Before coming to Fayan, Baoen had studied with Master Dizang. One day Dizang said:
Sounds and forms assault us every moment. Do you directly face them or not? If you face them directly, then your diamond-solid concept of self will melt away. How can this be? Because these sounds penetrate your ears and these forms pierce your eyes, you are overwhelmed by conditions. You are killed by delusion. There's not enough room inside of you for all of these sounds and forms. If you don't face them directly then how will you manage all of these sounds and forms? Do you understand? Face them or not face them. See for yourself!
"Face them or don't face them. See for yourself"—very important. He's saying that we have a choice. Every moment, we can face it or not. He's just stating the fact of what is always true, but presenting it as a question. Encountering what is difficult, do we turn away or do we turn towards? Right here there is either dying or coming to life.
So for three years Baoen was living in Fayan's community, eating the food, taking up space. What was he doing? What was his 'peaceful bliss'? What does that mean? In his commentary, Daido Roshi says, "If you've seen it clearly, then you'll have the freedom to manifest it in the market place or on the road." Thus, when we are "on the road," living our lives, studying the Dharma, and are not fully free, this means we have not yet seen it clearly. If we truly want to be clear and free, then this constriction, this awareness that we are not free, helps us practice more deeply.
In the beginning, it's easy to fall into thinking we—as students—have come to some mastery of the teachings. When a young person falls in love, they might feel they now understand real love. Yet, twenty or forty years later, if they've been practicing and living love, they'll have a very different perspective, a more mature understanding of love. Master Dogen says, "When the truth does not fill our whole body and mind, then we think we have enough. When the truth does fill our whole body and mind, then we realize something is missing."
It would seem that Baoen felt he had enough. Even though he was living in this community with this excellent teacher, he saw no reason to seek the teaching. Fayan asked him this simple, piercing question, "How did you enter that place of peaceful bliss?" Baoen then tells the story of how he asked his previous teacher, Yuezhou, "What is the self of the practitioner?"Yuezhou said, "The fire god seeks fire." Fayan hears this story and responds, "Well those are good words but you didn't understand." How did he know that? Daido Roshi writes, "When a person of clarity meets another of great clarity there's no doubt about it." Well the same is true when a person of great clarity meets a person who is not yet clear.
Baoen got upset at Fayan's words. Daido Roshi writes, "What a pity. If there's even a spark of life, there's still life." If there hadn't been that spark of life, he would have just turned and left. But that's not what happened. His bliss was suddenly not so peaceful. That's an essential offering a teacher provides to a sincere student. How many times did my teacher present me directly with what I needed to face but couldn't see? Maybe I would have, sooner or later, maybe Baoen would have sooner or later, but Fayan presented him with what he was missing: "You don't understand."