The great medicine of this dharma gives us a means to directly experience the true way of the universe, to realize the interdependence and mutual causality of all things. We see what occurs when we ignore these truths, how we create senseless, unending violence against ourselves, each other and the earth itself. This is why Buddhism teaches that the most urgent task of all human beings is to understand their own mind and realize its identity with the mind of all things. Walt Whitman, in “The Song of the Rolling Earth,” writes,

I swear the earth shall surely be complete
to him or her who shall be complete.
The earth remains jagged and broken only
to him or her who remains jagged and

Centuries earlier in the Vimalakirti Sutra, a bodhisattva was speaking with Shariputra about the world, which to Shariputra also appeared jagged and broken. Shariputra said, “I see this great earth, with its highs and its lows, its thorns, its precipices, its peaks, and its abysses, as if it were entirely filled with ordure”—with shit, refuse, garbage. The bodhisattva replied, “The fact that you see such a buddha-field as this as if it were so impure, reverend Shariputra, is a sure sign that there are highs and lows in your mind and that your positive thought in regard to the buddha-gnosis (true wisdom) is not pure either.” Those who only see what’s wrong in the world, the hatred, greed, ignorance, are seeing what is present in their own minds.

Whitman goes on to say,

I swear there is no greatness or power that
does not emulate those of the earth,
There can be no theory of any account
unless it corroborate the theory of the earth,
No politics, song, religion, behavior, or
what not, is of account, unless it
compare with the amplitude of the earth.

So how do we fulfill our obligation? Bodhidharma said the greatest charity, the greatest thing we can give, is to let go of the self. “How is it when the mourning clothes are not worn?” When we let go of the self, we are no longer hindered. The more we hold on, the more mired we become in our own thoughts and ideas, the more we will live in fear, isolation, estrangement, and with all the subsequent problems that arise.

“The monk said, ‘How about after the fulfillment of filial duty?’ Caoshan said, ‘Caoshan likes to get falling-down drunk.’” This koan is not about wearing clothes and it’s not about getting drunk. Koans are powerful because they use language that we think we understand and so we get caught. To pass through the gate of the koan we have to leap free of all words and meanings.

The commentary says, “Caoshan is sometimes sober in the midst of intoxication, sometimes he’s sober yet can’t tell day from night—it’s because his dreams of yellow grain have ended, his personal feelings are forgotten.” Sometimes he’s immersed in the world of differences, yet he’s sober; he’s not deluded by things, nor does he add delusion to things. At other times, he is unable to differentiate day from night, right from wrong; he’s alone in the universe, yet “sober,” unattached to purity. All this is because his “dreams of yellow grain have ended”—his dreams of desire and attachment to any fixed state. “His personal feelings are forgotten” doesn’t mean that he has no feelings. It means that he is no longer tethered to them. He’s no longer a servant to his emotions. So when you experience something that is profoundly sad—like these bright, beautiful children at Virginia Tech being killed—to feel that sadness, to have it run through you, is what practice is about. It is not about developing a tougher skin, so that nothing gets to you. It’s about losing your skin, shedding that shell, so everything gets to you, but without attachment.

In Caoshan’s intoxication, he’s sober. What kind of sobriety is that? It’s not being fooled, by oneself or by others. It’s not being fooled by situations, or by the media, propaganda, advertising, or by conditioning. It’s knowing who you are, utter sobriety. When you’re falling-down drunk—that is, in the center of the world’s activities and problems—your eyes are wide open.