How is it when the lotus flower has not yet emerged—when we have not yet realized buddha nature? Zhimen says, “A lotus flower.” What does that mean? Before it’s emerged, there is a lotus flower—fully present, fully formed, complete. In order to manifest it, we have to slog our way through the entanglements, through our attachments, through all of the things that are preventing the flower from emerging. And in so doing, it emerges. That’s the moment of insight, that’s when we see into our nature. Then that perfection is no longer an idea, but something we know to be true. In that moment, we realize that the flower is fully formed, fully present, radiant, and always has been. We realize that it was never submerged to begin with. At the end of a long journey, we realize we haven’t taken a step. But still the question remains, if that is true, then why don’t we experience our lives as that perfect flower from the beginning?
The power of our delusion lies in the fact that we believe it has nothing to do with the flower at all. Buddha nature is always present. But so are delusion and all the things that bind us. That’s why practice has to occur in the present. Realization occurs in the present. There is nothing else.
Yuanwu, quoting an old master, says, “If you want to know the meaning of buddha nature, you must observe times and seasons, causes and conditions.” In other words, you have to be observant, alert. Within those times and seasons, causes and conditions is both the problem and the flower. So observe—not just notice. Observe deeply, see clearly and gain insight.
But what are we seeing? Yuanwu says, “In reality, there aren’t too many concerns.” That’s why an old master says, “Just don’t attach names and words, classification and phrasing. If you have understood all things, naturally you won’t be attached to them. Then there is no multiplicity of gradations, of differences—you take in all things, but all things won’t be able to take you in. Fundamentally, there is no gain or loss, no illusions or dreams, no multiplicity of names.” He also says, “You should not insist on setting up names for them. Can I fool you?” What is the illusion that we speak of in Buddhism? It is the illusion of not having emerged from delusion itself. To proceed on the basis of an illusion as fact, as truth, as something real and substantial that can be extinguished by force, is not only foolish but dangerous.
When we hold on to our belief in our illusions, our sense of self, the justification for our anger, the belief in our own delusion—“I’m just a deluded, struggling being. I practice, but I’m not going to realize myself. I’m not going to awaken the buddha nature. Who am I kidding?” When that’s rigidly defended, it creates karma. By defending that belief it becomes a central, driving force of our lives.
Defenses are not abstract notions. It takes a lot of energy to build walls, to repair them, check on them in heavy weather. You have to make sure that your walls are bigger than the other person’s wall and bigger than their weaponry. In other words, it requires ongoing maintenance. When the illusion of the need for a wall is being adhered to, it’s a perfect system; we just keep pouring more energy into it. How much evidence do we need to see that holding on rigidly and defending our illusions, our attachments, creates suffering?
That’s why Yuanwu says, “When you understand all things, naturally you won’t attach to them.” When we understand all things, we understand the illusion of the need for the wall and the wall itself. If there’s no inside or outside, then naturally we won’t be attached to that wall—it doesn’t make any sense. The whole structure has disappeared.