The commentary says, Yuanwu’s verse and these explanations in this way are all just yellow leaves to stop the crying. It’s just because you’re sound asleep and not yet awakened. Those whose sleep is light will wake up as soon as they’re called. That’s the good steed chasing the wind looking at the shadow of the whip. A non-Buddhist said to the Buddha, “I don’t ask about words, I don’t ask about no words.” The Buddha just remained silent. The student bowed and said, “Thank you for dispelling the clouds of my ignorance,” and walked away. Ananda, who was standing nearby, asked the Buddha, “What happened? What did he see?” The Buddha said, “He’s like a fine horse that moves at the shadow of a whip.” It’s just because you’re sound asleep and not yet awakened. Those whose sleep is light will wake up as soon as they’re called. Those deep asleep can only be aroused by being shaken. Then there is yet another kind, who when you grab them and stand them up like dead trees, still talk in their sleep by themselves, staring. In other words, even a good shake isn’t going to work here.
Of course, everyone wants to be the horse that moves at the shadow of the whip. But what is most important is moving. Whether you move at the shadow of the whip, or whether you have to feel the whip itself is just a matter of your present awareness. Just don’t be the kind that cannot get woken up at all.
To wake up to ourselves takes great resolve. That’s part of the work of being a student of the Way—to develop resolve, and then to renew it, and then to renew it again. In that resolve is our commitment. But to what, to whom? Commitment is the merging of our resolve—born out of a deep aspiration to awaken—with our thoughts, words and actions. Commitment helps us to remember, and live within, what we should not forget. This is important because the path is filled with obstacles, so many ways to get lost, to forget what is essential.
Shantideva said, “I don’t desire suffering, and yet foolishly I desire the cause of suffering.” Nobody wants to suffer. We actively do not want to suffer, but we also can actively desire the cause of our suffering. And then as he says, “When suffering emerges due to my own actions, why do I then become angry with others?” Our resolve and our commitment, that aspiration that I spoke of, are for moments when we’re caught in that web. When we’ve convinced ourselves that the cause of our suffering is actually our release.
It is difficult to be awake. And yet, if we’re sincere, if we really throw ourselves into our practice, then every moment is good practice. Can we tolerate being inside our own body and mind at any given moment: when it’s agitated, when it’s quiet; when we feel completely in it, when we don’t? Can we just reside there? Can we practice there? Those are the skills
to living a human life, to meeting the illness of the planet and the woes of human beings.
“If the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally sleep. If the mind makes no discriminations, then the ten thousand things are as they are, one essence. To understand this mystery is to be released from all entanglements.” The eye that never sleeps is not dependent on anything. It’s not dependent on clarity or lack of clarity, it’s not dependent on a calm mind or an agitated mind. It’s not dependent upon being energetic or being sleepy. It’s just an eye that doesn’t sleep. It’s an eye that sees all of those passing clouds as they are—which means not adding and not taking away, not holding fast, not rejecting.
“Yaoshan ascended the seat: after a while he got right back down from the seat and returned to his room.” Nothing changed.
He didn’t add anything, he didn’t take anything away. There is so much happening within us as we practice moment to moment. That is how the whole thing works, and it’s important to trust it so that we don’t get swept up in the passing clouds. The clouds pass; they come and go. But there is something that doesn’t go with the clouds. It’s that deep desire to know, to understand, to live this life as is our birthright. So please, be like that field, parched and thirsty. Absorb this dharma
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.