Du did not respond to Changha’s question. He just stood there. Then Changsha called out to him, “Du!” and Du responded, “Yes?” It’s right under his nose, but does he see it? Do you see it? “Changsha said, ‘Isn’t this your true self?’” He’s referring to Du’s “Yes?” But now he’s trying to explain it. This is why Zen has slowly declined over the years—a lot of talking and very little sitting. We should leave discussions to the scholars and philosophers. We’re practitioners. We should shut up and sit.
“Changsha said, ‘I can’t call you Emperor.’” “Du said, ‘If so, would my not answering also be my true self?’” Obviously, Du is no slouch. Even with all his knowledge, he hasn’t given up. “Changsha said, ‘It’s not a matter of answering me or not, but since the beginningless kalpa’—that is, since the beginning of time—‘the question to answer or not has been the root of birth and death.’” True enough, but will Du get it? “To answer or not has been the root of birth and death.” The root of birth and death is the root of all dualistic thinking.
Then Changsha recited a verse: Students of the Way don’t know the truth. They only know their past consciousness. Past consciousness already happened. That was yesterday. It doesn’t exist—unless you carry it around in your head and recreate it periodically. The question is, what’s right here, right now, where your life is taking place?
This is the basis of endless birth and death. The deluded call it the original self. We confuse our ideas of who we are with who we really are. We live our lives out of our conditioning, out of the things we’ve been told about who we are, or what we should or shouldn’t do. The buddhadharma, on the other hand, points deeply into ourselves, beyond that conditioning, to the ground of being. Realizing that ground of being, we can learn to live our lives out of what we’ve realized—our own direct, immediate experience.
The next line of the commentary says, “Before there ever was scattering and no scattering, movement and stillness, being and non-being, there’s always been buddha nature.” According to Mahayana Buddhism, buddha nature is immutable. It’s the eternal nature of all beings. Since all beings possess it, it’s possible for each to attain enlightenment regardless of who they are. When the Buddha said upon his own enlightenment: “All sentient beings and I and the great earth have at once entered the Way,” he was including everything—beings sentient and insentient, the earth, the sky, the rivers, the mountains.
“Sutras, koans, words, silence, the cooing of an infant, images, gestures, right action, the sounds of the river valley, and the form of the mountain are all expressions of the buddha nature.” That is, they are communicating the truth of buddha nature, just as the sutras and teachings communicate it. “The Buddha said, ‘All living beings totally exist as buddha nature.’ Master Dogen said, ‘Total existence is the buddha nature.’ Mountains, rivers, and the earth are all the ocean of buddha nature. Also, ‘To express the buddha nature further, it is fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles.’” Again, the sentient, the insentient and the great earth itself are all the buddha nature.