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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
30 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 1 7 But this astute monk replied clearly, “If I did not reach the peak, how could I have known there was no one there?” As a true person of suchness already, this monk was present to witness that nobody was there, least of all a deluded image of himself and an objectified view of suchness that he might grab as a trophy. Dongshan asked why this monk had not remained on the mountaintop, and the monk replied honestly that he would have liked to stay there, but that there was someone from the West, probably referring to the Buddha or Bodhi- dharma, who would not have approved. Dongshan was pleased. The monk’s presence and response demonstrate the subtlety of Dongshan’s teaching of suchness. He understood that the buddhas do not approve of settling in on some peaceful mountain- top, in an exalted bliss state. The bodhisattva path requires not remaining immersed in nirvana but taking personal responsibility and returning from the peak to somehow share the awareness from such an experience. In a related story, Dongshan’ disciple Yunju returned one day to the monastery and Dongshan asked him where he had been. Yunju replied that he had been walking in the mountains. When Dong- shan asked if he had found a mountain to reside on, a place where he could settle and teach, Yunju said categorically that none were suitable. Dong- shan asked if Yunju had visited all of the mountains throughout the country, but Yunju said he had not. Dongshan commented that Yunju “must have found an entry path.” But Yunju completely rejected the traditional Buddhist view of stages in the practice. He pro- claimed emphatically, “No, there is no path.” Dongshan said, “If there is no path, I wonder how you have come to lay eyes on this old monk.” Yunju replied, “If there were a path, then a mountain would stand between us.” The very idea of a path implies some separation, that some distance in space or time needs to be traversed to get to a particular destination. Yunju disdains any path and affirms his present commu- nion with Dongshan, with no need to travel to some and estranged but rather collegial; both clouds and wide sky have their places and can enjoy each other. Our sense of the ultimate and of phenomenal occur- rences need not obstruct each other but can reflect each other and are integrated through our practice. How this works is not easily pinned down. Shitou said to one of his successors, “Suchness is ungrasp- able, and it cannot be grasped beyond suchness. As such or non-such, it cannot be grasped at all.” Even without anything we can grasp, how can we just enjoy the dynamic play of awareness, without trou- bling about such a thing? In our acquisitive, consumerist culture that encourages seeking after rewards, stageless practice is radical. Bob Dylan sings of people who do what they do “just to be nothing more than something they invest in.” We spend most of our time trying to get more of this or less of that, trying to accomplish objectives and manipulate reality to get what we think we need or get rid of what we find unpleas- ant. Our conventional life in the world is about these manipulations, even when aimed at whole- some objectives such as becoming more highly developed spiritually. Yet beyond our personal ambitions, suchness is always present. One day, when a monk arrived at Dongshan’s temple, Dongshan asked where he had been. When the monk said he had been wandering in the moun- tains, Dongshan asked if he had reached the peak, and the monk said that he had. Dongshan asked if there was anyone on the peak. The monk replied, “No, there was not.” Dongshan stated, “If so, then you did not reach the peak.” If nobody was there, indicates Dongshan, then neither was the monk. If this peak experience was a true realization of emp- tiness in which not a single thing exists, then this monk could not exist there either. It is okay to be the person you are, this body and mind right now, in this inhale and this exhale. This is how all buddhas are.