Given the fact that talks on the dharma are an important part of our training here, we have necessarily relegated ourselves to using language to attempt to communicate something about our practice. Language, it would seem, is an activity rather than a body—we frequently depend on language, seeing it as something energetic, something active. We forget that in order for language to be communicating the truth, it needs to be deeply embodied.

We’re in a tradition that recognizes the dualism inherent in how our minds work, that the very problem of our suffering is connected to our tendency to see things and split them into two or three or millions of components. Our habit of breaking things up this way seems to be innate to our human neurology, and this tendency is such a ubiquitous aspect of our existence that we rarely bring deliberate and sustained attention to understanding the reality before any compartmentalization happens—before a word is spoken, before the mind moves—including the split we create between mind and function, between wisdom and compassion, between realization and manifestation.

What does it mean to rest in the reality that knows nothing about this way of approaching our lives? Are you a body or are you an action? As you’re sitting there right now, are you matter or are you energy? Are you a thing or are you a field of activity? Are you committed to personal realization, or do you prefer to head into the world and manifest your wisdom in activity?

Interestingly enough, the title of this koan could have been “Chih Men’s Function of Wisdom,” but no—it’s “Chih Men’s Body of Wisdom.” Hsueh Tou decided to title it that way to bring our attention back to the body. Is that relevant? What do you hear when this monk asks about the nature of wisdom, about its body and its function?

Chih Men, the teacher in this koan, appears in the Blue Cliff Record twice. There is an earlier koan of a similar nature where a monk asks questions about the nature of enlightenment, of what it’s like before and what it’s like after. Although Chih Men only appears twice in this collection of one hundred koans, he was the teacher of Hsueh Tou, who compiled the collection. And Hsueh Tou’s enlightenment experience with Chih Men pivoted on this very question of what reality is like before a single thought arises.