Masters speak this way because they have, in their own practice, wanted to pull out every single weed, wanted to eradicate every obstruction, wanted to leap free of it all to escape the world. They’ve encountered the sickness present in that frame of mind, and they’ve demanded something more of themselves. In other words, they did not stop. They were not satisfied with some measure of comfort. They sought an ultimate medicine to heal all illness, including the illness of a dharma view; of spiritual purity, of holiness.

So perseverance is essential because the world of attachments can seem endless, and the world of no attachments is still not safe. The light still doesn’t penetrate freely. The Faith Mind poem says, “When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way”—in the midst of that field of wild weeds—“then nothing can offend you. And when a thing can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way.” Zhaozhou might say that instead of being used by the many wild weeds, the bodhisattva can use them to help others.

And so, With a bolt of silk, an old fisherman takes it to market. We persevere in our practice to fully embody true equanimity. Wansong says, “Yunmen’s meaning is entering the market place extending his hands, not avoiding the wind and waves.” It could be said that with his own sickness cured, he now feels deep pain over the sickness of others. This is the heart of Vimalakirti. As we encounter our own illnesses we learn about illness and medicine, which brings forth the great heart of compassion.

 

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We might think that when we heal ourselves, that then we’ll no longer be touched by the pain of others. We’ll no longer feel the great illness of human existence, of the earth. Far from it. In one sense, the pain magnifies. When you lose your skin, there’s just bare nerve endings. But because there’s no illusion about holding on or letting go, it’s not a burden. It’s one of the essential skills of the bodhisattva path, of living a compassionate life—meeting reality on the ground of reality, and thus, not taking it on as a burden. “Let it be,” Wansong says. “How can it hinder you?”

Floating on the wind, a single leaf travels on the waves. No obstruction, no complication. And yet this state— while simple and uncontrived—is very smart. Do you understand? Don’t leave out a single thing—your intelligence, life experience, wrong turns, and triumphs. Use all that you have to serve all that you meet. Thus, Kannon Bodhisattva’s one thousand hands hold one thousand implements. The footnote says, “Finding the wonder along with the flow.” Wansong is speaking to you and me. He’s saying there is wonder. When we live in deep trust, that very trust is equal to the virtues of the enlightened mind


Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei is abbot and resident teacher of the Zen Center of New York City: Fire Lotus Temple, and Head of the Order for the Mountains and Rivers Order.

The Book of Serenity or Shoyoroku (12th century) is a collection of one hundred koans compiled and commented on by Master Wansong with poems by Master Hongzhi.

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