Seeing into one’s true nature is the experience of all traces of self dropping away; not a single atom remains. Radiant and luminous, it is all space and time because space and time cannot be found. There is no boundary. The self is liberated from suffering, from past, present and future, from highs and lows, from before and after, from thinking and non-thinking, from Heaven and Hell. And although this experience is very important, it is also just another beginning. In the poem that is part of our liturgy, The Identity of Relative and Absolute, we chant, “to encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.” First we have to free ourselves of everything we think we know—we have to directly experience all perceptions as creations of the mind. And we must also relate to the world, which is filled with turmoil and confusion, the very stuff of our perceptions. How do these relate to each other? The Mahayana teachings help us realize that all apparent dualities are of one nature, one reality, one truth. Practice takes us on a journey in which we realize everything in the material and non-material world is empty of self-existence, but the true dharma doesn’t let us negate the reality that things do appear. Realizing the natural unity of this empty yet arising reality is the most profound and challenging aspect of our practice. We begin practice in attachment to an idea of the world as permanent. In realizing emptiness, we can then negate the physical, phenomenal world.

31.4 Shugen 1 of 3 Vincent HP Liu

Master Hakuin, commenting on Master Tung Shan’s teaching of the Five Ranks, says, “Too often the disciple, considering that their attainment of this reality body is the end of the great matter, and their discernment of the Buddha way as being now complete, clings to this and will not let go of it. And even though they remain absorbed in this for thirty or forty years they will never get out of this cave of self-complacency. As long as one remains in this hiding place of quietude, inside and outside are transparent and their understanding appears perfectly clear. However, the moment the bright insight that they have thus far gained comes into contact with differentiations, defiling conditions of turmoil and confusion, agitation and vexation, love and hatred, they will find themselves utterly helpless before them. And all the miseries of existence will press in upon them.” In other words they are not yet liberated. “To realize the absolute is not yet enlightenment.”