We come to life in this utterly unique constellation of conditions that each one of us represents at this particular moment. This expression of body and mind, thought, emotion. We die the same, but we come to life differently, and in a sense, that’s why genuine practice is so challenging. It’s much easier to guide people towards the death of the self. When we see Mu clearly, when we really recognize that teaching, what each of us sees is precisely the same. In just this way, when we rest within the intrinsic awareness of shikantaza, you and I are the same thing: we have just ceased to be in exactly the same way. But because of our infinite creativity, we come alive in so many different ways. Which is why that side of practice—our practice as individual, unique, karmically conditioned beings—is much more difficult to navigate.

What does it take to sit “empty of worldly anxiety”? What is it to be truly free, not on some hypothetical, ideational level, but in a real way? What is it to move through this life without any sense of hesitation and fear, regardless of the circumstances? And to do this not just in the controlled or anticipated moments of your life, but no matter what circumstance, what person, what situation you encounter.

Hongzhi is talking about a freedom that is “far-reaching and responsive.” He doesn’t get psychological, but he is talking about exactly the same issues we’ve been raising in looking at spiritual bypassing. We have a continual tendency to want to draw a line, create a boundary, between what we include in our practice and the rest of the world. But if you really want to put the remnants of your conditioning to rest, notice where that line comes in. If we really want to be free, there can’t be a line. Just by virtue of the fact there’s a line, there’s a conditionality to our freedom.

Hongzhi says, “If you truly appreciate a single thread,” meaning if you have penetrated and seen the absolute nature of reality, “then your eye can suitably meet the world and its changes.” In other words, you’re able to move in accord with impermanence. “Seeing clearly, do not be fooled, and the ten thousand situations cannot shroud you. Moonlight falls on the water; wind blows over the pines. Light and shadow do not confuse us; sounds or voices do not block us.” You simply hear sound, the moon is clearly refracted, the wind penetrates your experience deeply. And then he says, “Flowing along with things, harmonizing without deviation, thoroughly abandoning webs of dust, still one does not yet arrive....” One is still subject to anxiety. The remnants of conditioning have not been taken care of. We’re still hiding; there are still things hidden.