Master Keizan said, “It is not necessary to ask about others. Just look back on your own very first determination of mind. Look into yourself and see what is right, and see what is not right. This is why it is said that it is hard to be as careful of the end as the beginning. If they would truly be beginners, who would not become people of the Way?”
Students will come to a dharma teacher asking for guidance, wisdom, support. And the teacher, in turn, makes a commitment to offer the dharma to others, helping them cast away their attachments, bringing their attention to their hindrances; helping them empower themselves to put out their own fires. But while helping others to turn the light around and see deeply within themselves, we can stop turning our own light around. We can become confused or arrogant about what is right and what is not right. It’s easy to lose that fresh, keen, alert mind of the beginner. My sense of this is that as teachers become more involved in working with students, it becomes more important than ever that their own inner practice remain strong and alive, just as it was in the beginning of training.
The Buddha said in the Surangama Sutra: “You whom I’ve given this instruction to have now dedicated yourselves to attaining great awakening, the supreme and wondrous enlightenment. You have the right method for practice but you may still not be aware of the subtle demonic events that can occur when you undertake these practices. If you do not purify your mind, you will not be able to recognize these states as they arise. You will not find the right path and you will fall into the error of wrong views.” Then he talks in some detail about the different states that arise for practitioners as they become more accomplished in the Way. He says to Ananda, “As the person intently investigates that wondrous brightness [of enlightenment], the four elements will no longer function together, and soon the body will be able to transcend obstructions. This state is Premasagar Rose called ‘the pure brightness merging into the environment.’ It is a temporary state in the course of cultivation and does not indicate sagehood. If he doesn’t think he has become a sage, then this will be a good state. But if he considers himself a sage, then he will be vulnerable to the demons’ influence.”
So how do teachers remain students? To truly be beginners is to remain inspired by and inquiring of the dharma; to be deeply motivated to realize that which we have not yet seen and respectful of those habitual energies that may still have power. In other words, to be respectful of Mara—our own delusion—because it is a powerful force. This is an important aspect of the work that Daido Roshi did within our Order over these many years—to build into the structure, into the way we’re practicing and living together and training⎯precautionary measures to deal with these very powerful forces within us; measures that help us to navigate and channel those energies into practice. This is the inner and outer upaya helping us to not turn away, to not defile the Three Treasures, to not betray others.
In this koan, Yangshan responds to Guishan by saying, “Long ago in Sudatta’s garden, the Buddha expounded just this.” Guishan said, “That’s not enough. Say more.” And Yangshan said, “When it’s cold, to wear socks for others is not prohibited.” Daido Roshi says in his commentary, “We should understand that ‘to wear socks for others’ is a very personal matter. It is the seamless dharma activity that is the ten thousand hands and eyes of great compassion itself.” In that intimacy there is no betrayal. There’s no disappointment. There’s no turning away. But in the moment that separation appears, all suffering becomes possible. Practice is to ceaselessly close that gap, to see through the illusion of separation.
There are many reasons and justifications for why we betray ourselves and others, why we violate our vows. One often hears that a teacher is dwelling in the absolute—as if the absolute were a place. This is nonsense. While one can be attached to the absolute, this attachment—as is always the case—is to an idea of something; not the thing itself. How can one attach to something that has no position, no fixed characteristic? The absolute is not a place and no one has ever dwelt there. It’s not an “it.” And yet it’s real. That is why going deep into the nature of things, this dharma, is to navigate dangerous territory. In the ultimate realm there is no betrayal, no other, no actor nor the one acted upon. And yet, for this very reason we chant in the Identity of Relative and Absolute, “To realize the absolute is not yet enlightenment.” It’s why Daido Roshi said that wisdom and compassion are inseparable. The moment we separate them, the danger is already present. We must be able to step forward from the top of the hundred-foot pole and manifest “no position” in all directions, in all relationships. That’s why practice must be seamless dharma activity.