“Coming from empty space, and returning to empty space.” This means that the self-nature─the original mind, is like empty space, which has nothing in it but is capable of a myriad transformations and infinite wonderful functions. Although it undergoes a myriad transformations, in the end it returns to emptiness. As it is said,
“There is nothing that does not flow forth from the Dharma Realm, and nothing that does not return to the Dharma Realm.” If one were to say that the Venerable Master’s birth was a coming from empty space, and that his completion of stillness was a return to empty space, that wouldn’t be appropriate. People are fundamentally illusory and unreal, like images in a mirror. They have no actuality and do not come or go. When they exist, they do not really exist, and when they cease to exist, they are not really nonexistent. The substance of the mirror is eternal and unmoving. If the images in the mirror are taken to be real, the substance of the mirror is lost. I hope everyone will understand from this that the Master’s birth and death are illusory and will truly recognize their original self-nature. If we understand this, then the Master has not left us. This is the original intention of all Buddhas in coming into the world, and it is also the Venerable Master’s purpose in speaking the Dharma. Thus, this is called the
1. Once when I was sweeping leaves in the Great Compassion Courtyard, the Venerable Master drove his golf cart up and stopped beside me. He got out and asked,
“What are you doing?” I said, “Sweeping the leaves.” The Master said,
“Not bad.” I’ve been musing over this, and recently I’ve come to some understanding of it. My answer was only half correct. Why? Because although I used a straight mind, I blurted out the answer without thinking. When the Master had stopped the golf cart, I was holding the broom and waiting, not sweeping leaves. The Master had asked about the present, while I had replied about the past. However, if it had been someone else in that situation, perhaps he wouldn’t have dared to say anything at all. At least I was able to say something, so the Master said,
“Not bad.” That time, I had gone up the steps, but I didn’t get in the door.
2. Another time, when it was time for the Noon Meal Offering, I had just walked by the Five Contemplations Dining Hall when the Master drove up, stopped beside me, and got out of the cart. Holding a melon up, he asked,
“What’s this?” I said, “I don’t recognize it.” This time, I reflected on my answer before giving it, but I only saw the outside, not the inside. Externally speaking my answer was correct, but internally it wasn’t. My own intrinsic mind is constantly before me; how can I not recognize it? And yet, it would be difficult to describe in words. When the Sixth Patriarch asked the ancient worthy, Chan Master Linyou, what he came from, he was struck dumb and couldn’t reply. Eight years later, he answered that even a single thing was impermissible. This time, I got in the door, but didn’t ascend the hall or enter the inner rooms yet.
At the time, the Master gave the melon to me and I took it, but I didn’t know what it was for.
“Is this to be offered to the Buddhas?” I asked. The Master said nothing, so I turned around and took it to the kitchen. This was a hint from the Master that I should benefit all sentient beings.
3. During a Dharma session, as I was walking from the large tent to the Buddhahall, a girl asked to have her picture taken with me. I said,
“I can’t do that!” That’s a case in which I cannot be expedient in order to fulfill living beings’ wishes. Is it because I don’t know how to use expedient skill-in-means? No. However, I cannot avoid some deliberation on this; I’m still a ways off from the Master’s lack of premeditation and arrangement. That time, I ascended the hall but had yet to enter the inner rooms.
4. During the Dharma session, someone wanted me to write a four-line gatha for him as an exhortation, so I wrote,
“Opening, demonstrating, awakening, and certifying: practice and understanding mutually correspond. Walking, standing, sitting, and reclining: be mindful in thought after thought.” These are the four internal and external dharmas, which serve as an initial foundation.
5. As the Master said, “I came from empty space, and I will return to empty space.” I have written a verse,
Proclaiming existence and nonexistence,
all traces of emptiness are obliterated.
Transforming back and forth, another world is reached.
Two dots under the word feng 奉 is not qing 秦.
The moon of the mind, lonely and round, shines in the skies of Han.
Another verse says,
Sweeping leaves was the initial ascending of the steps.
Reflection was the entering of the door.
With constantly skillful expedients,
there is reliance and yet no reliance inside and out.
After the traces of existence and nonexistence are destroyed,
there is wonderful brightness everywhere one goes.
When the two points of doubt are put to rest,
the lonely moon shines on the city of emptiness.
In brief, whatever we do, we should do just that. That’s a description of coming from empty space and returning to empty space. One who understands this will completely fathom all dharmas.