What is Zen training? What do we offer here? The discipline of training gives us a deliberate and organized way to investigate the nature of our mind. When we meet the structure of training with curiosity, we find ourselves in the midst of a particular kind of spaciousness. After being locked away in a tight compartment of our conditioned perceptions, we are invited to step out into an expansive vista where our perspective can shift radically. We discover a mind that is accommodating, accepting, open, and ultimately indefinable. Zen training is a deconstructing and lightening experience—lightening both in terms of dissolving the weight and substance of our perceptions and in terms of providing illumination.

How we respond to the experience of practice varies. It may be seen as liberating or as anxiety-provoking. Either way is all right. When we encounter something new, there is an invitation to be real, to see who we truly are. There is a possibility of seeing through the concreteness of our assumptions. Under scrutiny, within the open space of our natural mind, the “thing-ness” of the world and ourselves begins to transform.

In the last line of the poem, Hongzhi teases us kindly, “Clean and purify the ordinary bones so you can play with the immortals.” He poses the possibility of our immortality. We do, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, entertain and sustain an illusion of our immortality. The most effective way of doing this is that we just forget about or distance ourselves from the fact that we’re going to die. But we are continually convincing ourselves of our permanence in a much more subtle way, too. Take, for example, this talk. It started several minutes ago. You see yourself as the same person who began listening to this talk. You see that something continuous, something immortal—you—managed to travel across space and time. You’re happily welcoming yourself in this moment, nodding to yourself and saying, “Oh, here I am,” again and again, and “I am going to be here right through until the end.” We hope that end doesn’t come too soon; unconsciously, we hope that we will continue forever.