A wise master lived on the far side of the forest. So early one morning Nin, hoping the master might take him as a student, set off on the winding, narrow road that lead through the woods to the master’s house.
Before long he saw ahead of him on the road a fellow rabbit who was travelling in the same direction. They exchanged quick greetings and Nin fell silently a few paces behind him.
As they walked, it occurred to Nin that perhaps his travelling companion was, in reality, the master he sought. He’d often heard stories of old masters dispensing wisdom on the road.
So Nin broached a cautious question: “Who are you?” he asked the other rabbit.
“Just a traveller, like you,” replied the rabbit.
Nin eyed him suspiciously. Masters were often tricksters, mischievous and crafty, and this seemed very much like what a master would say.
They continued on in silence for a little while, Nin hopping along behind the other rabbit, eyeing his every step, looking for some clue that would confirm his identity. When the rabbit turned right, Nin turned right. When the rabbit paused to rest, Nin paused to rest.
Finally the rabbit cleared his throat and asked: “May I ask, sir, what you are up to this fine day?”
Nin considered replying straightforwardly that his destination was the house of the old master, but he felt this was not the answer the master wanted. So instead he simply said, “Today I am walking.”
“Do you have a destination in mind?” asked the rabbit Nin suspected of being the master.
“Yes,” replied Nin. He, of course, sought the truth that lies buried at the heart of the world.
“How will you get there?” the other rabbit asked.
“By following the path,” replied Nin. He gestured to the road, but he, of course, meant the dharma.
“Do you know how to read the route markers?” asked the master.
“Yes,” replied Nin. He had, of course, memorized the scriptures.
The rabbit spun around to face Nin. “Then why,” he shouted, “are you following me!?”
The master made a rude gesture and stormed off, leaving Nin alone. Nin was stunned. He flopped down on his rump to contemplate the simple wisdom he had just received.
Nin, absolutely assured that he had just met a master of the highest calibre, hurried on to his home. But when the master came to the door, Nin discovered—much to his surprise—that he was not the rabbit Nin had met on the road at all!