In the Compass of Zen, Zen Master Seung Sahn says that Mahayana Buddhism teaches the insight of the true aspect of all phenomena. It is said, when the Buddha was enlightened, he cried out, “Each thing has it. Each thing is complete. It and dust interpenetrate. It is already apparent in all things.” The word dust here means the phenomenal world – the world we live in. In other words, he was saying “form is emptiness” – “emptiness is form”. We can understand this intellectually, but how do we experience this as zen meditation practitioners? Insight into the true aspect of all phenomena means that we have a deep experience of seeing that all things are imbued with Buddha Nature. We can understand that intellectually, but zen teaches us that there is another way of knowing – another way of experiencing. This is prajna – an intense knowing – the knowing that happens before you can even articulate what that knowing is. This is what happened to the Buddha. After intensive practice, he looked up, saw the morning star and immediately understood that everything and everybody has this nature.
So how do we get there? How do we develop that same insight into the nature of all phenomena and of ourselves? Zen meditation is a practice of deep introspection – an introspection that goes deeper than just figuring out your psychological or emotional life. This introspection gets at the heart of the very stuff we are made of. First, we must actually see into our thoughts and emotions – looking at the roots of how they appear. Watching our thoughts come and go and the emotions they evoke, we soon come to realize how capricious they are. Thoughts come and go without our even trying – arising and falling, we begin to see that they are without substance and we also can see how we cling to them. Our thoughts, biases, opinions, proclivities, emotional make-up – all of that is nothing more than the products of our conditioned minds. Minds that have been conditioned since the time we were born and maybe even before:) Gradually, we begin to see that our thoughts are not the “it” that the Buddha talked about – our true self, our true master. Emptied of clinging to our thoughts as the truth of the self, we begin to see that this “self” – this “it” is the very ground of being. And with that insight, we are free – falling again into this world of name and form, we understand the fullness of our lives and of those around us.