The wind blows, the pine branches bend; the jay crows, the mountain stillness grows deeper. Everything is just as it is; every one of us is perfect and complete, lacking nothing. But we can’t see that, and that’s where the vexation comes in. The ancient master said, “When you completely, perfectly comprehend, what you comprehend is that there’s nothing to comprehend.” Yuanwu continues with another quote, “Without making a sound he goes beyond the ordinary and enters sagehood. The reclining dragon deeply fears the blue pool’s clarity.” Then he ends, “Though it’s this way, they must go on to leap out of their nest before they attain.” That’s a poetic way of pointing to our conditioning. I call it The Program.

Just imagine that at the moment of your birth, what is born is not a person, but a 150,000 gigabyte computer that gets passed around from person to person. First mommy inputs a few things, then daddy gets his turn. After a while you go off to school and your peers say, “Men are superior, women are inferior,” “Blacks are no good, whites are great.” Then the government offers its two cents. On top of all that, every night for four hours you plug the computer into the TV set, and it downloads gigabyte after gigabyte. By the time you turn thirty, you think you’re an individual, but you are really a programmed computer recycling all of the garbage that’s been put in it. And you wonder why you keep bumping into walls and why life is so difficult! We struggle, but at the same time we don’t want to get out of the nest. It’s comfortable there, and in a way, we’re taken care of.

It reminds me of a pair of robins that work like crazy to build their nest and lay eggs. The nestlings are born and the mother begins feeding and caring of the babies from sunrise to sunset. Then one day, she stops. She stands on a branch very close to the nest with a big juicy worm hanging out of her mouth while the little robins scream their heads off, but she won’t give it to them. How can she be so cruel? Actually, she’s being incredibly compassionate. For if she fed them for the rest of their lives they would never learn to fly and to feed themselves. So, she stops feeding them, and after a while, the hunger pangs begin. Eventually one of the baby robins—the more adventurous among the flock—will get to the edge of the nest. Then, in one desperate moment it just leaps into the air. It has no sense of what flying is about, but the moment its wings hit the air, it flies.

And so it is with us. We have to leave the nest in order to fly. The nest is all of the stuff that we carry, all of the stuff that we hold on to, all of the baggage that we’re convinced we can’t live without.

The Flower Garland Sutra says:

Bodhisattvas in the eighth stage of immovability turn the great dharma wheel in an atom of dust. Using the wisdom of nonactivity, at all times, whether walking or standing, sitting or lying down, they don’t cling to gain and loss but let themselves move and flow into the sea of all knowledge. When practitioners get here, still they must not become attached. They must follow the occasion freely. When they have tea, they drink tea. When they have food, they eat food. Neither the words concentration nor not-concentration can be applied to this transcendent matter.

It’s not enough to have let go of the world and then promptly get attached to the sacred. Whether we’re attached to a Mercedes or the Buddha, it’s the same delusion. In order to attach to something, you need to be separate from it. How is it when it is not one side or the other?

Yuanwu quotes Master Shandao of Stone Grotto:

Haven’t you seen a little one when it’s just emerged from the womb? Has a baby ever said, “I know how to read the scriptures”? At that time it does not know the meaning of having the Buddha nature or not having the Buddha nature. As he grows up he learns all sorts of knowledge; then he comes forth saying, “I am able,” and “I understand,” without knowing that this is troubling over illusory dusts. Among the sixteen contemplation practices, the baby’s practice is the best. When he’s babbling he symbolizes the person studying the Path, with his detachment from the discriminating mind that grasps and rejects. That’s why I’m praising infants. I can make a comparison by taking the case of a baby, but if I say that the baby is the Path, people of these times would misunderstand.