A zen student who has been studying zen for long time, goes to a master in far away village for more instruction. The master refuses to let the student in his hut. But the student just sits outside in meditation. He continues to serve the master and bring fruits and water to him.
One day the master comes out and asks the student. “Why are you doing all this work?”
“I want to get instruction from you” replies the student.
“What will you do with more instruction?”
“I want to attain enlightenment.”
“Stop trying to get instruction to attain enlightenment. No one has ever been enlightened.” quips the master.
And at that moment the student gets enlightened.
On face this looks like a dialogue that borders nonsense. But that’s the thing about zen stories. There is always an outright nonsensical component. If you keep focusing on that, you never get the story.
What you need to do is neither think about it, not toss it with ridicule. You need to just let the story be with you. Develop an intimacy with it.
Then one day it hits you.
This is how the story above hit me.
We live in the world of thoughts and emotions and habits, and most importantly, the owner of all of these, a mental structure called ego. Often the passion we use to carry out the worldly pursuits is brought over to carry out the spiritual pursuits as well. The ego wants one more feather in its cap, or one more armor to protect itself against the insecurities.
However all these are mind games and enlightenment is end of these mind games. Just like a ball of butter does not remain a ball of butter when brought close to the fire, an ego, or an identity does not remain an identity when it meets the state of enlightenment. When you are enlightened, you are no one.
This is what the master meant when he said “no one has ever been enlightenment.”