A novice approached his master carrying a bag of charcoal, "Master, you have taught me that the Tao is in all charcoal, but I have found a charcoal that is new to me and it is not clear to me if the Tao resides in this charcoal. It is in uniform shapes like children's blocks, while most other charcoals are natural shaped pieces of broken wood."
The master replied, "The answer lies within you as will the Tao when you have achieved enlightenment."
The novice, still puzzled, reached into the bag of charcoal an pulled out a piece that indeed looked like a children's block and asked, "Is the Tao in this piece of charcoal?" The master replied that indeed it was. The novice reached into the bag again, pulled out a piece of charcoal that looked like a piece of tongue and groove flooring and asked, "Master, is the Tao in this piece of charcoal?" The master replied, a bit more firmly and with a sigh as he wondered if this novice would ever reach true enlightenment, "Yes, the Tao is also in that piece of charcoal, as it is in all pieces of charcoal."
Once more the novice reached into the bag of charcoal. This time he produced a piece of charred plywood. "And is the Tao in this piece of charcoal?"
The master paused and then replied, "that is a piece of charred plywood."
The novice looked down at the plywood, shut his eyes and then suddenly raised his head. His eyes snapped open and in those eyes the master saw true enlightenment.
"Let me take this from you," offered the master, but the novice replied, "No, I must do it myself."
The novice took the plywood and returned it to the bag of charcoal. He then carried the bag of charcoal to the cliff and hurled it into the sea. When the novice returned and looked at the master, he knew the words that were in the master's mind.
The novice began to object, "No, master! There is still so much I have yet..."
The master cut him off and said, "As you were taught, you will know when it is time to leave. As the Tao is complete within itself, so are you now complete within yourself." The novice covered his face with his hands in order to hide his anguish. When he removed his hands and looked up, the master was gone.
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