In lofty-minded people who genuinely work on the path, when the effort of inner seeking builds up and the power of concentration is full, then ordinary ideation and conscious feelings are all inactivated; reason and speech come to an end, and even the searching mind disappears at the same time. Even the breath nearly stops. This is the time when the Great Way appears.
Students should be alert: At this time, don't conceive a single thought of extraordinary understanding, and don't conceive a single thought of retreating. Let go of body and mind and don't seek anything at all. Bring the story you've been contemplating powerfully to mind, and let whatever states may appear be: if the perceptions of the two vehicles appear, let them be; if the perceptions of outsiders appear, let them be—knowing they aren't real, you won't fear them. Plunging in with your whole body, get your fill of the source, carefully avoiding exciting your mind to grasp and reject.
You need to let go of your body and relinquish your life therein only once. When the time comes, it happens suddenly, and you know this experience. This is called letting go of your grip over a sheer cliff, then after perishing, coming back to life. Suddenly, in an instant, you recognize the root source: your own nature, the nature of others, the nature of living beings, the nature of afflictions, the nature of enlightenment, the nature of Buddhas, the nature of spirits, the nature of bodhisattvas, the nature of the created, the nature of the uncreated, the nature of the ultimate end, the nature of the sentient, the nature of the insentient, the nature of ghosts, the nature of titans, the nature of beasts, hells, heavens, polluted lands, and pure lands—you see through them all at once, without exception, finishing the great task and passing through birth and death. How could it not be pleasant?
Even so, in order to test what you've experienced, call on a great Zen teacher who is definitely certain. An ancient once said, "The heart of nirvana is easy to clarify; knowledge of differentiation is hard to illumine." Don't let undiffferentiated knowledge obscure knowledge of differentiation.
It is like polishing a mirror: The moment its clear surface is exposed, it can distinguish all things. The coarse apppears coarse; the fine appears fine; blue, yellow, red, white, pretty, ugly, big, small, square, round, long, short—they are reflected as they appear, without so much as a particle or tip of a hair left out.
When this occurs, if there is anything unclear, this just means that even though the clarity is there, residual defilement has not yet been removed; the traces of polishing are still there, blocking the reality. This is why we don't conceive the nothing we have already attained, and don't think of stopping, but seek certainty with an enlightened teacher in order to test our attainment.
In olden times, Huanglong Sixin said, "When you have confusion you need to attain enlightenment. Once you have attained enlightenment, you need to recognize confusion within enlightenment, and enlightenment within confusion." You should realize that this is a good time to seek an enlightened teacher, an experience that tells you now you should cultivate practice. Master Baiyun said, "This matter requires enlightenment to attain it; after enlightenment, it is necessary to meet someone."
You say, "Once enlightened, you're at rest—why do you necessarily need to meet someone?" Those who have met someone after enlightenment will clearly have their own way of expression when it comes to expedient means of reaching out, and will not blind students. Those who have realized a dry turnip will not only blind their students, they themselves will tend to wound their hands on the point. It's no wonder that teachers everywhere today mistakenly blind the eyes of students. Even though you need to see someone, don't see anyone who is not a great Zen master with genuine certainty; otherwise you'll get deluded, hindering your enlightenment.
When I was first traveling, I met several Zen masters whose teaching I wouldn't say was entirely incorrect, but when compared to the like of Yantou, Xuefeng, Dahui, and Xutang, there were discrepancies. So I always harbored doubt in my heart and did not completely trust them. I thought that Buddhism was already extinct in the present time and no one had accurate knowledge and accurate perception. I thought it would be better to go into the mountains alone and study and practice intensely as the ancients did, waiting for the time by myself.
Later, when I heard of the Way of my former teacher Hakuin, I half believed and half doubted. I told myself that I couldn't rely on what other people said but should hear him teach before I decide. Then when I received his instruction, it actually accorded with so much of what the ancestral teachers have said throughout the ages, that my heart was filled with joy. From that point on I gave my life to seeking certainty, to this very day.
In the present time teachers all over misguide and blind students, because their attainments have not reached the realm personally realized by the ancients. As for the transcendental, when have they ever dreamed of it? Even though it is not that there are originally two or three Buddhisms, there are shallow and deep, crude and fine. It's just because students don't have enough power of faith, they haven't eliminated residual habits, that brings about so many distinctions in Buddhism. If even the ancients were like this, how could people now not be so?
A long time ago Master Dongshan provisionally defined five ranks to indicate the essentials of the school. The rank of the absolute is emptiness. The rank of the relative is the temporal. This is not teaching the Tendai contemplation of truths. In that contemplation of truths, first you contemplate the truth of emptiness to break your hold on the idea of existence. Next you contemplate temporal truth to eliminate the sense of lingering in emptiness. When the barriers of being and nothingness are gone, views of emptiness and temporal existence are both forgotten and real essence appears—this is called the truth of the real characteristics of the middle way.