There are many and varied learning curves from physical learning curves such as learning a dance, playing the drums, or a martial art to the learning curve of acquiring a new language. Their are many, many more. None come easy. All require a degree of patience.
Zen Buddhism has its own learning curve. Not so much about the learning curve of how to sit still for a long period of time but the learning curve of looking at one's all-too-human mind with all of its emotions, mental images and thought/ideas. It is not so much about being aware of our thoughts when we sit in zazen, for example, it is more about focusing in on thoughts until one connects with their very essence. It takes a lot of work to go up this curve, but mainly patience and discipline help to get to this essence.
I was explaining to Rhonda and Rusty today over breakfast how this learning curve works using the illustration of Fazang's (Fa-tsang) gold lion. I said that we can imagine this lion to be beautiful beyond description. It has hairs of gold, eye lashes of gold, teeth, claws and eyes of gold. All the parts of this lion are crafted in such detail so as to bewitch the spectator so that he forgets what it is made of. Think of Fazang's lion also as our universe: a dazzling array of beautiful objects too beautiful and powerful to transcend.
Next, I told them, let's imagine our Zen adept going to a great teacher to learn about the mysterious substance of this awesome and incredible lion. So how does our Zen teacher teach? He gives the adept a card with a tiny hole in the middle of it. He tells him to place it over the lion and describe what he sees. The Zen adept is speechless. He can't describe what he sees. He sees no hair, teeth, legs, claws—not a single lion part! He is dumbfounded. His mind is a blank. Again, the teacher gives him a card with a somewhat larger hole. He tells the adept to place it over the lion again. Still the adept can't describe what he sees. Yet, for sure, he sees something profound and mysterious. It's seems pure, too. But no shape whatsoever. Over a period of time (our learning curve) the hole in the card becomes larger. Then one day a strange thing happens with the adept. He sees the gold lion's gold eye. His mind does a flip! He exclaims, "This lion is made of this gold substance!" The teacher nods his head confirming the adept's insight.
It took the adept a while to digest his insight looking at the profound implications of it. Of course, for you the reader, the gold substance is really pure Mind and Fazang's gold lion is the world we live in. The card with the tiny hole is one-pointedness of Mind. The subsequent increase in the hole's size leads to Bodhicitta (S., bodhicitt-utpada) realizing, all at once, that the lion is gold-only which in the Lankavatara Sutra is Mind-only meaning that phenomena consist only of Mind. They have no real existence of their own.
This learning curve is subtle but absolute, nevertheless. By it we come to the indescribable substance of all. We further realize that the all of this substance (its pluralization) was for the purpose that the substance might see itself since it could not see itself without contrast. The one became many and then penetrated through the many (or all) to return to itself through meditation.