A Zen Master was walking in silence with one of his disciples along a mountain trail. The disciple, a young monk, had been thinking a lot about the state of Zen, and wondering just how to achieve this state of being. After hiking through the mountains for some time, the two stopped for a break and rested in silence along side a large boulder. The disciple broke the silence and asked, ”Master, how do I enter Zen?” The Master remained silent. After several minutes, the disciple began to feel uncomfortable, wondering if his Master would ever reveal the secret. Just as he was about to ask another question, the Zen Master spoke. “Do you hear the sound of the mountain stream?”
The disciple has not been aware of any mountain stream. He had been too busy thinking about Zen and how to achieve such a state. Now, as he began to listen for the sound, his noisy thoughts subsided. At first he heard nothing. Then, his thinking gave way to a heightened alertness, and suddenly he did hear the hardly perceptible murmur of a small stream in the far distance.
“Yes, I can hear it now,” he said.
The Master raised his finger, and with a sage-like look in his eyes that was both fierce and gentle, he said, “Enter Zen from there.”
The disciple was stunned. It was his first satori – a flash of enlightenment. He knew what Zen was without knowing what it was that he knew!
They continued on their journey in silence. The disciple was amazed as the aliveness of the world around him. He experienced everything for the first time. Gradually, however, he started thinking again. The alert stillness became covered up again by mental noise, and before long he had another question. “Master,” he said, “I have been thinking. What would you have said if I hadn’t been able to hear the mountain stream?” The Master stopped, looked at him, raised his finger and said, “Enter Zen from there.”