If we want to “put to rest the remnants of our conditioning,” then we have to become intimate, aware, and feelingful of everything that arises—the totality of our mind. We can hear a phrase like this and think that somehow just by refining and developing our concentration in zazen or having some kind of breakthrough or experience of insight, we’ll free ourselves from all of our karma. But the path of truly putting our conditioning to rest is the path of dealing with our karma—all of it. We cannot go around it.

31.4 Ryushin 1 of 3 Ronn Aldaman

In the midst of doing this work, as Buddhist practitioners we also have to be aware of the emptiness all of this is resting on. True practice of the dharma does not allow us to forget that. The Buddha taught we have to understand our intentions, we have to clearly see the nuances and specificity of the circumstances we encounter—the colors we are seeing, the feelings of the body, all the subtle details of each moment—and yet always remember all of it is empty of any inherent quality.

This teaching has to be repeated over and over again. To look at the relative does not deny the absolute. To look at the absolute does not deny the relative. Our practice needs to embrace all of it—we can’t leave anything outside. This is why it’s said that when the student points to the relative, the teacher points to the absolute. When the student points to the absolute, the teacher points to the relative. Sometimes it’s the teacher that fluctuates, pointing one way and then the other, but this is all to manifest the golden body of the Buddha—to arrive where those apparent differences have been resolved. And in that silence, we die.