In ancient China, on top of Mount Ping stood a temple where the enlightened one, Hwan, dwelled. Of his many disciples, only one is known to us, Lao-li. For more than 20 years, Lao-li studied and meditated under the great master, Hwan. Although Lao-li was one of the brightest and most determined of disciples, he had yet to reach enlightenment. The wisdom of life was not his.
Lao-li struggled with his lot for days, nights, months, even years until one morning, the sight of a falling cherry blossom spoke to hisheart. “I can no longer fight my destiny,” he reflected. “Like the cherry blossom, I must gracefully resign myself to my lot.” From that moment forth, Lao-Li determined to retreat down the mountain, giving up his hope of enlightenment.
Lao-li searched for Hwan to tell him of his decision. The master sat before a white wall, deep in meditation. Reverently, Lao-li approached him. “Enlightened one,” he said. But before he could continue, the master spoke, “Tomorrow I will join you on your journey down the mountain.” No more needed to be said. The great master understood.
The next morning, before their descent, the master looked out into the vastness surrounding the mountain peak. “Tell me, Lao-li,” hesaid, “what do you see?” “Master, I see the sun beginning to wake just below the horizon, meandering hills and mountains that go on for miles, and couched in the valley below, a lake and an old town.” The master listened to Lao-li’s response. He smiled, and then they took the first steps of their long descent.
Hour after hour, as the sun crossed the sky, they pursued their journey, stopping only once as they approached the foot of the mountain. Again Hwan asked Lao-li to tell him what he saw. “Great wise one, in the distance I see roosters as they run around barns,cows asleep in sprouting meadows, old ones basking in the late afternoon sun, and children romping by a brook.” The master,remaining silent, continued to walk until they reached the gate to the town. There the master gestured to Lao-li, and together they sat under an old tree. “What did you learn today, Lao-li?” asked the master. “Perhaps this is the last wisdom I will impart to you.” Silence was Lao-li’s response.
At last, after long silence, the master continued. “The road to enlightenment is like the journey down the mountain. It comes only to those who realize that what one sees at the top of the mountain is not what one sees at the bottom. Without this wisdom, we close our minds to all that we cannot view from our position and so limit our capacity to grow and improve. But with this wisdom, Lao-li, there comes an awakening. We recognize that alone one sees only so much—which, in truth, is not much at all. This is the wisdom that opens our minds to improvement, knocks down prejudices, and teaches us to respect what at first we cannot view. Never forget this last lesson, Lao-li: what you cannot see can be seen from a different part of the mountain.”
When the master stopped speaking, Lao-li looked out to the horizon, and as the sun set before him, it seemed to rise in his heart. Lao-li turned to the master, but the great one was gone. So the old Chinese tale ends. But it has been said that Lao-li returned to the mountain to live out his life. He became a great enlightened one.
Many times how you answer the question, “What do you see?” will tell you what kind of leader you are.