This is how we are held by the world. This is how we hold each other in the unreserved physicality of a warm, welcoming hug. There are two children in the sangha who show up regularly at the monastery with their parents. They are the best huggers I have encountered in my life. What they offer with their whole bodies, how they accept me unconditionally and how they disappear in their release—there are no traces left behind. When we meet they jump up, grab me by the neck and wrap themselves around me like a vine around the trunk of a tree, holding with just the right amount of pressure, holding and giving everything away. And then, at the precisely right moment, they let go. They descend and walk away, not turning around. Gone. It's total acceptance. I always feel like those twenty to thirty seconds are the best confessional, a gap where all my sins are pardoned or simply melt away in a gentle embrace of atonement. It is a meeting with unconcerned travelers.
We are embraced, endlessly held in this practice. In zazen, we learn how to do this with respect to our own selves and all of our experience. We are able to befriend ourselves unconditionally, and that friendship is not some abstraction or dried up analysis but a breathing and stable posture. It is groundedness and integrity, warmth and sympathy, precision and clarity. In a way, it's even more intimate than the embrace of a child. There is no censorship or judgment. Nothing of you remains outside. Are we prepared for that degree of welcome? Your whole family will arrive on the cushion with you. That's a hard one. Did I not start this journey with some inkling of hope that I could leave that world behind? But no, they are coming. They're already knocking on the door. If they haven't yet arrived—the best and the worst of you—they will. That's guaranteed.
Those who are raping this earth will sit with you. Those who are the personification of greed and violence and disregard—or, worse yet, tepid indifference—will sit with you. Every aspect of your mind is always with you. Every aspect of humanity needs to be accounted for. Is accounted for. Being held by our own selves completely means completely. Using the whole self to embrace the whole self, the whole world, the whole universe. It means not being held by something outside. Not being held by some abstract aspect of your mind. The body completely fulfills itself within itself. The breath completely fulfills itself within itself. Your mind, your awareness of the whole universe, comes to sit intimately with you.
Tzu Fu draws a circle, riveting in its completeness, in its vastness and boundlessness. And, with the stroke not closing in on itself, it remains perpetually incomplete. That little gap reminds us that this is not static, that it's never conclusive. That it is practice—it is cultivation of vast emptiness.
Ch'en Ts'ao approaches Tzu Fu. Ch'en Ts'ao is a bit of a dark figure. He was a lay practitioner and a high-ranking official in the Chinese court, a recognized adept of Zen. He had a very deep connection with Master Yunmen. Ch'en Ts'ao was arrogant and confrontational, and Yunmen was able to rechannel that energy. Ch'en Ts'ao hated monks and their superciliousness. He was continuously trying to expose their pettiness, opportunism and attachment to an easy life. He would invite monks for dinner, and then toward the end of the meal he would offer them donations of money, watching how they would react.