One Is More

By Dhammacaro
People like to judge a temple, or meditation centre by the number of students, or followers it has. On the basis of this, people comment: “This is a good temple, or meditation centre”. In fact, such places cannot be judged by the number of people who go there. It depends, instead, on the quality of learning and practice. This has associations with a Zen story, which illustrates the point well. Here is the story:

There was a man who was interested in religion. He became a Buddhist monk when he was young and until now had been learning and practising Dhamma. He lived in a hut on the mountain. He always ate fruit and drank water from the river that ran beside his hut. He had lived there since he was young until now that he was old.

One day a woodcutter came and discovered the old monk’s hut and met the old monk. He asked him with surprise, “Wow, how long have you been living here?” The old monk said, “I have been living here for 40 years or so.” He asked another question: “What do you do here?” The old monk answered, “I am learning and practising meditation here.” He asked yet another question, “Are you the only one monk here?” The old monk replied, “One is regarded as enough. Why are more people needed here? In the deep jungle like this, the mountain, the river, the trees, flowers, animals and so on are all my friends.” The woodcutter was deeply moved by the words of the old monk, and from then on he always visited him and studied the Dhamma under him.

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It is true that one is enough when learning and practising Dhamma. Because learning and practice just involves the individual, and does not require the involvement of lots of other people. The practitioner himself must observe his own body and mind, not those of others. Any feeling, sensation, or emotion that comes and goes through his body and mind, the practitioner is supposed to observe without forming any opinion, or having any judgment about them; he just observes them as they really are. In this way one can gain insight into the realization of things. That is how wisdom arises in the human mind.

Do bear in mind: learning and practice are individual pursuits, nothing to do with a lot of other people; and goodness depends on quality, not quantity.