Kapleau goes on to say, “Even opening the mind’s eye fully does not in one fell swoop purify the emotions. Continuous training after enlightenment is required to purify the emotions so that our behavior accords with our understanding. This vital point must be understood.” That’s the right view of the Eightfold Path—it unspools before us endlessly.
Some of the work we have to do on this path is personal work. I don’t think this is simply a matter of applying spiritual insight to the rest of one’s life or character, as Kapleau Roshi’s reply suggests. Our awareness needs to give life to all the aspects of life—to aspects of ourself we have compartmentalized, to the sequestered memories of past injuries, the anticipation of future hurts, to the deepest, most entrenched defenses and flaws that—if we do not summon our greatest courage and determination and skill, all of our resources—may remain untouched for years.
The work required to do this is complete, and the possibility exists all along the way to try to deflect and sidestep those places that are so difficult to face within ourselves. And so they continue. But, as Hongzhi teaches, it’s possible. It’s possible to put to rest all of our conditioning, and to be free of anxiety, and to be far-reaching and completely responsive regardless of circumstances. And, then, that fine line sneaks in there: “Arrive at this field and immediately recognize your ancestors,” which simply means at that instant recognizing what the people before us went through. What Hongzhi went through. What Dogen, what Buddha, what each person who has realized themselves went through. They offer that to us. We are, always have been, and always will be, in good company.
Cultivating the Empty Field is a collection of teachings by Master Hongzhi translated by Taigen Dan Leighton. Hongzhi was a twelfth-century Zen master and the author of the Book of Equanimity. His teachings on silent illumination were essential to the formation of the Caodong (Soto) school.