Robert Thurman, in his introduction to the Vimalakirti Sutra, said that it’s not that things are difficult; rather, things are fundamentally perfect unto themselves. But they appear difficult because of our deep desire to grasp at things, and we cannot grasp form, we cannot grasp the mind, and we can’t grasp not-grasping. Fundamentally, clinging itself is both the illness as well as a symptom of the illness. And because we do it so convincingly—that is, when we grasp, it really appears that there’s something we can hold—we become duped. We become convinced of the fact that we have gotten hold of something; having a hold, we become afraid to lose it. And so we better tighten that grip. But all along, our basic nature of being is without independent form: there is nothing that can be grasped. When we realize this, then we see, as we chant in the Identity of Relative and Absolute, “To be attached to things is illusion.”

But, Yunmen said, even though one may have seen into the emptiness of all things, still, it seems like there is something there, something that remains. How can this be? When we look at a perfectly cloudless sky, are we looking at the cloudless sky? Or are we looking for something in the sky? Can we tolerate that there’s nothing there? Is it that when our eyes finally rest upon something— the slightest wisp of a cloud, a passing bird— that there’s a relaxation into the familiar, a sense of comfort in knowing that, even within the vastness of the empty sky, there is something?

The Buddha spoke of the importance of fearlessness in studying buddhadharma, to fearlessly tolerate that cloudless sky—the emptiness of all things, the non-abiding mind; the one without a body or hands or mouth or senses. Yet, the habitual energies of the clinging mind are not yet exhausted; it seems like there is something. This is nicely expressed. Because the light is not yet penetrating freely, it appears as though there is something that still exists on its own. This is why training continues. We begin where things are not clear, and there is something before us. When we let go of body and mind and see into the emptiness of all things, subtly there is something before us; so we must continue. The human mind persistently seeks to find a place to abide, to rest, to stand, to position, to reference—to know. But “not knowing” can also seem to be a place, it too can give rise to a sense of something known.

The koan continues, “The Dharmabody itself has two kinds of sickness.” The Dharma-body is without any characteristic, without any boundary; it reaches everywhere. It has no name and no form. How can it have sickness? Well, how can a buddha be deluded? How can the great body of the Buddha that stretches throughout space and time be confined in this bag of skin? How can we attach to things? How can we let go? It seems like there is something. And the sense of that is pervasive and deep.

So even when one manages to realize the Dharma-body—the body of the Buddha— there is still clinging. There’s still a sense of self; the one who has realized. And so we fall into the realm of the Dharma-body. What realm is that? It’s like painting eyebrows on empty space. It’s the great power of the constructing mind. It’s like one drop of water within the great ocean drawing a circle around itself and declaring, “This is me. Everything else is not me.” It’s like a wave on that ocean forming, rising up and seeing itself as something distinct from that ocean. As it rises up, gaining strength, it cries out, “Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” exulting in the power of its ascent. But then it crests and begins to fall away. Now it gets anxious and cries, “Oh no, not this!” There is a wave, there is the ocean, there is the rising and falling. It’s not non-existent, but what is the nature of its existence? Who can deny that there is a thought arising? Who can deny that we are grasping at it? Who can deny that we are able to let go? There is something there. But what is its real nature?

Yunmen says, “Even if you can pass through, and let go, that, too, won’t do.” Why? Here even letting go is still delusion. Holding on is delusion from the beginning. But letting go is delusion too? Clearly, the illness—holding on—won’t do; don’t rest there. Yunmen is saying that the medicine— letting go—won’t do either; don’t abide in this.

 

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