Seeker: "Teach me the way to liberation."
Zen Master: "Who binds you?"
Seeker: "No one binds me."
Zen Master: "Then why seek liberation?"
Our prison, our dungeon, is within us. It's in our own mind, our own thinking. We strap ourselves into chains of our own making, and we do the same to each other. We train our children in the ways of bondage.
All this is based on ignorance. We don't see the way we are. We don't see our situation for what it is, nor do we see how to deal with it. As Yang Chu says, we pass by the joys of life without knowing we've missed anything.
As you read this, ponder on the many times you've become distracted, spaced out, or fallen into a reverie or daydream. The untamed mind does this repeatedly. The untrained person goes along unwitting, being dragged through emotive responses raised by rouge thoughts without knowing how to stop. In short, the mind controls the person.
Seen this way, don't you agree this is backward? Who is the master of an untrained mind, and who is the slave? Shouldn't the rolls be reversed?
Not only do we go through life senselessly emoting or reacting to mental contortions that have no basis in what is actually before us, we often miss chances to react to opportunities as life presents them. Our busy brains are filling our heads with static, as it were, drowning out the signal of our lives. A wise person would take control of the signal, reduce the static, and begin to view life with a clear and flexible, uncluttered mind. A wide person would become the mind's master.
If you think you are already master of your cognition, try sitting in a comfortable place in silence, ten or fifteen minutes would suffice, and just breathe. Don't try to think, don't try to not think, just watch the flow of brain activity while attending your breath. See if you can keep your mind upon the mechanism of respiration for the duration. If not, note where your thoughts take you. You'll be surprised at how far the mind travels while the body stays still.