photo by Greg Olsen


Here we are, these blobs of protoplasm on planet earth convinced that we are separated from each other. Convinced that when the whole blob of protoplasm comes together, that’s who we are , and that when the blob disintegrates, that’s the end of us. What we haven’t realized is what is inherent in each and everyone of us: that life is the unborn; death is the unextinguished. There is nothing to be added. There is nothing to be lost.

That is why Dadong Zhisheng Buddha never attained buddhahood. There is nothing to attain. He was born a buddha and he died a buddha. That is the case with each and every one of us, whether we realize it or not. But keep in mind that your life will be very different when you have realized it. Because if it is there and you do not realize it, it means you are not using it. It means that you are functioning in this world as if you were separated from everything else.

Take loneliness, for example. Most of us, at one time or another, have felt lonely, and we’re terrified of the feeling. But loneliness is based on separation. When we realize there is no self and other, there can no longer be loneliness. This is when we realize that the whole catastrophe is one single reality. That’s why in arriving, not a particle is added. In departing, not a speck is lost.

Wumen says, “The old foreigner may know it, but he cannot really grasp it.” The old foreigner is Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen. How come even he cannot grasp it? In order to grasp it, he needs to separate from it. He needs to stand outside. It’s the same with attachment. Attachment is not possible unless there are two things. First you have to separate yourself and then you have to attach. Whether we are attaching to a person, our art, our ideas, our positions, Buddhism, enlightenment, a Mercedes, the dharma—they are all the same. We are still separate from whatever it is we think we don’t have.

That is why I often say there cannot be real loving unless there is no attachment, no separation. It’s in intimacy that love occurs. It’s in intimacy that we function in this universe in a way that is in complete accord. No barriers, no boundaries. No edges. That’s why buddhahood cannot be grasped. That’s why it cannot be realized. 

“An ordinary person, if he knows it, is a sage. A sage, if she grasps it, is an ordinary person.” Ultimately, we complete the circle by returning to the place we started from.

Wumen says in his poem: Rather than give the body relief, give relief to the mind. When the mind is at peace, the body is not distressed. These first two lines are expressing the understanding that body and mind are not separate.

How many times do we respond to our own physical tension, our own pain, our own dis-ease, by thinking that somehow it has come from outside of ourselves? When we see what is in our mind we begin to realize that the way in which we perceive ourselves, the universe, and each other makes all the difference in the world. It makes all the difference in how we live our lives.

In that short story I mentioned conditioning. Why it is there, I have no idea, but the fact is, it is. It has been on this planet for thousands and thousands of years. Probably it served our survival as we first began to evolve. Then, intelligence appeared, and the result was a whole slew of awful consequences we are still struggling with today. We have also done a lot of wonderful things as a human race—we have cured diseases and so on. But the fact is that we spend a lot more money and a lot more time and effort perfecting our instruments of destruction. Why?

Try to explain it to these beings on another planet. “Why do they do this? Why do they make little metal projectiles that poke holes in the meat and let fluids spill out so that they die?” “Well, usually it’s about some thing that they are holding on to—land, a position, their religion, or whatever. Then the countries try to get together to make peace. But while they are trying to make peace other members of the same country sell weapons so they can kill each other some more.” “But that doesn’t make sense.”

“Well, they do it for money.” “What’s money?” “It’s power, but in the form of paper, and it is by agreement that it has value.” “And this is why they kill each other off? This is why they spend more time on destroying than on healing?”

It seems pointless and endless, and why? Why is all of this happening? It’s based on one thing: dualism. We are absolutely convinced—and everything around us reinforces it—that we are all separate globs of protoplasm that have to defend our turf. We’re born meat, and we’ll die meat.

But if we can get to the ground of being within ourselves and realize that the bag of skin is only the smallest part of who we are, we realize that the universe itself passes through us. There is no way to separate ourselves from even the most insignificant, infinitessimal particle in this universe, not just this earth. And everything that happens to any part of it happens to the totality, because we are interpenetrated, interrelated, have the same causality. What happens in Africa happens here to you, personally. What happens in outer space, happens to you here, personally. Needless to say, this is a very different way of appreciating our lives and our relationships.