“Enlightenment and morality are nondual in the Way. One does not exist without the other.” Enlightenment and morality are the same thing. They’re the same as form and emptiness. Form is exactly emptiness; emptiness is exactly form. Not similar to, not like, not a mixture of—exactly. Of course that doesn’t compute, does it? It doesn’t make sense that diametrically opposite things are the same thing. How could form and emptiness be exactly the same thing? If you try to get there through rational thought, you’re not going to get there. It needs to be realized. You need to go very deep into yourself to see that truth. Mouthing the words doesn’t get you there. Understanding it doesn’t get you there. Believing it doesn’t get you there. It needs to be realized.

The next line says, “Nirvana is not beyond good and evil, as is commonly believed.” There’s a troubling misconception out there that Zen is amoral or beyond morality. This idea was popular in the Sixties, when Zen was first appearing on the scene here in the West, and it came in part from people who studied Zen at a distance and wrote about it, but who never really put their butt on a cushion. If we want to study Zen, it’s not enough to read books or visit temples or study at university. This is not about the words and ideas that describe reality. It’s about the direct experience of reality itself.

Alan Watts, whose books have influenced thousands of people, wrote, “Thus there arose that peculiar way of life called Bushido, the Tao of the warrior, which is essentially the application of Zen to the arts of war. The association of the peace-loving doctrine of the Buddha with military arts has always been a puzzle to Buddhists of other schools. It seems to involve the complete divorce of awakening from morality. But one must face the fact that, in its essence, the Buddha’s experience is a liberation from conventions of every kind, including the moral conventions.” How does he understand liberation? How does he understand moral conventions? Morality is not a convention. It’s not a list of rules. It’s not a list of do’s and don’t’s. It’s transmitted mind-to-mind, generation-to-generation. If the Precepts have not been transmitted, the Dharma has not been transmitted.

This notion that enlightenment is beyond morality may have had to do with the times. In the late Sixties, nobody wanted to be a moralist; everyone wanted to be liberal. But they were missing the fact that these precepts are about freedom. The precepts define the life of a buddha—a truly free person. They are how a buddha functions. Nirvana is not beyond good and evil. It is a way of living one’s life with a definite moral commitment that is realized within the realm of good and evil, and yet undefiled by them. But although these teachings are essential, they weren’t being taken up. I remember everybody in Zen was running around with rakusus; when I got my rakusu, I had no idea what it was. Nobody told me. I didn’t even know it had anything to do with the precepts. I watched the Karmapa when he first came to Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery to do a Black Hat ceremony in Woodstock. Thousands of people gathered around. They all had these little red strings around their necks. There was a guy standing there and he said, “Hey, man, did you get yourself one of these?” He didn’t even know what it was. And to this day, it goes on. It’s rare that the precepts are taught or even regarded as a part of the Dharma. It’s even rarer that they’re practiced.