Many in today’s society seek for easy answers. We would like to believe that our desires are readily attainable. Many of our pop psychologists and our self-help books reinforce this misguided notion. There is always a by-line asserting that a particular guru can show you the “three easy steps” to enlightenment, weight loss, improved self-esteem or whatever. However the most important learnings, the ones that make a real difference to our lives, just don’t come so easily.
Perhaps I can relate a parable to you that might make this clearer.
One day, a young man came to the hut of the master, Takygulpa Rinpoche. He implored the master to take him as a pupil.
“I am keen to help those who would learn,” said the sage. “Tell me about your instruction so far.”
The young man told of his spiritual education.
“Sir, I have had many tutors.” And he reeled off the names of five or six renowned teachers from their province whom he claimed had instructed him.
“I am not sure I can help,” said the old man. “Do you have a real thirst for knowledge?” he enquired.
“Oh, yes indeed, sir. It is important for me to find enlightenment.”
“Then I am not convinced that you have the right approach.”
“Why ever not, master? I have assiduously sought out the best teachers in our region.”
“Maybe so,” responded Takygulpa Rinpoche. “Perhaps you might understand my reservations if I tell you a story.”
“Well, if you think it would help.”
“I heard of a village once that was facing a great drought. It became imperative for the villagers to dig a well to find water. One young man found a place where he thought water could be accessed and began to dig a well. After he had dug a hole, but a few feet deep, it seemed to him there was another more promising spot nearby. So he shifted his attention to the new location. After a day or two’s work, he again turned to another location that seemed to be promising. After several weeks, he had dug many shallow holes. But did he find water? No, of course not!”
“But another young man spent some time assessing the terrain. Finally, he decided on a spot where he thought he could find water. He spent many months digging a very deep well. Eventually, he found water.”
“Attaining enlightenment is not dissimilar to digging a well and finding water. Dedication to a particular method is necessary. This way, a pupil can cultivate depth in his understanding, just as it is necessary to dig a deep well if finding water is our objective.”
“I cannot take on a pupil unless he is dedicated and prepared to cultivate his learning such that it will have the appropriate depth. Then, and only then, enlightenment might occur.”
And there is much wisdom in what the old sage had to say.
It is strange that when it comes to training the mind we forget the lessons we learn in other areas of our life. If I wanted to become a long-distance runner and I trained hard for a week, would I be likely to make the grade? Of course not. If I wanted to become a doctor and I studied a single medical text for some months there would be little likelihood I could pass the required medical exams. If I craved for a career as a concert pianist and I had three or four piano lessons what chance that I could then play a Mozart piano concerto? None whatsoever!
You might remonstrate with me that many who seek to dig the well even though they persist don’t find water. You might argue that occasionally someone will find an aquifer close to the surface. They attain their water with relatively little effort. All this might well be true but history would indicate that those sages we admire most and seem to have come to the best understanding of the true nature of reality did not come by their understanding easily. Most of us seeking wisdom must first learn to think differently. We have to learn a new habit if we are to displace our old erroneous habits. That is no easy task.