A sincere, but otherwise inexperienced rookie Seeker of Truth heard of a
great guru who resided on a faraway mountain top in a distant foreign land.
Feeling a need to begin his Great Journey with a great journey the rookie
travelled many, many long miles and weeks to glean insight from this
world-renowned Holy One.
After long and difficult travels which culminated with an arduous climb
to the top of the craggy peak, our rookie at last arrived at the mountain
top. The guru was sitting quietly meditating. The rookie, already having been
warned not to disturb a meditating guru, waited patiently several yards
It was a long wait. Three days later the guru opened one eye and asked:
"What is your question?"
The rookie was so surprised that all he could blurt out was: "I want to
know the meaning of life."
A half hour later the guru replied: "Ah, so you want to know the
meaning of life?"
"Yes, sir," the rookie replied quickly.
The guru closed both of his eyes and meditated for another hour.
"Why?" the guru eventually replied without opening an eye.
At a loss for an answer which would be suitable for this venerable holy
man, the rookie mumbled something about finally realizing that he needed to
seek the age-old Truths so that his life could have a sense of Higher
The guru meditated another half hour and suddenly opened both eyes. A merry
twinkle danced around the edge of his eyes. "Do you always bring the
Buddha along when you go seeking the Buddha?" he asked.
The rookie pondered this for a bit, knowing there was a lesson here
somewhere, but gave up and asked: "I came here alone, and have not yet
seen anyone even vaguely resembling a Buddha. Could you please explain?"
A smile crept at the edge of the guru's mouth "Is the butterfly lost
when feeding from the flower?"
The rookie decided to imitate the guru and pause before saying anything,
and after much thinking the rookie eventually realized the guru was probably
trying to make a point. But unfortunately due to his inexperience, the
rookie was unable to figure out what that point might be. Thus,
the rookie asked:
"Venerable sir, I do not comprehend what it is you are getting at.
Can you put it in terms which I could understand?"
"Did you climb to the top of this mountain all by yourself?" the guru
"Yes, sir," the rookie replied.
The guru snorted. "Then what is it that you do not understand?" Whereupon
he closed his eyes and began meditating again.
The rookie sat quietly trying to figure out an answer but the best he was
able to murmur was: "The meaning of life, sir."
Two hours later the guru opened eyes again. The rookie had not moved.
"So," the guru said, "do I have to *show* you the meaning of life?"
"I would be most grateful, sir," the rookie said.
"Very well," the guru continued. "Do you see the pebble on the ground
next to your foot?"
"Yes, sir, I see it."
"Then pick it up," the guru commanded. The rookie did as he was told,
and held the pebble in his hand.
"Fine," said the guru. "Now cast the pebble over the cliff." Once again
the rookie did as he was told and threw the pebble over the edge of the
mountain top into the valley. Whereupon the guru began meditating again.
Another hour later the guru opened his eyes. "Well?" the guru asked.
The rookie just gave the guru a blank stare.
The guru squinted his eyes. "Let me see if I understand this. You have
just been shown the meaning of life, and all you can do is stand there and
stare like a dumb cow. Is this correct?"
"The pebble was the meaning of life?" the rookie asked.
The guru rolled his eyes to the heavens. "What happened to the pebble?"
"I threw it over the cliff."
"And what happened to the pebble next?"
"It dropped to the valley."
"How do you know? Did you watch it drop?"
"Did you hear it drop?"
"So how do you know what happened to it?"
"If you put it that way, then I don't," the rookie replied. "I just assumed
it went over."
"Do you assume the meaning of life?"
"How would one assume the meaning of life?" the rookie said.
"That's the question I'm asking you," the guru replied.
"I don't know what that means."
"Correct," said the guru crisply. "Now, back to the first question. What happened to
"I don't know."
"Correct, again," said the guru. "Now what about the meaning of life?"
"I don't know what the meaning of life is."
"Well done," said the guru.
He then closed his eyes and began chanting a mantra. Several hours later
the guru reopened his eyes and sighed. "You're new at this, aren't you," he
"Yessir, I am," came the reply.
"Then let me start with a simple question which perhaps you might have heard
about," the guru said. "Is the glass of water half empty or half full?"
The rookie's eyes brightened immediately, for he had, in fact, heard this
question before. "I know the answer to that question, Sir. An optimist says
the glass is half full, and a pessimist says the glass is half empty."
"Wrong," replied the guru with a patient smile.
"Wrong?" asked the rookie. "But the glass has to be either half full or half
empty. It's one or the other, isn't it?"
"It's neither," the guru said. "You empty the glass."
"Empty the glass?"
"Yes," said the guru. "The glass first must be empty. Then it is full."
"But that's a contradiction," said the rookie.
"Only when your mind is half full or half empty," the guru said. With
that the guru closed his eyes and began meditating again.
Early the next morning the guru opened his eyes and saw the rookie huddled
and shivering against a large stone. "Why did you not return to the valley
last night?" the guru asked.
"I still seek the meaning of life," the rookie mumbled through chattering
"And you expect to hear that from me?"
"But everyone says you are the wisest guru in the world, Sir. Surely you can
explain the meaning of life," the rookie replied.
"Look down in the valley. What do you see?" the guru asked.
"Fog," the rookie replied.
"Can you see the valley?"
"Can you describe the valley to me?"
"Because the fog obscures it," the rookie said.
"Ah," said the guru. "You are getting closer."
"I am?" asked the rookie.
"Yes," said the guru. "Words are like fog. They obscure reality and meaning.
Words are the fog you have to see through."
"I don't understand," said the rookie.
"Listen carefully," said the guru. "Words are an imaginary reality unto
themselves. As soon as you use words to describe a thing you have lost the
reality of the thing. Words obscure essence. Even if I were to tell you the
meaning of life, because I used words I would be misleading you because that
is the nature of words. Essence and meaning you must discover for yourself.
Meaning is experience. Essence is. Words delude."
The guru leaned toward the rookie and said sternly: "Have you been
listening to this carefully?"
"Good," said the guru. "Now forget everything I just said and you'll be
closer to The Truth you seek."
The rookie shook his head in bewilderment. "I don't understand."
"Excellent," said the guru. "At last you are making some progress." The guru closed his
eyes and began meditating again.
Several hours later the guru opened his eyes again, and said: "You're
"Yes, Sir," the rookie replied.
The guru paused, gazing at a distant mountain peak. "All right. Since you
have made the effort to climb this mountain and since you seem sincere in your
inquiry, I will ask you the question you likely intended in the first
"What question is that, sir?"
The guru cleared his throat and said: "What is the solution which accounts
for every situation?"
The rookie paused in thought for a great length of time, but eventually
all he could say was: "It's a wonderful question and certainly encompasses
that which I seek to learn, but I do not know the answer."
"As the situation arises," the guru replied evenly.
"Now I am thoroughly confused," the rookie said, "And you're probably
going to meditate again for a few hours."
"Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. I haven't got that far yet. It has
been many years since I was in the valley," the guru said.
"Is that also part of the meaning of life, Holy One?" the rookie asked.
"No, I just wanted to know if civilization still uses light bulbs," the
"Yes, sir, light bulbs are still used." the rookie said.
"And do those bulbs still have to be plugged in to work?" the guru
"Yes, sir," the rookie replied.
"Then observe the world around you. It reflects back to you the lessons you
need to learn. Think of yourself as a light bulb. Figure out a way to get plugged in."
With that the guru sighed again, closed his eyes, and began a new meditation.
Realizing that it was getting late and that his conversation with the
guru had likely ended the rookie, hungry and hoping to be on his way,
got up and quietly thanked the guru for his time.
But after a long pause the guru finally spoke again, rebuffing the rookie:
"Time is an illusion and does not exist. So how could you possibly thank
me for something which does not exist?"
Still trying to be polite the rookie then thought perhaps the appropriate
thing to do would be to thank the guru instead for his consideration,
but after another long pause, the guru tartly replied: "Do you thank the
mirror for its reflection of yourself?"
Finally the rookie made one final effort, this time a simple
"Thank You" with nothing else attached. After all, living in a continual
state of gratitude is a very spiritual approach to life, the rookie
remembers someone having once said. He was pleased with himself for
finally catching on to part of what the guru was trying to teach.
Yet the guru paused again. (Remember that gurus on mountain-tops have
very little else to do but pause.) Whereupon the guru snookered the rookie
"Do the fish thank the water they swim in?"
"No, they don't," the rookie answered.
"Do the birds thank the air they fly in?"
"No, they don't," the rookie replied again.
"Of course not," the guru said abruptly. "The fish are one with the
water. The birds are one with the air. They do what it is they do. So, too,
if you are one with your Inquiry, you do what it is that you do and not
something else." The guru then yawned. "That is all. You may go now."
The rookie took his cue and scrambled back down the side of the
mountain before darkness fell or the guru came up with anything else to say.
Just when the rookie figured he was far enough away to relax, he heard the
final comment from the guru echoing through the valley: