The Journey

Tung Jin, the aging Taoist Master of a rural temple in the hills outside of Nanning, was beginning to feel the weight of the many years that had passed since his birth. Although his spirit was still strong, the day to day tasks in seeing to temple business and instructing his students were becoming more difficult and tiring. He contemplated appointing a new Master and retiring to finish his journey on the path in peace and solitude. His greatest student, Tzu Jian, was an accomplished disciple and could easily tend to the affairs of the temple. However, to be a Master of the Tao and teach others the way, he needed to learn patience and how to independently discern his own path to enlightenment.

One fall afternoon, he called his student to the temple garden to share tea with him. He talked with Tzu Jian about his desire to retire and what he would need to learn in order to be appointed as the spiritual leader of the temple and a Taoist Master. “My faithful student, I have poured into you all that I know of the Tao, and yet I have failed to teach you the patience and independence to seek your own path or show others how to find theirs. When I retire, my guidance will no longer be here to follow and you must find your own correctness of action through meditation and reflection”, he said. “I want you to travel to a temple in Schezuan province and seek out Master Hiogi. He is a learned practitioner and will be able to teach you these last few skills you will need to take my place.” He gave Tzu Jian a map and directions to find the temple he sought, and the next day the student set out on his journey.

After a week of travelling by foot, closely following the directions he was given, Tzu Jian came to a large river. It was swollen beyond its banks with the dangerous rapids, as fall brings with it the rains of the monsoons. He asked of an elder in the nearby village if there was a safe crossing to be found in either direction along the river’s edge. But he was told that the river was impassable for one hundred miles in both directions. As is customary, he was offered food and shelter from the villagers as he waited for the river to recede and continue his journey. He was anxious to get to Master Hiogi but, as many weeks passed, he busied himself by helping with the harvest, teaching the villagers, and meditation.

Finally, as the chill of winter winds swept the valley, the river had slowed and he was able to cross the river and continue his travels. Two more weeks passed until he entered the village where Master Hiogi lived. Greeted by one of the servants at the door to the Master’s home, he was disheartened to learn that Master Hiogi had travelled to Beijing to meet with the Emperor on vital business. “When will he return?” he asked of the servant. The servant did not know, but offered that Tzu Jian stay with them in the Master’s home until he arrived. Again, Tzu Jian busied himself my ministering to the villagers and sought guidance through meditation and reflection. After a month had passed, word came to the village that Master Hiogi had died on his way home. Tzu Jian was saddened at the passing of such a venerated man, but also at the idea that he could no longer receive the teachings deemed so vital for his selection as Master Tung Jin’s replacement.

As he accepted that these events were beyond his control, he decided to return to his own temple and tell Master Tung Jin what had transpired. As he prepared for his journey, he was concerned about returning the way he came. The melting snow from the mountains would thaw with the approach of spring. He would again not be able to pass the river and would have to wait for the waters to recede. He spoke with an elder in the village and was told of a route through the mountains where the river was still a small stream. He would be able to cross easily, but the journey would be much harder, much longer, and with fewer villages along the way. He decided that he would take the mountain road and face the challenges it offered.

After nearly two months of travelling, often hungry and cold in the great distances between villages, he arrived at the temple. He found Master Tung Jin in the garden basking in the warmth of a beautiful spring day. The Master called for tea to be served and welcomed his honorable student home eager to hear about his long journey and what he had learned from Master Hiogi. Tzu Jian recalled his journey in great detail. He spoke of the village in which he waited for the river to calm. He shared the news of waiting for Master Hiogi’s return and the sad news of his passing. He shared the conversation he had with the village elder and his decision to return through the mountains. He spoke of the difficulties he had incurred by making that choice.

He finished his story, with tears in his eyes, saying, “Master I have not learned the lessons from Master Hiogi that you sent me for. I understand you must now choose someone else to take your place. I am sorry I have failed you.” The Master smiled and spoke softly to his trusted disciple, “You will be the Master of this temple starting today.” Tzu Jian looked at him with great dismay. If these lessons were so important and he had not had the chance to learn them from Master Hiogi, how could he now be a suitable replacement? Master Tung Jin recognized his student’s confusion and continued saying, ”You have now learned more than I sent you to learn. Your waiting at the river and in the home of Master Hiogi has taught you patience. Your decision to return through the mountains, although greater hardships would beset you, has taught you to seek your own path. But most importantly, you have learned that learning is not in the destination, but in the journey.”

© 2012  Commonsensibly Speaking ~ Brad Osborne

One Response to “The Journey”
  1. Great post and sharing of knowledge as usual! Also felt deeply since it was posted on my birthday 😉 Thank you for that inadvertent plus!

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