(Adapted from Ezra Bayda's Being Zen):
An ambitious student comes to see his teacher, who asks, “What is the basic human problem?”
The student ponders this, then answers, “We are not awake.”
“Yes, but those are only words," says the teacher. "You are only thinking.” And he sends the student away.
Perturbed, the student continues to ponder. A week later he returns. The teacher asks, “Have you figured out the basic human problem?”
The student replies, “Yes. The basic human problem is that we think too much. We are identified with our thinking. We believe our thoughts.”
The teacher answers, “Again, you are thinking. You must see the basic human problem in yourself.” The student leaves feeling dejected.
The student pulls out all his books and studies. When he returns to see the teacher, he is almost stuttering, so sure he knows the answer. Seeing the state he is in, the teacher asks, “What is the basic human problem?”
The student happily says, “There is no problem!”
The teacher stares at him: “Then what are you doing here?”
The student deflates. His shoulders drop; his head drops; he feels totally humiliated.
The teacher asks, “What are you experiencing right now?
“I feel like crawling into a hole.”
“When you can fully experience this feeling," reminds the teacher, "then you will understand the basic human problem.”