The master didn’t attend any church — not because of any adverse feelings — but just because he didn’t feel the need or desire to go. He would sometimes visit to see old friends but that was it. The ceremony was unimportant to him.
The master had a new disciple who was a regular churchgoer. He began to skip church when he saw that the master didn’t bother to attend. Pretty soon he began to feel pretty bad and guilty about it.
When the master learned about this, he said to the disciple, “Of what use is it to copy my actions without my motivation? If you simply stop going to church in imitation of me, that doesn’t do you any good. The monkey who strums a guitar doesn’t become a musician.”
The master passed by a preacher who said, “We should not be concerned with the world but with God.”
The master remarked to his disciple, “Wouldn’t it be better to see God in the world?”
“What do you mean?” said the disciple.
“The preacher creates a dividing line between ‘the world’ and God — implying that there are ‘godly’ concerns and ‘worldly’ concerns. But that line is an illusion and is the cause of much strife. Witness the wife who complains that her husband spends too much time at church, or the family that is neglected in the name of God.
That is why I say it is better to see God in the world. See God in your neighbor. See God in your wife and family. See God in your work, in your every action and in every person you meet. That way, everything you do will be a godly concern,” concluded the master.
The master had a disciple who diligently took notes on what he said.
At night, he would study these notes, organize them and discuss the teachings with other disciples. He would often argue and debate on the meaning of ambiguous statements. He would ask the master to clarify certain thoughts, which the master sometimes did, but he often mentioned something else that would make the disciple more confused. But the disciple was persistent and would not stop until he was satisfied with an answer. Then he would write his own notes to synthesize what he had learned. He would then go to the other people and begin teaching them based on his writings.
This went on for a few years and the disciples notes had spanned several booklets. One morning, the disciple woke up and found his notes gone. He searched and searched but could not find his beloved notes. The master saw him in this agitated state and asked, “What’s the matter?”
The disciple replied, “My notes! Someone took my notes. All your precious teachings were there. I recorded them and preserved them so I would not forget them. And now they’re gone.”
“Oh,” said the master, “I took them.”
“What? What did you do with them?” said the disciple.
“It was cold last night and we had run out of wood. I needed fuel for the fire,” said the master.
“But…but…” sputtered the disciple.
“You think you have lost your life’s work and meaning. But no. In truth, I threw away your notes because they were consuming you. You think they help you understand, but in truth, they were hindering you from moving forward. When you listen to my words, don’t seize on them and make teachings out of them. My words merely hint at a truth that is inexpressible. Seek out that truth,” said the master.
“Have you attained holiness?” asked the newcomer to the master.
“Why do you ask?” replied the master.
“I have to know if I should follow you or not,” said the newcomer.
“So what if I am holy? So what if I am not? A sinner can very well tell the truth, while a saint can also lead you to error. Listen to the message. Don’t be a slave to the messenger. The day you begin following me or anyone else, you cease to follow Truth,” said the master.
“People rarely see reality,” said the master. “What they often see as reality is only the reality in their minds. Even though they claim to be objective, they are in fact very subjective.”
“Explain further,” said the disciples, who had formed a small circle around the master.
The master gathered 4 twigs and formed a letter “M” on the ground. “Tell me what you see,” said the master.
One said, “I see an ‘M’.”
Another said, “I see 2 mountains.”
A disciple positioned sideways said, “I see ‘3’.”
Another in front of the master said, “I see a ‘W’.”
And still another said, “I see the letter ‘E’.”
The master raised his hand and said, “See? You all saw reality according to how your mind perceived it. You interpreted it according to the symbols and preconceptions you have. In reality, there are only 4 twigs on the ground, nothing more.”