I recently observed the power of a spider web, and the remarkable thing that happens when a bug lands there, in that net. The moment the bug starts to move, trying to extract itself, its entanglement gets deeper and deeper. The wise spider is just sitting there, watching it all, like Mara in the corner with a gentle smile on his face. What if, in that moment of becoming entrapped, the bug recognized that the solution might be stillness? Within that moment of stillness there is a possibility of seeing the net for what it is. Or more specifically, seeing what that net is not: out there.
"I wonder what does the golden fish who has passed through the net use for food?" And Xuefeng responds, almost glibly, "When you pass through I'll tell you." You could almost see him turning and wanting to walk away. And who knows, it might have worked with a lesser man than Sansheng. There are echoes of Huike's exchange with Bodhidharma, when Huike says, "My mind is not yet at peace," and Bodhidharma says, "Bring me your mind and I'll put it at peace." Is that different from, "I'll tell you when you have passed through the net"?
We also speak of the Net of Indra, the representation of this interdependent universe, of complete reality, of the mind of enlightenment, of "Each bit of autumn contains vast interpenetration without bounds." Is it possible that the net of conditioned activity is precisely the same as the Net of Indra? How are they different? Buddha's teaching offers us a freedom not conditioned by circumstances. It's a freedom that works in the net or out of the net. To pass through something with it remaining behind you is to still be entangled. To be outside of something is to be in relation to that something. We're still stuck. Hence, practice—the practice of intimacy.
What constitutes freedom within this moment? We want to verify the possibility of this freedom. We trust that practice will give us access to that verification. We cannot gain access to another's mind. Sometimes, though, it is helpful to observe another and their actions from outside. Let's ask ourselves the same question that Sansheng is asking Xuefeng, "I wonder, what does the golden fish who has passed through the net use for food?"