Yuanwu continues, “If you pursue words and follow after phrases there will never be any connection.” It will never be unified. It’ll always be just the world filled with ten thousand different pieces, all moving around in random fashion. “If in the midst of words you can pass through those words, if in the midst of meanings you can pass through the meanings, if within a device you can pass through the device, then you will be at ease.” And the question is, what time is that? When is the barrier no longer a barrier? When you’ve destroyed it finally? No, because he says, “When you are in the midst.” It’s not destroyed. It’s right there. You’re right in the midst of it. It doesn’t have to be destroyed. Why? Because it’s not the problem. Not seeing it for what it is is the problem. But what happens in that moment when we pass through? Does the barrier change? Do we change? Or is there something beyond change and transformation?

In the Lankavatara Sutra the Buddha says, “There is a kind of transformation of things which is discriminating and talked about by philosophers… They’re not right but they’re not wrong either. All differentiation and transformation is to be regarded as a result of discrimination. For example, the thickening of milk into curds and the ripening of fruit into liquor… Like this, there is a transformation that arises and is seen by the discriminating mind.” In reality, there’s nothing that’s transformed. So the Buddha says, “Seeing things this way is transforming.” Seeing things as evolving, unfolding, developing, maturing, ripening, he says, “It’s not right but it’s not wrong.”

He also says, “Things are not as they seem but nor are they otherwise.” From the perspective of the discriminating mind, things are either right or wrong. There is either absolute good or absolute evil. So, what side are you on? Chances are, you’re on the good side—everybody is always on the good side. Then it becomes very clear what you have to do: get rid of the bad side. Then there will be the season of great peace. Then we will have harmony and be able to live together. Has that ever occurred? No. Does that deter us? No. What’s going on? Are we paying attention?

Yuanwu says, “Pay attention. Observe times and seasons, causes and conditions.” There is no lack of evidence. It’s just a question of whether we’re paying attention. And that’s what practice is all about. It’s about paying attention, seeing the patterns, recognizing what works and doesn’t work, what is skillful and not skillful. In essence, it’s understanding what’s the real problem here? What do we actually need to be turning our attention to?

Xuedou’s verse: Lotus flower, lotus leaves—he reports for you to know. How can emerging from the water compare to when it has not yet emerged? Is he saying that one is obviously superior to the other or is he saying, get to that place where there is no comparison, where there is no longer an inside or outside? It’s not that there is no right and wrong, because there is. But what more is there in right or wrong? In his footnote to the second line, Yuanwu says, “Dividing them is all right, but you can’t lump them together.” Having divided them, don’t think you can unify them just by mixing them together. If you try to push two different things into the same box they will fight each other. That’s why we need a Department of Peace. We know how to make war. The uniforms are pressed, the machinery is there, everyone is ready. But we also have to practice how to find peace—not because it’s foreign to us, but because we just haven’t practiced it as well. It’s like letting go. Every single person knows how to do it, but when you try to do it in a dedicated way or in a moment when letting go is very difficult, then we realize we need to learn and develop the skill.