In the past, there was a prodigy; he believed he was brilliant and very knowledgeable. One day, he heard that there was a wise Zen Master who lived on Nanshan Mountain, so he decided to go to the Zen Master, to see what wisdom he had, and to know whether the master was more intelligent than him.

On the way, the prodigy was thinking of what question he should ask. At that moment, he saw a cow with a rope around its neck, with the other end of the rope tied to a nearby tree. The cow was anxious to get relief, so it circled the tree, wrapping the rope tighter and tighter around the tree, until its nose almost touched the tree, unable to go any further. So, the cow started to walk back, and as the rope gradually unwound, it loosened again. But it kept turning, so the rope was then wrapped around the tree in the other direction. It continued to turn around the tree, loosening and tightening the rope, again and again, unable to ever feel free of it. The prodigy saw this and thought that this would be a good riddle to give to the master.

The prodigy met with the Zen Master, and asked, “A cow circles a tree over and over again, clockwise then counterclockwise, and then repeats it. Why does it do this?”

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The Master replied, “It is because the rope is not broken.”

The prodigy was shocked and asked the master how he knew that the cow had been tied to the tree when he had never mentioned it.

The Zen Master smiled and said, “I do not know, but anything that circles an object must be tied down by a “rope,” like fame or fortune. The consequence of being tied down like this is inevitable; it applies to both man and cattle. The obsession causes the binding; the deeper the obsession, the stronger one pulls, and longer one continues to circle. If this trend continues, a cow will become a mad cow, and a man will become a mad man.”

The prodigy quickly asked the master for a solution. He replied, “Quiet down your heart, do good things, and make yourself pure and spotless. Moreover, when you enter a state of absolute nothingness, you will be able to let go. Nothing can bind you; you will gain total freedom as a result.” The prodigy then finally realized that the Zen Master was truly a wise man.

He asked about the riddle and how the Zen Master had answered, and he said, “All answers are correct if you think about it the right way. Enlightenment does not depend on what you see, but on the essence of the lesson it teaches you.”

A sage man can elevate his energy and spirit through understanding the nature, or the essence, of the phenomenon.