Having glimpsed our true nature, but still feeling the powerful pull of our conditioning, we have to grapple with how to live. As we awaken the real heart of compassion, we dare to respond—but how? What if we don’t respond in the right way? What if we answer the person at the bottom of the tree but then someone comes right after them and asks another question? What if we never get a break? If we let go, we lose our life. Yet if we don’t, we’ve turned away from someone who needs us and continue to feed our selfishness. How do we leap free of these walls and boundaries? How do we go beyond seeing self-liberation as separate from helping someone else? This is a very real question, and it is alive in our zazen all the time: How do we attend to this thought without rejecting it? How do we let go of this memory without aggressively cutting it off? In our zazen we are learning how to not pit one thing against another. How do we truly and deeply accept all that arises, yet not indulge it? Indulgence and denial are not abstract—we experience that dance all the time.
So in this place, having had a glimpse of the true nature of our being, we give birth to wisdom and compassion. There is so much work yet to be done, but the path we need to follow is clarifying—we are finding our way. We can begin to hear the words of Shantideva, “May I become food and drink during times of famine. May I be a protector for those who are without protection, a guide for travelers, a boat, a bridge, and a ship for those who wish to cross over.” May I be what you need.
This is the Bodhisattva Vow: “Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to alleviate all their suffering.” In the beginning of my training, I remember feeling this was so large, so vast, I could not begin to comprehend such a life, much less my capacity to be such a person. Yet, with each day, each step along the path, our appreciation of this great vow and our boundless capacity develops. It happens over time. Practice is a journey of manifesting this great vow. This means we must turn towards it, grapple with it, try to find our way into it, to make it our very own body and mind. This vow is the life a true person. Even early on in our practice, this light of great compassion is being kindled. The light is flickering and fragile, but there is light. And that light is who we truly are
The Gateless Gate, or Wumenkuan, is a collection of forty-eight koans compiled in the early thirteenth century by the Chinese Zen Master Wumen Huikai.