Xuedou commented on this saying, “This fellow was sloppy in life and fat-headed in death. Just this thing, not anything else. What thing is this? Is there anything to impart, or not? Some people do not know how to cut off Tamei’s footsteps and merely say that he was in too much of a hurry to be on his way.” What was Tamei’s sloppiness? The truth of this life is not a thing.


Photo by Bronson Abbott

An emotion arises and it seems to cause us pleasure or discomfort. Is it medicine or illness? Does that depend on the feeling? On our mood or the conditions that we’re in? What is your self?
The Buddha realized that the world and everything in it is sufficient, whole, complete, perfect. But what does it mean when we’re in a world that’s on fire? What kind of perfection is this? It’s the perfection of medicine and disease subduing each other, where completeness and brokenness are not in conflict.

“The whole earth is medicine” is the basis of our practice. That’s why we don’t turn away when we encounter the self. We stay put because no matter where we run, there it is. And at the moment of turning to leave, we’re leaving potential. It’s because we want to leave that there is potential. The depth of our desire to avoid is the expression of our attachment. The greater the attachment, the more powerful will be our freedom from that attachment when we let go.

In practice, we get a lot of experience feeling stuck for long periods of time. The natural thing to do as we get frustrated is to start blaming—the koans are irrelevant, the teacher is unreasonable, the training is too demanding. In my own training during those periods, I began to understand that the more stuck I was the more important the obstacle must be. Why here, why now, am I getting so stuck? Is it just an accident, or is there something important going on that I need to see?

That’s the tremendous challenge of this practice—to restrain ourselves from that natural inclination to avoid discomfort. It’s a very logical impulse. When our hand is in the fire, our impulse is not to stick it in deeper. There are moments in life where that’s wisdom but those are not the moments that cause us the greatest trouble. We know what to do then. It’s a wisdom that is part of us, an instinctual wisdom that takes over and responds, and is good. Suffering is what happens the moment after we take our hand out of the fire. It’s when the danger has passed, and we begin to reflect. We begin to anticipate the next time. We think of the significance, the meaning. Why did it have to be so hot? Who lit that fire anyway? Our suffering arises when we turn away from what is true and make something false into a fire, and then look for a way to stick our hand into the fire thinking this will bring us satisfaction.