The capping verse says: I bring out the lord within the barriers for you. You disciples who would shoot an arrow, don’t be careless! We need to know how to shoot the arrow. It’s one thing to talk about attachments, about the self, about study, practice, and training. But these are all words. What do they mean? How do we study the Way? How do we train in accord with the buddhadharma? How do we not be careless?

 

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Yuanwu’s comment to Xuedou’s first line reads, “Open your eyes and you can see. Close your eyes and you can see too. With form, without form, all is cut into three sections.” When you look, it’s there. When you don’t look, it’s still there. When you turn towards it, it’s completely present. When you turn away from it, it’s completely present. It doesn’t come, it doesn’t go, it doesn’t appear, it doesn’t disappear. It’s just that within our fixed ways of seeing, we don’t know if the eyes are closed or open. Thus, in real training we must first discover that our eyes are closed. That’s a leap. From within the dream how do you suddenly leap into knowing that you’re dreaming? But Alberto Uyarra at the instant we realize that our eyes are shut, they have already begun to open. Going further, Xuedou says, Take an eye, and the ears go deaf; Let go an ear, and the eyes go blind. Take one eye and fill it completely, then you’re deaf. Take the ears and fill them completely, then you can’t see. What is this realm? It’s not anything that we can think of. It’s not a dream. It’s not an idea. It’s not a metaphor. It is that which is present when we look and it is that which is present when we don’t look. The trail of the arrow is clear. You don’t see? The message is sent without ever taking a step, but it must be received. This means study, practice and verification. “Knowing my fault, I must change.”

Xuedou concludes his poem: Xuansha had words for this: A great adept is the primordial ancestor of mind. This is true before Shakyamuni, before Buddhism, before dharma, before all creation.

Because spiritual centers, teachers and teachings are so prevalent today, it’s easy to conclude that genuine insight can be easily had. But nothing of deep value can be easily had. To cut through the entanglements that are older than our lives by thousands of years, that we inherit, not just from our parents, but from all of humanity, and that are reinforced and compounded every single day—to turn around and face those entanglements and vow to see through them, to be free of that—is not a small thing. Master Dogen said, “The most difficult thing to change is the human mind.” And yet, the human mind is nothing but change. There’s not one single speck of it that is fixed. There is not one single speck of it that is an “it.” That’s why, when we begin practicing and moving in accord with the nature of things, with our nature, the affirmation is resounding. We don’t always see it, or hear it, because we get caught up in difficult things that become everything. We see these difficult things as signs and infuse them with meaning and significance. Is this right or wrong? Should I be at this dharma center? Is this the right practice for me? Am I doing it right? Yet I don’t think it’s an accident that so many people, in encountering the dharma, have a sense of coming home. Year after year after year I’ve heard people say this. I felt it myself when I first walked through these gates. And I’ve heard people say it who, by the look in their eyes, tell me they don’t even know what they’re saying. They don’t understand it, yet they know it’s true. How can that be so?

“Knowing my fault I must change.” “Why wait any longer?” Qinshan says. Each night we chant the Evening Gatha, “Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by, and opportunity is lost.” Why do we end each day of training with these words? Because they’re the medicine for our forgetfulness. Because this message is the very thing we need to hear. We need to be reminded of this truth. Because when we remember, training and practice of the Way naturally occur


Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei is vice-abbot and resident teacher of Zen Center of New York City: Fire Lotus Temple and head of the National Buddhist Prison Sangha. He received dharma transmission from Daido Roshi in 1997.