Concern with this sickness of being is the complete dedication of the bodhisattva. “Sickness is inherent in living in the world,” said Vimalakirti. Yunmen says, “When the light does not penetrate freely…” This is what we speak of as delusion. When the light of wisdom and clear-seeing into the real nature of things doesn’t penetrate freely, then we’re living within some measure of darkness. An important aspect of practice— of being healed—is directly experiencing that darkness within ourselves. It is here that we begin to see our attachments and habitual patterns of mind as they are, and can be more motivated to leap free of them.
Spiritual light is an image that is present in different religious traditions—light being equal to freedom, illumination, peace, spirituality. The darkness of night is a time we associate with fear and danger. When we live in darkness even in the light of day, we can easily fall into actions that are hurtful, and so then infuse a sense of inherent negativity into the darkness. The night is dangerous or evil. Yet darkness is just darkness; a time without light. This is why in Buddhism, delusion is not considered a mistake or some inherent flaw. Rather, it’s a time when the light does not penetrate freely.
The Buddha spoke of our delusion as a state in which we are not living skillfully. Creating unnecessary obstructions in life is not skillful if one wishes to live at peace and with equanimity. It’s not skillful if our purpose is to move forward along the path, to let the light penetrate freely. If that’s our intention, our great aspiration, and we keep creating darkness through our ignorance, greediness and anger, that’s not very wise. To be skillful then, is to let go rather than to hold on; to see things as they truly are rather than as we want them to be.
Yunmen says, “…when all places are not clear, there is something before you.” This is one kind of sickness. Of course, this is where we begin. It might be that nothing is clear, and everything is before us. Or it might be that there are places that are not clear, and there are some things before us—from what we perceive as inside or outside of us. Being before us, we shouldn’t ignore or suppress those things. Not ignoring them, we shouldn’t grasp at them either. The Buddha said don’t ignore anything, because each phenomena has some kind of existence. Don’t grasp at it, because it’s not existent in the way that we think.
To see without the eyes, to hear without the ears, to think without the mind is the activity of this bodyless, handless, senseless person. But what kind of life is that? It's returning to our natural state, which, if it's natural and always present within us, can't even be a return. If it's natural, it means it's uncontrived, it's not created, and it can't disappear. It's complete simplicity because it's not a construction of the mind. But if it this is so, why is it so difficult to realize? In a sense, every religious tradition has to deal with this question. If there is a basic perfection, a fundamental unity, an underlying state of peace—then how do we account for all the difficulty in this human life? Do objects, events, thoughts, and feelings somehow have a will they subject upon us?