The commentary says, “If you want to attain intimacy, don’t ask with questions. Ask with your whole being.” A true question is not just something that comes out through the mouth—it is one’s whole being speaking. The study of this dharma helps us get to the place where we can ask a true, honest and essential question. But we have to get clear on what we are seeking. And again, that’s where our Zen training helps us. It guides us back into ourselves, past all those false desires, those 13 false questions, to get to that place of pure authenticity, where we can ask a genuine question. Ta Lung sees in this student something genuine. There is something good and real.

At the start of our zazen training we cultivate our awareness within the breath, which in the beginning, can seem dull and ordinary, but it’s a skillful way of finding this authenticity within ourselves. Though we may fight against this practice, become bored with it, or talk to ourselves about it, if we stay with it, we find that as we come closer to the breath, something happens. Or is it that something ceases to happen? All of that crudeness begins to fall away, and something bright, clear and perfect is seen. Coming closer still—becoming the breath—we are no longer experiencing the breath through our eyes, our ears, or the body. It’s just breath. Breath meeting and breathing breath.

What is this hard and fast body of reality? The reality body is the body of truth, the body of dharma, the dharmakaya. We know something of the physical body. That’s the one brought forth by our mother and father, built up by rice and porridge, having texture, aroma, solidity, weight. But we need to come closer, to go beyond all those qualities and characteristics and be enlightened to the formless body. This real body has no inside and outside, no boundaries and thus no limitations. It doesn’t know “no.” It doesn’t know “yes” either. It’s never born, it never dies. It appears because of conditions in a form that’s sitting on top of your cushion. You call it “you.” I call this one “me.” It’s an extraordinary thing and it has qualities that give us unimaginable possibilities, god-like, you might say. But so often we squander our potential and get caught up in what isn’t important.

Even when we come into Zen training, we’re usually looking for some kind of heaven. We’re looking for something extraordinary, something like a different, spiritualized, version of what we already know; something that leaves everything we cling to intact, but keeps out the pain. The dharma, however, points us to something truly extraordinary. True silence. Profound stillness. The intimate breath. We leap free of this physical body not through denial—the body will not be denied—but through the understanding that comes through intimacy. To attain this intimacy, don’t ask with questions. Don’t stand back, or think. Don’t analyze. At such a time, how is it? Ta Lung says, “The mountain flowers bloom like brocade. The valley streams are brimming blue as indigo.” The student seeks what is “hard and fast” and Ta Lung points to mountain flowers blooming, the valley stream—the very essence of change and the ephemeral.

The dharma body is not born, it doesn’t decay, it does not die. What is impermanence? In Buddhist teachings very often it’s spoken of in terms of change, but what is change? We observe it, we recognize it, but what is the nature of change? This is the deeper question, the way to a deeper study and understanding.

The monk wants to know, “What is everlasting; what can I rest in?” Ta Lung says, “Mountain flowers bloom like brocade.” This is this body of reality, this is what you can rely upon, but do not grasp with your senses. The seedling appears, it grows, blooms and passes. Ta Lung says “To discover what you seek, enter here.” What is your true body? A newborn baby. A person in their prime. An aging person. A person on their deathbed. A corpse. Dust. Which one’s true? Which is the real one? Which one is you?

When we want a certain outcome, we go looking for a certain outcome. The possibilities are few. Student mind wants to truly understand, and so, we should form no conclusion. So many 14 times in my own training I’d be stuck on something and be resisting, thinking, “I know what I need. I know what’s best!” And then a moment of sanity would appear and I’d say, “Hold on. Do you really know? It hasn’t been working so far. You came here to study. You are just beginning and this wisdom tradition has been alive for 2500 years. What should you trust?” And then I would start over, return to the teachings, listen to my teacher, and trust my basic practice.