A monk was walking up a mountain when he met a peasant who was also on the same path. To kill the time, they started talking. The monk told the peasant that purpose of his trip was to find truth. The teacher of the monk had told that he would find the truth at the mountain top. The peasant said it was his daily routine to go up that trail and gather firewood.
As they were talking, the monk started teaching the peasant about the philosophy. The peasant was listening. But every once in a while he would pick up a dried wood stick and add it to the bundle on his shoulder. The monk was slightly irritated that peasant was not paying 100% attention to the valuable knowledge he was sharing. But he kept quiet.
When they reached the mountaintop, the monk asked the peasant “So do you understand what I taught you so far?”
The peasant nodded.
“What did you understand?”
The peasant lifted the bundle of firewood on his shoulder and threw it down. The string tying the bundle broke loose and the firewood scattered everywhere.
At that moment,the monk found his truth and he was enlightened.
Explaining a Zen story is like explaining a joke Best is one thinks about it himself/herself. But still let me give it a shot.
Basically what the peasant says is “Let go (of your desires, plans, actions, strategies).”
This is one of the Jataka story and the peasant is Bodhisattva in his previous reincarnation.
We all accoustomed to material world find this perplexing. If you fulfill your desires, then you get pleasure. So why should one let go of them? The point is fulfilling a desire conditions our mind to desire more.
Another way to look at it is like this. If you are unhappy because you don’t have something, then according to Zen, you are unhappy not because you don’t have something, but because you have something. Unhappiness is not because of lack of that thing, but it is because of existence of desire of that thing.
When you “externalize” desire like this, and see that it is like an extra tumor developed on your otherwise perfect mind, it is easier to understand how letting go helps.
“But letting go means accepting you are not capable of it. It’s like behaving a loser.”
Is Zen the way of a loser? No. It is the way of those who know that they have already won.