A young but earnest Zen student approached his teacher, and asked the Zen Master:
“If I work very hard and diligent how long will it take for me to find Zen.”
The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.”
The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast – How long then ?”
Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.”
“But, if I really, really work at it. How long then ?” asked the student.
“Thirty years,” replied the Master.
“But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?”
Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”
Source: As quoted in Saskia Shakin
More Than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers
Ovation Publishers (November 2008)
Here’s a shorter version of the same story
Student: How long will it take me to learn enlightenment?
Master: Five years.
Student: What if I try real hard?
Master: Ten years.
Source: Melannie Svoboda
In Steadfast Love: Letters on the Spiritual Life
(Twenty-Third Publications, 2007) page 66
It is not about working harder, but rather about stepping back and gentle focus. Stop trying so hard and instead allow things to happen unto you.
When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle, he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold, he goes blind or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him.
He cares. He thinks more of winning than of shooting—
And the need to win drains him of power.
(Chuang Tzu : 19:4, p. 158)