The obvious challenge is how can we use all of this—our specificity as an individual, our place in the history of the dharma, what’s available to us because of our karma—to become completely free of worldly anxiety. As much as we need the realization of no-self, we also need to do our so-called “personal work” if we want to put to rest the remnants of our conditioning.
What is personal work? Is it art practice? Therapy? Liturgy? Being in an intimate relationship? Being in a student-teacher relationship? Hermitage practice? Chanting? Tantra? All of it? None of it? Where do we find ourself? In a sense, it doesn’t make a difference how we approach this personal work, but it needs to be approached.
Hongzhi’s teaching is reflected in the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures. He guides us toward and underlines the importance of that glimpse, of that insight, of whatever the degree of realization of selflessness is represented by that third stage, by the “glimpse of the ox,” if you will. He speaks to what is necessary in order for us to get there: the intention, the sense of establishing a certain stability, of turning deeply into the source of our awareness, the source of our mind: the place of the single thread, of the realization of our selflessness. And then, the fun begins.
I remember the first impression I had when I came here and noticed the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures—not just noticed them in passing, but made contact with them and recognized what they were pointing to. I was reassured by that fourth Ox-Herding Picture—it’s the image of the person struggling with the ox, pulling against the rope. I thought, “Ok, this is good.” This was definitely reflecting what it felt like. Yes, we get a glimpse. We see something. The single thread is realized. The reality that you and me are the same thing is becoming available. There is the spaciousness, there is the openness—and then things get chaotic and out of control. And this is what Hongzhi points to when he so gently says, “Put to rest the remnants of your conditioning.” That’s probably 70 years of our lives in the making. But then there is that moment where it is put to rest—the life which is free, completely and unconditionally free of anxiety.