Once you get to the root, don’t worry about the branches,
Like pure crystal containing a precious moon.
Since you have realized this all-giving pearl,
Benefit for yourself and others will never end.
Suppose you made a date with a friend to hike up a mountain, but on that day you overslept and she went ahead without you. What would you do? Perhaps you would think, “It’s too late now, ” and go back to sleep. Or perhaps you would say, “I decided to hike today, and I’m going to do it. Better late than never. If I start right away, I may even catch up with my friend.” What if, halfway up the mountain, you met your friend coming down, and she told you the view at the summit was not worth the effort? Would you still go ahead?
The path to Buddhahood is a lonely climb, but after you reach Buddhahood, vast numbers of sentient beings will surround you, all of them wanting your help, your compassion, your wisdom. Since you are a Buddha, naturally you will help every one of them. As an ordinary person, you have a physical body and limited faculties. You have contact with few people, and of those few, you help even fewer. You are alone most of the time, and you do whatever you want to do. But as a Buddha, your presence and power are limitless. Innumerable sentient beings seek your help. If you know Buddhahood is like this, why do you want the job? From our point of view, that of an ordinary sentient being, Buddhahood sounds horrible. But the Buddha does not feel this way, because he does not perceive that he is helping anyone. To a Buddha, there is no such thing as Buddhas or sentient beings.
An ordinary person can divorce his or her spouse, but a Buddha cannot divorce himself from sentient beings. It is paradoxical: the path to Buddhahood is lonely and solitary, yet once you reach Buddhahood you are never alone again. Sentient beings throughout time and space will seek your help and blessings.
Once, in Tokyo, I was walking by myself at night. I walked along narrow sidestreets and back alleys. I saw people here and there, but when I turned onto a wide avenue, I did not see anyone. I figured that the main streets were not a good place to walk, so I returned to the narrow alleys.
Most of us wander the outer paths and follow the heterodox teachings, just as I kept to the back alleys. Buddhadharma is a wide highway, but it is relatively untraveled. As a sentient being, you keep to the narrow streets, because everyone else does the same. You are comforted by the sight of people. You will not meet many people on the wide road, and by the time you near your destination ─ Buddhahood ─ you will be alone. There will be no friend to help you, no enemy to quarrel with. It is a solitary road to Buddhahood.
A student once asked me if the innumerable Buddhas from the ten directions ever met for an “inter-Buddha world conference.” I answered, “If the Buddhas were lonely or had nothing to do, I suppose they could call a meeting.” I was joking of course. Actually, Buddhas do not have the idea that they are doing anything, and they are never lonely, so they do not have to call meetings. “All the Buddhas in the ten directions” is a convenient phrase that is easy to remember, but in fact each Buddha exists in every point of space and every moment of time. Since Buddhas encompass all of space and time, they cannot be pinpointed in any specific place or moment.
— The Sword of Wisdom by Master Sheng Yen (page 131)