Sensory deprivation is too radical, but take a look at what the nature of practice is all about. It puts guards on the sense doors, not by slamming them down externally but by inviting you into your own wisdom, to very gently start seeing without being seduced. Then you can simply see your mind—how your mind is going to fill in, and then continuing, relaxing deeper into that space which practice affords us.

During the Buddha’s time, practitioners would study disintegrating corpses. I think of the exhibit called “Bodies,” which exposed the human body by taking the skin off a preserved corpse to reveal the reality of what this body is. Our objectification of a person relies on the fact that I behold you as this skin bag. This makes it easy to fall in love or to engender hatred. How much more difficult it is if I think about you as a spleen and kidneys, or some sinews and ligaments and a lot of undifferentiated liquid? Although he is speaking on a subtler level, the cleaning and purifying of our ordinary bones that Hongzhi invites is precisely so we can see the nature of what we truly are.

The function of Zen training is to open this possibility for you, so that you can free yourself from the delusion of things. Within the space that we co-create, we have the chance to find ourselves feeling our minds, bodies and emotions in a slightly different way. It can be scary. We can feel like we are on a precipice or like we are falling through space. And although it is unfamiliar, at the same time we may feel that there is something right about it. Trust that.

Leaving the practice hall, stepping into the world, how easy it is to forget about the spaciousness of our mind and experience. The wheels of daily life are, for the most part, predicated on avoiding seeing just how vast we are. Yet it is our willingness to let go, to study our mind, to turn toward ourselves moment-to-moment and be intimate with our ordinary bones that this same world is depending on. That willingness to see the truth is yours. Nobody can take that away from you.

The Book of Serenity, or Shoyoroku, is a collection of one hundred koans compiled during the 12th century and commented on by Master Wansong with poems by Master Hongzhi, both teachers in the Caodong (Soto) school of Zen.