A rather brash young student heard that there was a very wise Zen master in the region and went to seek him out. He located the master in a mountain temple and turned up there one day asking for council. The young man was shown into the garden by one of the monks, where the master sat in peaceful contemplation. “I am very ambitious and I want you to tell me how I can fulfil my dreams of a successful life”, said the young man. Without looking at him, the master replied, “may your dreams not come true.” The young man became angry, “what do you mean, what kind of answer is that? I came here asking for your guidance, and that is all you can say to me; it seems that you are just an old fool.” Still angry, the young man turned and left.
Years passed and the brash young student became a brilliant architect; well respected in his field. He’d never forgotten his visit to the temple and what the master had said to him; in fact, it had played on his mind all through his studies and working life. It got to the point where he couldn’t stand it anymore and he decided to take a trip back to the region, seek out the master, and tell him exactly what he thought of him. He made the journey to the temple and demanded to see the master, who by now was quite old. He was shown once again into the garden where the master sat in peaceful contemplation. The man launched into his speech, “I came to see you many years ago to ask your guidance on my future, but you said, “may your dreams not come true.” I went away and studied and now I am a successful and well respected architect. Had I listened to you I would have achieved nothing, what do you think of that?”
The master looked at the man, smiled and said, “yes, I remember you. So, you are now an architect are you? Successful and well respected you say? It seems that the only thing you are the architect of is your own bitterness.” In that moment, the man suddenly realised what the master had meant all those years ago, and bowing his head in gracious humility, he apologised for his rudeness and left.
This story, at first glance, doesn’t appear to make any sense; why would anyone not follow their dreams? Did the man not become very successful in his chosen profession? However, the beauty of such stories is that they are very profound, and the reader has to dig much deeper in order to find the truth contained within them. When we focus on outer goals, while at the same time neglecting the inner, we are only strengthening the ego. The man in the story illustrates this by having held on to his bitterness for so many years. The soul, however, contains unlimited possibilities, so by focusing our attention on one worldly goal we are blocking those possibilities.
When we focus on the inner, we are allowing life to open up to us in countless ways. Had the man in the story not been so headstrong, he could have been a successful and well respected architect whilst at the same time enjoying all the unlimited opportunities that life offered. Instead, his success (which was only relative) came at a price; the bitterness that poisoned his soul, until the penny finally dropped and he understood the master’s teaching.