Liang says, “So then knowing my fault I must change.” Yuanwu says this response was undeniably extraordinary. Knowing my fault I must change. This is the great pivot point of spiritual practice, the beginning of being responsible for the whole catastrophe, as my teacher would often say. It is here that practice begins. When we don’t understand, then both the problem and the solution are thought to be external.
Within adversity or injustice it is especially difficult to understand that if we want to get to the root of the suffering, we have to deal with both the creator and master of the suffering. It can be difficult when the problem seems so clearly located somewhere else. And, indeed, there may be a real problem. But if we want to get to the root of suffering, as Qinshan said, we have to bring out the master within that barrier. Because we’ll find that even when injustice has been rectified, even when inequality has turned to equality, the root of suffering persists. This is what the Buddha realized. This is the First Noble Truth, “Life is dukkha.”
“Knowing my fault I must change.” When we begin to really understand this truth, practice becomes easier, but it also becomes more difficult. It’s more difficult because as we stop trying to locate the problem somewhere else, as we face ourselves more honestly, our lives can seem to get harder, more painful. But because we’re now so much closer to the real heart of things, because we’re being honest, now we can really practice effectively.
In response to Liang’s statement Qinshan asks, “Why wait any longer?” Liang says, “A well–shot arrow doesn’t hit anywhere,” and then turns to leave. This statement may be true, but is it true for him? It’s one thing to say something you’ve read or heard, but is it true? That’s the challenge of expressing the dharma. That should be the question we ask ourselves every time we go to face to face teaching, particularly for koan students who are presenting their understanding of the dharma. What they say may be true, but is it true for them? The difference here means everything. And although the teacher’s job is to verify that what is being expressed has been also realized, ultimately it’s the student’s responsibility to demand that of him or herself.
Liang turns to leave, and Qinshan says, “Come here a minute,” Liang turned his head and Qinshan grabbed him and said, “Leaving aside for a moment a single arrowhead smashing three barriers, let’s see you shoot an arrow.” Qinshan, pressing Liang’s nose into his own words, is in effect saying to him, “So you say; show me this truth!” Liang hesitated, so Qinshan hit him and said, “I’ll allow as this fellow will be doubting for thirty more years.” Liang is not yet there, not yet ready to let go of it all and leap into the eye of the arrow.
When there’s no way to divide inside and outside, at that moment, who is speaking and not speaking, hearing and not hearing. At that moment, what barrier is there? Can you find it? At that moment, it’s dissolved. Not dissolved. Do you see? There is nothing to be given to people. There is nothing to be extinguished, and because of this, we practice. We train the mind and body to realize that which cannot be given, that which can’t be gained and can’t be lost. Because it’s only in that kind of knowing that change takes place. It’s there that the truth of every moment can freely manifest itself because there’s nothing to bind or constrict it. We are no longer opposing that truth, which is what our delusions and attachments do. That’s why attachments are so exhausting. It’s like swimming upstream. If attachments were based in reality, then the more attached you were to things, the easier things should be. If in grasping at things, reifying the self, we were moving more in accord with the nature of things, then we should experience that harmony. Barriers should fall away. But what we find is exactly the opposite. The more we attach, the greater the burden. The more we turn away, the greater the suffering. And that’s one of the reasons that practice takes time. Because we have to see that our old way of doing things is just not working.