In this koan, the student comes to Ta Lung with the question, “The physical body rots away, I know that. But what about the hard and fast body of reality?” The commentary says, “This student picked up a load of crudeness and exchanged it for a load of confusion. In posing this question, his defeat was not slight.” His “crudeness” is his conditioning, his ideas about and desire for a hard-and-fast body of reality. He believes what everyone wants to believe and denies what everyone else denies.
We need to understand that an essential part of spiritual practice is to be one’s own person, and to be free of all clinging to any and every notion and false sense of self. The courage of a practitioner is to go one’s own way within the dharma, and to go with intelligence. The dharma is sublime, difficult to understand, beyond all description, and it is supremely intelligent. We live within an immense river of culture and conditioning, beliefs and ideas. This is simply an inevitable part of living in this world of ours. But within this very world, there is another path. This student’s question reveals his mind, just as every question we ask does. It reveals his crudeness, that is, both his confusion about the nature of things and his struggle to make the world conform to that confusion. His question reveals the desire behind his seeking, and so it’s not a real question. He knows what he wants, and he’s trying to get this teacher to satisfy his desire for something solid and lasting. Yet Ta Lung, like all compassionate teachers, meets his student eye to eye, but does not accept his confined view. The commentary says that Ta Lung’s answer was “a glimpse from the side that was truly extraordinary.” And indeed it is. The student believes that if he gets what he wants he will be released from that which binds him, but in fact he’ll just be bound further.