People often use the mind which assumes "there is something to attain" to seek the Dharma wherein there is nothing to attain. What do I mean by the mind which assumes "there is something to attain"? It's the intellectually clever one, the one that ponders and judges. What do I mean by the Dharma wherein "there is nothing to attain?" It's the imponderable, the incalculable wherein there's no way to apply intelligence or cleverness.
Haven't you read of the old Shakyamuni at the Assembly of the Lotus of the True Dharma? Three times Shariputra earnestly entreated him to preach, but there was simply no way for him to begin. Afterwards, using all his power, he managed to say that this Dharma is not something that can be understood by thought or discrimination. This was old Shakyamuni taking this matter to its ultimate conclusion, opening the gateway of expedient means as a starting point for the teaching of the true nature of reality.
In the old days of Hsueh Feng, this Ch'an master was so earnest about his question that he went on pilgrimage to Mt. T'ou Tzu three times and climbed Mt. Tung Shan nine times. Circumstances were not met for him in those places, however, so later when he heard of the teaching of Chou, master of the Adamantine Wisdom Scripture, on Te Shan, he went to his abode. One day he asked Te shan, "In the custom of the school that has come down from high antiquity, what doctrine is used to instruct people?"
Te Shan said, "Our school has no verbal expression, nor does it have any doctrine to teach people." Later Hsueh Feng also asked, "Do I have any share in the business of the vehicle of this ancient school?" Te Shan picked up his staff and immediately hit him saying, "What are you saying?" Under this blow Hsueh Feng finally smashed the lacquer bucket of his ignorance. From this we observe that in this sect intelligence and cleverness, thought and judgment, are of no use at all.
Once you have the intent to investigate this Path to the end, you must settle your resolve and vow to the end of your days not to retreat or fall back so long as you have not yet reached the Great Rest, the Great Surcease, the Great Liberation. There's not much to the Buddha Dharma, but it's always been hard to find capable people. The concerns of worldly passions are like the links of a chain joining together without a break. Those whose resolve is weak and inferior time and time again willingly become involved with them: unknowing and unawares they are dragged along by them. Only if the person truly possesses the faculty of wisdom and will power will he consent to step back and reflect.
People make their living within the confines of thought and judgment their whole lives: as soon as they hear a person of knowledge speak of the Dharma in which there is nothing to attain, in their hearts there is doubt and confusion, and they fear falling into emptiness. Whenever I see someone talking like this, I immediately ask him, is this one who fears falling into emptiness himself empty or not? Ten out of ten cannot explain. Since you have always taken thought and judgment as your nesting place, as soon as you hear it said that you shouldn't think, immediately you are at a loss and can't find your grip. You're far from realizing that this very lack of anywhere to get a grip is the time for you to let go of your body and your life.
If correct mindfulness is present at all times and the attitude of fear for birth and death doesn't waver, over long days and months, what was unfamiliar will naturally become familiar, and what was stale will naturally become fresh. But what is the stale? It's the brilliance and cleverness, that which thinks and judges. What is the unfamiliar? It's enlightenment, nirvana, true thusness, the buddha-nature--where there's no thought or discrimination; where figuring and calculating cannot reach; where there's no way for you to use your mental arrangements.
Suddenly the time arrives: you may be on a story of an ancient's entry into the Path, or it may be as you are reading the scriptures, or perhaps during your daily activities as you respond to circumstances; whether your condition is good or not good, or your body and mind are scattered and confused, whether favorable or adverse conditions are present, or whether you have temporarily quieted the mind's conceptual discrimination-when you suddenly topple the key link, there'll be no mistake about it.