Buddha realized and taught that each and every one of us possesses the buddha nature symbolized by this lotus flower. In fact, this teaching is the basis of the 2500-year-old tradition of Buddhism, as well as the truth of the universe, the freedom that comes from being in accord with reality. Buddha nature is unhindered, because in it there are no obstructions; it is identical with wisdom. Identical with all things, it is identical with compassion, the great heart of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. That’s our nature, and all of us possess it. It’s not something that can be found somewhere else. But, that’s not the end of the story, because without practice our lives don’t reveal that perfection. Even though we possess that perfect flower, it hasn’t emerged yet. That’s what we call delusion—not knowing what’s real, believing in a separate independent self, believing all of the perceptions that the discriminating mind creates as if they were ultimate truth. What is it before enlightenment, then? Zhimen says, “Lotus flower.” We speak of Buddhism as a path or journey, which implies having to move from one place to another. In this case, it means moving from a place of struggle, self-centeredness or doubt, to another, better place: a place of wisdom and compassion, of selflessness, of no doubt. But then we have to ask ourselves, where is that place? And how do I get there?
It would seem obvious that the answer would be through practice, awareness and gaining insight. We think we will proceed down this spiritual path, and one day—one glorious day—we’ll arrive at that place where we can look with vast, unhindered vision and never have another problem. This picture makes perfect sense to us because that’s the way our minds work, that’s the way we think the world works. We can get enlightened and live in a kind of Buddhist heaven, forever free of pain and suffering.
Sometimes people come to daisan and they tell me that their practice is seeking peace. I ask them, “How do you do that?” And usually they say, “I practice being peaceful.” But what is peace? Where is it? And how do you practice it when you’re angry? In other words, what is the idea that you’re practicing and is it really going to help you?
The Buddha himself spoke of marga, the path. Buddhist teachers throughout history have talked about the journey in terms of practice, realization and actualization. Obviously there is a path, and it works; peoples’ lives actually change, something happens. Then why does Xuedou say in the introduction, “Setting up the banner of the teaching, establishing the essential meaning—this is adding flowers to brocade”? Adding flowers to brocade is extra; it’s redundant. Then he says, “Strip off the blinders and unload the saddle pack. This is the season of the great peace.”