North of the river, south of the river, ask Old Wang. Old Wang was Nanquan’s family name. Xuedou is saying, if you don’t understand, you can end up wandering around forever, looking for the truth. Ask old Master Nanquan about emerging and not emerging from the water. Fox doubt after fox doubt. Yuanwu says, “If you add two phrases south of the river, add two phrases north of the river, add one load upon another load, creating doubts over and over, just tell me, when will you get so that you don’t doubt? You’re like wild foxes, full of doubt, walking on river ice: they listen for the sound of the water (below); if it doesn’t make a sound, then they can cross the river. If students have ‘fox doubt after fox doubt,’ when will they ever attain peace and tranquility?” Walking on ice is very tentative. At any moment that solid, secure ground that you depend on could break and fall away. It’s very difficult in that situation to not be filled with doubt at every single step.
To realize our buddha nature through practice is to transform our lives. We can think of the journey as a transition from anger, greed or insecurity to kindness, open-heartedness, wisdom, flexibility. Yet, in truth, there is no transition. How is it before the lotus flower emerges? How is after the lotus leaves? You can’t say it’s the same. But is it different? What is it?
If there is a transition, then we can forever say, tomorrow. Tomorrow’s the day when I’ll be Buddha. Tomorrow will be good. Today, I just can’t. I can’t get it together. There’s no time. I’m just not in the right space. I haven’t sat enough. When we realize there is no transition, no cultivation, then in every moment that buddha nature is manifested. Every moment, we are it. That’s a very different way of practicing, a very different way of living.
That’s why in the Faith Mind Poem Master Sengcan says, “To live in this realization is to be without anxiety about non-perfection. To live in this faith is the road to non-duality, because the non-dual mind is one with the trusting mind.” In the Way there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today—no transition, no becoming. There is no not yet having emerged, there is no future point of emergence, there is no beginning and no end. But there is practice. There is this. If we observe closely, we’ll realize that’s where the truth is. Only this—here and now—is the season of great peace.
It all comes down to one place, one person, one time. That’s why in Buddhism, to understand this truth is the ultimate medicine; it goes right to the heart of the matter. And when you see it, everything else is touched, everything is seen, everything is reached. This is what our practice is about; this is zazen, always going to the heart. This great heart is the seat of compassion and deep understanding. It belongs to you—please awaken it
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei is vice-abbot and resident teacher of Zen Center of New York City: Fire Lotus Temple and head of the National Buddhist Prison Sangha. He received dharma transmission from Daido Roshi in 1997.