the training of a wild stallion. Discipline, resolve and training until the stallion does your bidding and you become as one. The Way of the Zen student is not in terms of the obstacles you face but rather in the way you respond to those problems. You have to master your reaction to both the unforeseen and the unfortunate.’

At this point Michio’s grandfather took a deep breadth. He was not a young man and all this talking tired him. But he loved his grandson and wanted him to know the Way of the Zen student. So he continued after taking another sip of tea. ‘I want to tell you about a Zen master who returned home to find his home being robbed. The robber found nothing because the monk had nothing. But the monk was sorry for the robber because he had nothing. So he took off his robe and said to the robber, “take this.” As the robber left with the robe, the monk went out on the veranda and became overwhelmed with the beauty of the moon. “What a pity” he said to himself, “that I could not give the robber this beauty.” That, my grandson, is how to deal with the unforeseen and the unfortunate in the Way of Zen.’ At this point Michio and his grandfather retired to bed.

The next day Michio was eager to find out more about the right way from his grandfather. ‘Is not the right way to learn to learn all there is to know about technique, grandfather?’ asked Michio. ‘No, my grandson,’ Michio’s grandfather replied. ‘Yes, you must learn technique, but technique is just that and not an end in itself. You learn technique up to the point where you do not have to think about it. You learn technique in order to express what is within you that wants to be expressed. Only learn the technique you need and no more. If you learn more technique than you need, then you are allowing technique to be an end in itself.’

‘But is not gaining more technique a way of gaining perfection?’ asked Michio. ‘No,’ replied his grandfather. ‘Perfection is the goal while technique is just a means of achieving it. You must strive for perfection. Not just once, but each and every time you study. When you become conscious of what you are doing then you make mistakes. Your mastering of technique prevents the conscious interference and so allows the creation of perfection. This is why you practice and practice until mind and body are one in the pursuit of perfection.’ At this point Michio’s grandfather indicated he would like some tea before continuing. The tea was brought. He took a sip and then continued. ‘Think back, Michio, when you learned to ride a bicycle. You had to learn to stay upright, hold the handlebars so the front wheel faced the way you wanted to go. Pedal fast enough to remain upright. Look where you were going. All this took conscious effort. This is how it is, and this is how it should be. But then there comes a time when you don’t think about the mechanics of riding a bicycle. You just do it. You do it unconsciously. This too is how it should be. But the moment you once again consciously think about the act of riding your bicycle, you become unsure of yourself, your confidence waivers, you slip off the pedals and wobble. You may even fall off the bicycle. Once you master riding and it becomes unconscious, then allow the unconscious to do its job and do not consciously interfere with the process. That is one of the right ways to study. But one further thought, my grandson,’ said Michio’s grandfather. ‘Practice until it becomes unconscious does not automatically lead to perfection. What you must do is perfect practice.’ Michio’s grandfather then finished his tea. ‘Let us go for a stroll,’ said his grandfather to Michio. ‘It is always better to think when you take in the breath of life.’

As soon as they began their walk, Michio’s grandfather continued with the Way of the Zen student. ‘Mistakes,’ he said, ‘will always be made. But you should try not to make mistakes since this is not perfect practice. But when you do make them, do not get upset or chastise yourself. What you must do is learn from your mistake. Mistakes can contain the seed of true knowledge and understanding. The moment you make a mistake look for this seed.’ At this moment a bird landed on a tree just to their left and began to sing. ‘A song of beauty’ said Michio’s grandfather.

As he said this he caught sight of an ant rolling a ball back to its hill. ‘Look at that ant,’ said Michio’s grandfather, ‘it works hard and steadily to get its ball back to the hill. But its path is not smooth. Like learning, there are long plateaux as if no progress is being made and then periods of rapid development, only to be followed by another plateau.’ He paused as he looked at the ant, and then continued, ‘See, the ant must move in the opposite direction to which it is going as it avoids that large bolder. Learning too is sometimes like that. You must take one step back in order to take two steps forward. You must be vigilant to know when this is necessary. Finally, my grandson, you must not look back and concern yourself with how far you have come; or concern yourself with how far you have yet to go. Both of these distract you from the present moment: and you must live in the present moment. You must take one step at a time in a way that is natural to you. You must not concern yourself of other students on the path. There should be no pride in being ahead of others or annoyance that you are behind. All you need to be concerned about is that you are doing your best and progressing at your natural pace.’

‘I have talked for too long,’ said his grandfather. ‘Let us just walk and take in the beauty of the garden.’

Third Lesson from Master Kim

‘At the heart of the Way of Zen is discipline. Discipline determines how you study, when you study and what you do with what it is you have learnt.’ Master Kim paused after this opening remark so that it could sink in. ‘Yet,’ he said, ‘discipline is not fully understood. Discipline involves doing what has to be done, when it has to be don, to do it as well as you can, and to do it this way every time.’ He paused once again so this too could sink in. He continued, ‘There will be times when you want to do one thing but know you should be doing something else. Most typically there will be times you want to play but a part of you is saying that you should be studying. It is discipline that directs us to comply with our higher nature: to do what should be done. And how do you know when you are complying with your higher nature? You will know because you will feel better for having done what you should have done or not good if you did otherwise. And when do you know when you should do something? It is when you hear yourself saying, “I need to do such and such.” When you hear yourself saying this, then that is the time to do it. Then do the next thing. Pay full attention to each thing you do, and then move on and do the same with the next one. Furthermore, do not do these things half-heartedly. You must do each one perfectly. Finally discipline involves doing this each and every time. Be consistent in your acts of perfection: aim to be perfect every time.’

Michio appreciated up to a point what Master Kim was saying. But he knew he did not have certain abilities to do some things perfectly. He also thought to himself, ‘How can I do something perfectly if I am trying to learn to do it?’ This appeared to Michio to be inconsistent. He decided to discuss this with his grandfather when he could visit home next.

Master Kim then said that the West and the East often have different approaches to goals. ‘And I don’t mean football goals,’ he said with a grin, knowing this was a popular leisure pursuit of the dojo. ‘In the West,’ said Master Kim, ‘they emphasize keeping focused on the goal. In this dojo,’ said Master Kim, ‘we do things differently. We concentrate on the process by which you arrive at the goal. It is the process of following through. By concentrating on the process of following through, you concentrate on the moment: the here and now. If you focused on the goal of learning you are unlikely to be concentrating on what I have just said. If you concentrate on the process, then you will have concentrated on what I just said.’

Master Kim departed at this point and Michio and his fellow students went on to learn and train, concentrating on the moment as they did so. During the next few days Michio noticed that he was better than some fellow students at certain tasks but not as good as others. He knew from his last talk with his grandfather that he should not be concerned with where he was relative to his fellow students, but what concerned Michio was the different limitations h and his fellow students showed. Some of these seemed to Michio to be in-built. Being in-built they prevented perfection, which is what Master Kim demanded. ‘If I was born with a club foot,’ thought Michio, ‘then I could not walk perfectly.’ It was thoughts of this nature that left Michio wondering.

Third meeting with Michio and his grandfather

‘Grandfather,’ said Michio, ‘I am very confused about Master Kim’s instruction that I should do something perfectly every time. If I was born with a club foot then I could not walk perfectly no matter how much I tried.’

‘Let us go out into the garden,’ said Michio’s grandfather without replying. In the garden there was a huge bolder three times wider than it was tall, and it was a stall as Michio. ‘Lift the bolder,’ said Michio’s grandfather to his grandson. Michio did not even attempt it. ‘I can’t possibly lift that grandfather,’ said Michio. ‘Of course not,’ replied his grandfather. ‘We must accept our limitations. Just as you cannot lift that bolder, you cannot remain underwater for two hours. However’ Michio’s grandfather paused obviously to make an impact, ‘you must find these limits, and you must push yourself so that you do not accept lesser limitations. Once you have established these true limitations then you must accept them.’

‘But how do I establish my limits, grandfather,’ said Michio.

‘When you are given a project and you consider it too easy, then do more than you were asked to do. Not to inflate your ego, but rather to find the limit to your understanding. If your teacher gives you something you consider too difficult, try to complete it. You may surprise yourself that you can do it.’ He paused, ‘I remember Yoshi’ he continued, ‘she wanted to sing and practised and practised. But she could not sing because her vocal chords were not designed to provide a beautiful sound. She had a limitation that eventually she had to come to accept. Such knowledge can be most painful and can shatter dreams – as they did for Yoshi. In the Way of Zen you must accept what is. You must not dwell on that which is unattainable. Work around your limitations,’ said Michio’s grandfather. ‘Yoshi, you may be surprised to know, became a famous director of operas. She could not sing, but she could direct. She learnt to work around her limitation once she accepted it.’

‘Is life just finding our limitations?’ asked Michio.

‘No,’ replied his grandfather. ‘In Zen the belief is that we are born with a seed: something we can excel in; something which is in our very nature. Unfortunately, we do not know what this seed is going to become. We do not know whether it will become an acorn or a maple. We must learn to nurture it and when we know what it is, allow it to blossom. If it turns out to be an acorn tree, then let it become an acorn tree. Don’t try to turn it into a maple tree. Make it a beautiful acorn tree and be content with being so. Don’t envy the maple; find contentment in what you are. When you accept what you are and become proficient at what you are, then you will be happy. You will not envy others and will not complain that life has been unfair to you. Happiness comes from knowing who you are, accepting who you are and being who you are to the best of your ability.’

‘Before we go for tea,’ said Michio’s grandfather, ‘I want to make one final point. As you try to perfect what you are, there is no end. The more you learn about what you are, the greater the mystery. The Way of Zen is a never-ending journey. If you think you know all there is to know about your subject, then you have got lost on the way. Now let us go into for tea.’

Fourth lesson from Master Kim

‘In this dojo,’ said Master Kim, ‘there is no instant gratification. No advertising saying all will be revealed in just twenty-four lessons. There is no such thing as losing weight without exercise. To achieve anything of value you must work at it. Just as other people cannot do your exercises for you, so they cannot do your thinking for you. If you expend no effort in learning then you will not learn.’

Master Kim paused, ‘But you must be careful in your expenditure of effort. It is one thing to have an ego, but it is quite another to have an inflated ego. An inflated ego leads to criticising others and seeking attention. It arises from self-doubt and losing sight of why you are learning what you are learning and that learning can only progress at a rate that is natural for you. If you know who you are and what you are, then there is no gain in either an inflated ego or in false modesty.’

Master Kim continued, ‘Some people work hard and certainly put in much effort, but their effort is misdirected. This happens when fame comes from their effort and then the effort is directed at more fame, more riches and even more success. These individuals have lost sight of what they are learning and instead place value on what it brings. But what it will not bring to them is contentment and happiness. There are many examples of this in the world outside this dojo. In this dojo our only concern is in spiritual riches, which will far exceed any material riches.’

‘Nor should effort be half-hearted,’ said Master Kim. ‘You must put all your effort into your studies. And how do you do this? You do it by enjoying all that you do. If you are not enjoying the effort, then you are doing the wrong subject.’ Master Kim surveyed the room and then continued, ‘But,’ he said with emphasis, ‘there is also the problem of trying too hard. In your over-eagerness you can lose your way. A typical example of this is writing too much. They think that the more words they use the better. But this is not so. It is padding that is there to hide their deficiency. A greater number of words should not be equated with greater understanding – if anything the opposite is true. Say what you have to say simply and no more. Don’t try to fill a pint glass with two pints of water.’

Master Kim paused at this point. ‘I have one final comment about effort,’ he said. ‘No matter how much effort you put in, there will always be someone with more talent than you, just as thee will always be some who have less talent. You must learn to accept what is with humility. Seeing true genius should be an inspiration to find your own. That seed that you were born with: in this lies your particular genius.’

Fourth meeting between Michio and his grandfather

‘Grandfather,’ said Michio the next weekend he was home, ‘in trying to learn hard I criticize myself constantly. The teachers do too but not always in the same way.’

‘That is good,’ replied his grandfather, ‘but criticism must be of a suitable kind.’

What do you mean, grandfather?’ asked Michio.

‘There are fundamentally two kinds of criticism. One builds up while the other knocks you down. The criticism that tears you down is the one quick to find fault in what you do. Try to learn to ignore such criticism. It is often given in order to inflate the ego of the person supplying it. No matter how good you are, you cannot please everyone and so you will always encounter criticism. Some criticism arises from a difference of taste. But one is no better than the other. One teacher may criticise you because you do not use enough mathematics; while another because you do not explain your ideas sufficiently in words. A third may criticise you for not relating your ideas to the world around you. These criticisms are purely because of a difference in taste. Recognize them for what they are.’ Michio’s grandfather paused and ordered tea. He loved his tea and needed his refreshment when involved in these long conversations with his grandson.

He continued once his tea was brought and he sipped some. ‘Some criticism arises in hindsight and takes no account of the moment. Criticism in hindsight is easy. But the real issue is whether you would have done the same with the information you had at the time. If the answer is, “yes”, then the criticism is groundless.’

Michio’s grandfather took another sip of tea. ‘Finally,’ he said, ‘some criticism is purely to inflate the ego of the person giving it. This is quite common and you must come to recognize it.’

‘Is there any criticism that I should accept then?’ said Michio. ‘Yes,’ said his grandfather, ‘but it is the criticism that is constructive and builds up. It must extend your knowledge and understanding. It must make you look at a problem from a different perspective. Such criticism you should accept.’

‘What about self-criticism?’ Michio asked.

‘Self-criticism,’ his grandfather replied, ‘is only healthy if it too is to build up rather than to knock down. Learn to be your best critique, and then no one can tell you what you have not already told yourself.’

‘In the Way of Zen,’ continued his grandfather, ‘not only must you be a good critic but you must also be adaptable. Many unforeseen things happen in life for which you cannot plan. Learn to be adaptable and adjust to the circumstances of the moment. A tree that does not allow its branches to adjust to the storm will find them breaking. Learn to adjust and use the forces of the moment rather than resisting them. How you respond to the unexpected reveals your true spirit.’

As Michio heard this he recalled a story very popular in the West about a hobbit, Frodo Baggins, and his friend Sam Gamgee. Small as they were, they had to face up to the forces of evil that was spreading throughout the land. All sorts of unforeseen events befell them, but they adapted to the circumstances. Their spirit and their friendship were strong, and they eventually overcame the evil of Sauron. They were not only content with who they were and what they were, but they knew their limitations. On their journey they were adaptable and used the forces in their favour rather than resisting them. They constantly saw the bottle as half full rather than half empty. They remained focused on their objective – to destroy the master ring in the fires of Mount Doom . They knew they had to be committed to their quest. Frodo, as the ring bearer, had to make the decisions. He knew he had to follow through. That he could not give up halfway through the quest. Sam Gamgee, like Frodo’s conscience and his support, helped Frodo to keep focused.

Michio enjoyed this story very much and now saw it in quite a different light. It was not just an adventure story but also a story that emphasized the importance of the spirit that was constantly referred to in the dojo. That such spirit in such a small person could make a difference. Michio recounted this story to his grandfather, who enjoyed his account very much. ‘You will see from this story,’ said his grandfather that wisdom can be found in many places, and so you must always be on the alert for it.

Fifth meeting with Master Kim

‘There is a movement sweeping the West of making institutions responsible,’ said Master Kim, ‘and it is about responsibility that I want to talk today. The movement I have just referred to is making institutions responsible to higher institutions. But what I want to talk about is responsibility that implies being accountable to yourself and being accountable with regard to the actions you take. You break something and rather than accepting responsibility for such an act a person is quick to blame the manufacturer, some other person for distracting them – in fact anything and everyone but themselves. It is not easy to accept responsibility for what we do, but in this dojo that is what you must do at all times. This is a feature of the Way of Zen.’

Master Kim surveyed the room, and then continued, ‘Not to work as hard as you can, and to do it all times, is not taking responsibility for yourself. You must learn your subject to the best of your ability without thought or design of reward. You must share your knowledge and understanding with humility and freely.’

At this point Michio wondered whether Master Kim meant work for nothing! If this was so he was advocating poverty. This did not appear sensible to Michio. Anyway, he noted that the monks in the dojo where certainly not poverty stricken, so Master Kim could not mean this.

‘By this,’ said Master Kim, as if knowing their thoughts, ‘I mean sharing your knowledge and understanding freely with one another: to see yourself as part of a group and not a student in isolation. There is a biblical saying in the West, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” This means the same as I am saying.’

‘Recall,’ said Master Kim, ‘that in the Way of Zen we all have a seed. That seed is the one thing we will do exceptionally well if we allow it. But this does not mean the whole of the subject. On the contrary, it usually means just one aspect. You may not come to know all physics, but you may find that your aptitude is astrophysics or optimal physics. It may even be narrower still. It may be you have a passion for the planet Jupiter and its rings. It is like the farmer who grows only carrots. But he grows the best carrots. It is what he does best and he enjoys it. He does not feel sad that he cannot grow parsnips and lettuces. He does the one thing and he does it well. This farmer enjoys his life and gets up each morning with joy and purpose. He does not avoid getting up, or having got up waste time wondering what he is going to do this day. His life has meaning and purpose.’

Master Kim paused, and then continued. ‘Don’t take this too far, however. It may mean just to do one thing – to grow just carrots – but for some people that one thing may be much broader. Some people, for example, like relating ideas of different disciplines. This is what they are good at; this is what they enjoy. To them the fascination is the interconnection of subjects. The thing you must learn is what it is that you are made to know; what is your dream that will give your life meaning and purpose.’

‘The man of wealth and riches,’ said Master Kim ‘may not be as happy as the man who bakes the most wonderful loaves, which he does day after day after day. The man of wealth and riches may have lost his way on the path of Zen while the baker is still on the path.’

‘The Way of Zen,’ said Master Kim, ‘involves hard work, practice and practice until you do not have to think about what you do, you simply do it. This involves not just actions but also words. Make decisions before you need them: take actions before you need them so that when the time comes and you have to make such decisions or take such actions you do so without hesitation and a clear understanding of what it is you have decided or what it is you have done.’

Michio was wondering how he could make such decisions or such actions before the event, but Master Kim supplied him the answer. ‘Don’t presuppose that you have to actually make these decisions or take these actions. You visualize doing them in your mind’s eye. You do this until you are comfortable with what you are doing; until you can do it without giving it any thought. And to do this you must make your visualizations as clear and full as you can. Deal with the unexpected so that it does not become so when the time comes.’

‘There is another aspect in the Way of Zen too which involves the mind’s eye,’ said Master Kim. ‘You must learn to use your mind like the lens of a camera: sometimes with a wide-angled focus and other times with a narrow-angled focus. If you have a small problem with your studies, widen your angle of focus. See it in relation to all what you must learn about that subject; see the subject in relation to your whole life’s learning. That way you put your problem into perspective. Conversely, when you are overwhelmed by the enormity of your task, zoom in on a small part. Focus on the one thing and then the next. The bigger picture will then sort itself out. It is just one way of expressing the saying: “take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.” However,’ said Master Kim, ‘you must always be mindful of what you do for only then can you live in the present moment.’ On that note Master Kim left and the students got on with their many practices, always being mindful at each moment what they were doing.

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