There’s another story that tells of Huangbo’s meeting with the prime minister of China who later became the emperor. The two were friends, and one day the prime minister visited Huangbo and presented him with a book that he’d written in order to express his understanding of the dharma. Huangbo took the book without even looking at it and put it aside. Then he didn’t say anything for a long time. The two friends sat together in silence, and after a while, Huangbo turned to the minister and asked, “Do you understand?” The minister replied, “I don’t understand.” Huangbo said, “If you had understood this way, you would have gotten somewhere, but if you’re still trying to describe it with paper and ink, you’ll never get it.” Words and ideas that describe reality miss the direct experience of reality itself.
So what is the realization of one’s own enlightenment? Zazen is not it. Zen study, face-to-face teaching, the precepts, liturgy, body practice, art practice, work practice are not it. Then what is it? The eight gates are all upaya, skillful means to get us to realize that which is inherent in all beings. That’s why realization is transformative. Understanding doesn’t transform. Believing doesn’t trans- form, but when you realize it, you transform your way of perceiving yourself and the universe, and that’s not something that someone can give you. Taking it further, realization must be actualized. It must be manifested in everything that we do. This is what it means to come down off the mountain back into the world?—back into our everyday lives. But before it can be actualized, it has to be realized. Otherwise, you’re just actualizing an idea, an understanding, a belief.
Some years ago I received a letter from a group of first generation American teachers who were organizing a conference called, “Methods of Teaching the Dharma.” They invited two hundred American dharma teachers to attend a series of lectures and workshops on how to teach. I remember thinking to myself, but what have they been doing for the last twenty-five years? If they didn’t get out of their practice the process for teaching, then what is the transmission about? What good is it? If we don’t watch it, we’re going to turn this incredible dharma into another one of our educational systems. The dharma is not about education?—not even religious education. It’s practice. Practice means to do. It’s about training. Training means to do. And it’s out of that doing that a student surpasses the teacher. If that hasn’t happened, then the dharma hasn’t been transmitted from one generation to the next. You can have a hundred thousand lectures, workshops, and experts on teaching and it will never get across. The dharma cannot be put into a box with a nice label. It needs to come right from the heart, right from one’s own practice. If it’s not there, there is no way that it will affect and nourish the lives of others.