Before the time of Hui-neng, who lived in the seventh century in T’ang China, it was thought that the experience of enlightenment could be attained only after one had practiced and attained some depth in dhyana, meditation. Perhaps some of us still think that. Hui-neng, however, maintained that prajna, transcendental wisdom, is inseparable from dhyana. Neither can be understood without the other.
There are three forms of discipline in our practice. The first is shila, moral precepts against stealing, gossiping, coveting, and so on. The second is dhyana, or Zen, and the third is prajna. Hui-neng said that for true understanding, we must know that dhyana is not different from prajna, and that prajna is not something attained after practicing Zen. When we are practicing, in this very moment of practicing, prajna is unfolding itself in every single aspect of our lives: sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, cooking the food, everything we do.
This was the very original teaching of Hui-neng, and it marked the beginning of true Zen Buddhism. Everything is teaching us, everything is showing us this wonderful dharma light. All we have to do is open our eyes, open our hearts. While we are doing, thinking, and feeling, Zen is there, prajna is there. This intuitive mind infuses everything we do. But this is not something about which we can have discursive knowledge. We cannot attain realization of this in that way. This intuitive knowledge comes from our body and our mind. We don’t sit here and think about what enlightenment is. To think “I must get enlightened” is the greatest impediment. To have some degree of enlightenment is wonderful; to think about it is terrible. “No-knowing” is what we do, as in the famous phrase of Bodhidharma. When the emperor of China asked, “Who is this who stands before me?” Bodhidharma replied, “No-knowing.” No-knowing. There is no way that we can take this intuitive mind and quantify it. We can’t say, “Here it is, I’m going to give you one month’s worth, or two months’ worth, and now your course is finished.” That’s not it. We may see it in an instant, or it may take several lifetimes. This is a practice of endurance and patience. Forgetting all about gaining anything, we are simply trying to see clearly.
What does seeing clearly mean? It doesn’t mean that you look at something and analyze it, noting all its composite parts; no. When you see clearly, when you look at a flower and really see it, the flower sees you. It’s not that the flower has eyes, of course. It’s that the flower is no longer just a flower, and you are no longer just you. Flower and you have dissolved into something way beyond what we can even say, but we can experience this. This kind of seeing, this kind of understanding is “as-it-is-ness.” This wonderful intuitive wisdom infuses everything we do, if we just open ourselves up to it, and forget about all our selfish, petty concerns, forget about what we want, what we must get, whether this is doing something for us. Forget it. We are here for the sake of all sentient beings, and we are one with all sentient beings when we come to see this as-it-is-ness. Meister Eckhart, a thirteenth-century Christian mystic who really understood this, said, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.”
We all see things through the conceptualizing of color and form, and yet we do not see them in their true essence, because we separate ourselves from what we see. When we think of something as good or bad, it is our own habit of thought. It is because we have so much attachment to this discriminating mind that we do not experience Mu. Our attachment even shows in our bodies. We have something blocked somewhere, something that refuses to let go. We’re so attached, even to pain. “That is my pain!” Whose pain? When you hear the han struck, do you feel the pain of the wood? Can you let go of your own pain, give up this imagined individual self, and just dissolve into Muuuuu?
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