John Suler's Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors
A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, "I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it." The teacher's reply was casual, "Ten years." Impatiently, the student answered, "But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?" The teacher thought for a moment, "20 years."
(in other versions of this story, the student says he is eager to attain "enlightenment")
People's reactions to this story:
"The student is too eager. The master is trying to tell him that he needs to learn patience first."
"Sometimes, if you try too hard, you just get in your own way. It makes you anxious, which just blocks understanding. Some things have to develop naturally, by themselves."
"This story makes me think about life. If you want to do something, then just let it happen. Don't push it. the harder you try, the longer it will take."
"You can't rush true leaning. You have to take it one step at a time."
"Reminds me of dieting. If you loose weight slow or by a natural method, it works much better than trying to do it quickly and compulsively."
"Live for the moment. Don't rush things and worry so much about later. Let it flow. I would tell this story to those Type-A personalities who are always pushing in life."
"Usually we are taught that the more effort we put into a task, the greater the reward. Then why is someone like this student, who is showing so much zeal, rebuffed by the master like this?"
"Maybe this means that the harder you work at something, the more there is to learn. The more you want to learn, the more there is to learn."
"You have to LIVE what you are studying."
"The master is trying to tell the student to slow down, experience life, be self-aware. Maybe he is even trying to tell him to not be so preoccupied with the martial arts."
"Get a life, already!"
"Mastery doesn't come just from practice alone."
"The student wanted to study the martial arts for the wrong reasons. He is immature in what he wants and expects. It probably would take him 20 years before he realized this."
"You can't ever master the martial arts."
"I've been in therapy for many years and now I wonder just how long it will take for me to master my problems. I guess it will take time."
"This story reminds me of Aristotle who said that we should search for the mean between the extremes of excess and deficiency."
"The student can't hear the answer the master is giving him because he is asking the wrong question. He anticipates eagerly what will only come naturally."
"Don't just talk it, DO IT!"
"Haste makes waste!"
"I recently had this conversation with a workmate about the distinction between people who sail, and people who drive power boats (!)."
"I know this story doesn't come from our western culture, but it reminds me of us. People always want to get things over with as quick as possible. They want to accomplish everything yesterday!"