The Mountain Path – Part 2: The View At The Top

15 Mar

“Many paths lead from the foot of the mountain, but at the peak we all gaze at the single bright moon.” (See endnote number 1)

Let us continue our examination of the three stages of the path up the mountain ( Let’s look at the view from the top of the mountain. I characterize the view as the goal. It is why one would undertake the arduous trek up the mountain. It is the raison d’etre.

What then is the goal? Before attempting to define the goal, it is important to understand some of its fundamental elements. This analysis will apply to any goal. I submit the goal, or view at the top of the mountain is (must be):

  • Desirable;
  • Worthy of our effort;
  • Attainable – this is to say that only the effort to obtain the goal can be quantified. The goal itself can never be impossible. I wonder, though, if the goal can be temporally improbable (such as landing a man on the moon)?
  • Sustainable – once obtained, the resulting goal, or the memory of it, must remain with you,
  • Subject to a “condemnation” for failing – even if only subjective, there must be a form of castigation for not attaining the goal,
  • Best if the goal is subjectively imposed – “I want to” (e.g. go to college) than objectively imposed “You will” (e.g. go to college);
  • Standard to attain the goal my be subjective – (improve my mental well-being) or objective (I lost weight),

With these points in mind, what then is the goal? The specific goal is best determined by the person undertaking the path. To illustrate this point, lets look at the karate-do example of Ikkyu’s saying. When used to illustrtate the idea that regardless of the style of karate studied, the goal of study is the same, the only person who can answer “What is the goal?” is the student himself. Sensei can only provide guidance as to possible answers, to protect oneself, to develop a strong spirit, to have good physical health, and the like. As such, Ikkyu’s saying merely provides a visulaization for the student that allows him or herself to fill in the answer.

A corrolary to the above is that the goal may be temporary. Goals change over time. In the karate example, a student may start with the goal of learning self-defense. After time, this may transform to a goal of deeper spiritual and empotional understanding. Using the goal of a college degree, as a second example, we may see that the attainment of a degree is the goal until attained. Then, what becomes of the goal? It morphs into a new goal. Having a college degree may mean earning more money, for others it may mean starting a business, or even having a more fulfilling job.

Perhaps, the true nature of the goal is, in the end, to simply keep you on the path, constantly climbing the mountain. I think that once all our goals are attained, we simply would cease to be. To borrow a quote for a certain American motorcycle manufacturer, “Its not the destination but the journey.”

In the last part of this series, we’ll explore the path down the mountain, perhaps the most treacherous path of all. Until then, enjoy the view of the moon.

Respectfully submitted,

Sensei John Szmitkowski


1. Though not referenced as a source of the quote at the time, the quote seems to come from the Zen-master Ikkyū (1394-1481). It is; however, also found in other sources and contexts. Two examples are:

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same”, a Chinese proverb, and

“There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the same place, so it doesn’t matter which path you take. The only person wasting time is the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.” A Hindu proverb.

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