The struggle of that “destitute vagrant in a foreign country” is that what seems foreign is actually our home country, right here and now. What Keizan is saying is that it’s not just a matter of leaving the world of activity and going to the world of no activity, leaving the world of thoughts and beliefs and going to the world where there’s not a single thought or belief. That’s being a nihilist. Or dwelling in emptiness, being a corpse whose spirit has not yet departed, believing that if we could just stop the illusions that arise in our mind that we will arrive at reality. Any of us can stop our mind from moving if we want to, if we have enough determination to force the mind to stop moving, like tightening down on a leaky faucet. There may be no thought, but there is no illumination, no insight, and the stopping of thoughts is based on the illusion that the thoughts themselves are binding us.

Why isn’t that liberating? If the problem is identified as thought itself, then we can never again enter the realm of thought and be free. So where does that leave us? Destitute. Non-functional. That can’t be liberation. Thinking is something our mind does and will do until we die. The moment we stop leaning against the door to keep the mind from moving, it flies open and in come all the demons. We’re trying to beat the devil out of the ten thousand things, rather than realizing this great universe—as it is—as the place of peace and tranquility.


Photo by Joel Sansho Benton


Which raises the question, what is this ocean that we can return to? The ocean is vast and reaches everywhere. It’s beyond the imagination. As you look out upon the surface, there are waves arising, coming into being. Then they reach a peak and begin to fade and return to the ocean. But do they return? Water doesn’t become the sea. Waves can’t return to the ocean. There’s no sense of a wave apart from the ocean.

To even think of returning to the great ocean is to look for the map. What direction? How do I get there? How long am I going to have to go? Or, I might just sit in that ocean and be cast about by the waves, picked up and thrown down or carried very gently along. Either way is not it, because we’re still at the beck and call of today’s flavor. To try to cut off the streams of thought, to cut off consciousness, to cut off delusion, to cut off some aspect of our humanity because we recognize that as the problem—that’s not it. To just give up to that and be cast about by that is not it either. So what is it to give up the little stream and return to the ocean? What is it to realize the uncreated?

The uncreated has no beginning or end. Trying to stop delusion is inherently flawed because that effort is something we’re creating. And something that is created will end. The Buddha said everything that arises must pass. If our serenity is an act of creation, then the clock is ticking. It’s going to pass. So it’s not true serenity; it’s just a passing experience of being serene. Which is fine, but when we try to perform that magic trick and declare that it is permanent, then there is disappointment. To realize the uncreated is to realize that which has no beginning or end.

The Buddha taught that everything created is dukkha. It is subject to causes and conditions and, therefore, it leads to some experience of dissatisfaction—whether very profound or very subtle. That’s why we practice the non-discriminating mind, the mind that is leaping out of that constant search for the beginning and the end.