In this sesshin I have been giving talks based on Master Sheng Yen’s instructions for the practice of Silent Illumination. I like his instructions because in some ways they’re so simple, asking us to be fully conscious of our body sitting without focusing on any specific part, cultivating a general awareness of the body sitting and the surrounding environment. Of course, after sitting like this for a while the distinction between the body and the environment disappears. I like this practice because it’s simple, without additions or contrivances, and cultivates a basic sense of well-being, which is something I can come back to again and again on a regular basis. Practicing such an awareness and knowing that I can access that state of well-being give me courage and confidence, and ultimately encourage me to take risks and enter situations that I might otherwise avoid.
This is what a practice-based life is, in my opinion, centered in a methodology that is relevant to our life now.
One of my favorite koans is the fourth in the Book of Serenity:
As the World Honored One was waking with the congregation, he pointed to the ground with his finger and said, “This spot is good to build a temple.”
Indra, Emperor of the gods, took a blade of grass, stuck it in the ground, and said, “The temple is built.”
The World Honored One smiled.
Each body-mind—yours, mine, everyone’s—is a blade of grass. Each body-mind is a temple, and as such has its place. It doesn’t have to be anything other than what it is. To really feel that, to experience the deep goodness of being in one’s skin and nowhere else, is satisfying and even inspiring. That blade of grass is everything. See it turn brown because of the depredation of the environment. See the dead, blood-washed rhino lying on top of it, its horn removed, perhaps the last of its species. See it disappear under concrete, steel and glass to create opulent housing for the wealthy. And see it provide cover for grasshoppers and frogs, and food for cows and horses. That blade of grass is everything—and it’s a temple.
Living in my skin is the profoundest, most intimate way. Like Layman P’ang’s good snowflakes, we don’t fall in any other place. This experience of newness, of fullness, can be experienced in any situation regardless of the content, based on that sense of well-being that we first experience when we sit.
All my life I’ve known that whenever I’m in relationship with anyone—be it as a child with her parents or as a 63 year-old woman now with her husband—I want to be seen and acknowledged as I am without judgment, not conditioned on my changing. Of course I will change, like everything else in life, but I want to be actually seen as I am that moment, no matter what I might have done or how I behaved. That’s the intimacy I want from the other person.
It’s also the intimacy I want from myself. Can I bear witness completely to Eve in all her manifestations, without judgment and no attachment to opinions? Can I be intimate with every single aspect that emerges? Can I live in my skin?
As the Appreciatory Verse says:
Everywhere life is sufficient in its way--
No matter if one is not as clever as others.
 Koan 42 in the Blue Cliff Record.