A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.

– Dhwani Shah

A Borrowed Light

There is a very famous zen story about a disciple who had come to see his master. The master lives on a hilltop in a dense forest. It is evening, the sun is setting, and the disciple thinks many times to leave the master and go back because he has to pass through miles of forest and hilly track and then he will be able to reach to his village.

But the presence of the master is so enchanting that he cannot gather courage to leave him, so he lingers on and on. And then it is almost midnight, and the master says, ‘Now it is time – you should go.’ He looks outside – it is dark, there is no moon, and he becomes apprehensive. To pass through the woods on such a dark night is dangerous.

Seeing that the disciple is apprehensive, the master asks, ‘What is the problem? Why are you afraid?’ The disciple says, ‘Master, it is so dark outside and there is no moon in the sky even. I feel afraid.’ So the master takes a candle, lights it and gives it to him, and says, ‘You can take this candle with you.’

When the disciple is getting ready and going out of the door, the master blows the candle out. Suddenly there is darkness, darker than before, and silence.

The disciple says, ‘Master I don’t understand.’ And the master says, ‘There is no need to understand. Be a light unto yourself. My light is not going to help you. A borrowed light is not going to help you. You will have to find your own light. The night is dark, life is dark and there is danger and risk on every step. But you will have to find your own light.’

And the story says that suddenly something dawned on the disciple – his first satori. The disciple said, ‘Master, now I don’t understand at all. First it was possible for me to make some effort to understand, but now I don’t understand at all!’

The master laughs, and in the dark night the laughter spreads all over the hilly track and the master says, ‘Now there is absolutely no need. I see that you see that something has happened. I understand what has happened, but I cannot say it to you. I know you cannot understand it but when it happens next time, by and by it will become familiar, and you will start understanding it.’

But remember, when you start understanding it, it is a dead thing; then throw it away – it is knowledge. When you understand a thing, it becomes knowledge. When you don’t understand, it remains learning; there is an opening.

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.

Brad Henry
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