In the practice of Zen a disciple is one who follows the teachings or doctrines of a person whom he or she considers to be a master or authority.
“Tozan, a famous Zen master, said, "The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud. The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain. All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other. The white cloud is always the white cloud. The blue mountain is always the blue mountain." This is a pure, clear interpretation of life. There may be many things like the white cloud and Blue Mountain: man and woman, teacher and disciple. They depend on each other. But the white cloud should not be bothered by the blue mountain. The blue mountain should not be bothered by the white cloud. They are quite independent, but yet dependent. This is how we live, and how we practice zazen.”
From, “ZEN MIND, BEGINNER'S MIND” by SHUNRYU SUZUKI
I have asked myself what qualities a disciple should try to adopt in Zen and have not found any better advice than Mr. William Howard Stein’s advice to his own students. When the Nobel Prize winning biochemist was asked what his advice to aspiring students would be, he replied:
“Keep high aspirations, moderate expectations, and small needs.”
I must observe that people have a tendency to project onto a spiritual teacher all their own fantasies and expectations; this often leads to great disappointment. To maintain the relationship of the blue mountain to the white cloud requires a certain natural balance that can be easily disturbed.
When I asked my teacher if I had accomplished anything this year, he said stop trying to accomplish something. So I gave up having goals in my practice and expanded my striving to objectives instead. Objectives are more general in nature than goals and very hard to measure. Objectives have no real time frame and are very hard to miss. He told to give up my expectations of Zen but to keep my aspirations. I had to ask myself what I was in fact aspiring to. What I decided during this week end was that I was aspiring to find the truth. I am not sure I even know what it means “To aspire to find the truth”, but it’s what I found in the bottom of barrel, so for now I am stuck with it.
I still have an expectation that to practice will somehow make me able to achieve spiritual progress. An expectation that there can be for me a thing called spiritual progress. That practice over time will remove obstacles in my path to that progress. I realize holding onto expectations is often simply asking for disappointments, but I can live with a few disappointments. And of all my delusions these I admit to and will hold onto for a bit.
“This is the substance of Zen. Just action! You will not learn the Zen spirit from a myriad of words, long discourses. Just do it. Just sit in meditation and then just act—all of your actions contain the Zen spirit. Zen is not just sitting in meditation or talking. It is also making and drinking tea; it is cleaning and dusting and making it immaculate by washing the toilet and mopping the floors; it is making items out of wood in carpentry; it is raking leaves; it is hauling water for a garden or pruning the young plants and leaves; it is looking at the sky and standing in the rain. Each of your movements will come to reflect the spirit of Zen within your life. Your manner will reflect the depth of the Zen spirit of Enlightenment that has come to be unraveled through your work and meditation. It will be seen in the quietness of your voice and in the calm of your brow; it will be seen in the surety of your steps and in the strength of your sitting.”
We, shall see.