One of Dongshan’s successors said, “My late teacher said hell is not what is really miserable but to wear this vestment and not understand the great matter. We should exert ourselves even more. Don’t weary of your journey towards enlightenment. Don’t violate the ways of the Zen community.” In other words, don’t go against the sangha. An ancient said, “If you want to be able to carry this matter through you must stand atop the highest mountain and walk on the bottom of the deepest sea. Then you will have some life. If you haven’t comprehended the great matter yet, for the time being, you should walk the mystic path.”
These masters are trying to encourage, inspire and move us to clarify the great matter. If we are complacent, their words should shake us out of our complacency. If we lack faith in ourselves, such encouragement should instill faith. Theirs is an attempt to get each of us to see what they see—a buddha, a person who does not need to lead a life of suffering, who does not need to lament over the fact that we do not know who we are.
“If you haven’t comprehended the great matter yet... walk the mystic path.” Practice! Don’t just bemoan the fact. Ryonen didn’t write her poem and then just sit there saying, “Woe is me. I don’t know who I am.” She wrote the poem and then she knocked on the teacher’s door, and said, “You will let me in. You will not keep me from this dharma.” And he finally said, “Come in.” She practiced diligently and went on to become a well-respected teacher in her own right.
Raising the bodhichitta—the mind of enlightenment—is to recognize that we cannot continue as before. We sense that there is something—a vast robe of liberation—and we must discover it. At the moment of our vow to realize ourselves, we have not yet discovered the truth. This is a place of enormous tension. If we had no path this would be terribly frightening because we’d just be stuck in a place of confusion without any means to move forward. But having found a true path, that very same tension becomes a source of power—a source of incredible energy, direction, perseverance and faith that moves mountains.
Liangshan said, “What is the business under the patchwork robe?” Tongan said, “It’s within.” At this, Liangshan was enlightened. He made bows at his realization and was so overcome with emotion that he started to weep, and his own robe became wet. Tongan said, “Now that you are awakened, can you answer?” Liangshan said, “Yes.” Tongan asked, “What is the business under the patchwork robe?” Liangshan said, “It is within.” Liangshan seems to be repeating what he just heard his teacher say, but is he? Where is “within”? Is it somewhere in our body? Is it in our hara? Is it in the breath, which is why you follow your breath? Is it in the mind? Is it in the heart? Where is the place that is “within”? It’s never been found. It’s not a place. We can’t get there, which means we’ll never arrive. We can’t leave there, which means we’ve never left.
I recently met with a group of school children that had come to the Temple in New York City for an introduction to Buddhism. I asked them different questions to try to help them understand for themselves the inherent dissatisfaction of attachment. They quickly saw that when they are unhappy they go running after something to make them happy, and it seems to work for a while. Then the happiness fades, so they go looking for something else to make them happy again, and on and on it goes. I said, “Okay, so that doesn’t really seem to work. What shall we do?” A little boy said, “Look within.” I said, “Bravo. How?” And he replied, “I don’t know.” Many people understand that true peace must come from within, but what does that mean?
If we are to sincerely take up the questions of life and death through our practice of the dharma, the endless searching outside of ourselves needs to end. We need to realize we are not going to find the answers out there. There is no out there. There is no one who is going to save us. That’s why my teacher has said, “There is no hope.” There were many times in my own training when I would be stuck on the cushion feeling sorry for myself, just waiting for someone to notice, to make me feel better, to take away my problems, to save me. I would sit and sit, and I would wait, and no one ever came. How wonderful! There is no one who is going to save us. It is within. But what is within? To discover this we must go beyond any notion of inside and outside, self and other, enlightenment and delusion. “Within” is not a place; thus it is a vast robe of liberation with the power to bring great benefit to all beings.