In what follows I am taking the ear and hearing as representative of the whole set of six, and when it is said for instance that the opposition of hearing and hearer disappears, it must be understood to apply to the others also.
Now the sounds we make in the form of speech—there are two alternatives: either they issue from the state of Emptiness or they issue from the state of holding things. If we are not holding anything in the bottom of the heart and we can speak from the state of Emptiness, then in regard to those sounds there is neither hearer nor heard.
When I first came to my present temple I found I was getting a bad reputation as uncivil and unsociable. I tried to think what it might be, but I could not see that I was uncivil. I took a lot of trouble over being civil. If an old lady came with a radish to offer to the temple, I used to say: ‘It really is extraordinarily good of you to have brought such a fine radish and please accept my gratitude. And may I inquire after your health and that of your family?’ And yet, the reputation remained. ‘How awkward he is to get along with,’ they used to say, ‘not civil at all.’ I gradually began to understand. It is quite inappropriate to say to an old woman with a cloth round her head: ‘May I inquire after your health?’ And when I was saying ‘It is extraordinarily good of you to have brought such a fine radish’, I had something at the back of my mind.
Well, I changed, and when I met an old lady on the way I did not say: ‘Madam, may I inquire whither you are bound?’ but instead: ‘Hullo, Mum, where are you off to? Keeping well?’ And gradually things changed and I had a good reputation for being very civil.
One may repeat elegant phrases a thousand times, but if there is something at the back of the mind there is the opposition of hearer and one who is heard. If there is nothing in the heart, and complete unity, then the simplest phrase doesn’t have any opposition in it—there is just one. And words where there is neither hearer nor heard are the world of Emptiness.
The patriarch Dogen quotes a poem by his own teacher which he estimates as unique in spiritual illumination:
The whole body like a mouth, hanging in emptiness,
Not asking whether the breeze be from north or south, east or west;
For all alike declaring the Prajna wisdom—
He saw a little bell hanging in a mountain temple, hanging in the emptiness. Hanging in emptiness means not to set oneself in some permanent position.
We often use the phrase ‘to settle down’. People say ‘Your Reverence’ and one settles down. In the Your Reverence and then replies. When they ask him something as Prime Minister, he first settles himself as Prime Minister. But with the Buddha’s sermons, the whole body is a mouth, namely it is a unity, and so he speaks. He has no fixed form. Whereas with me, if I’m going along the road and someone asks: ‘Your Reverence, may I inquire where you are going?’ I say: ‘Why, I am going to such-and-such a meeting . . .’ I have been addressed as Your Reverence and my answer is extremely polite. But suppose someone shouts unexpectedly: ‘Hey, Baldy! Where yer goin’?’ Then what? I do not find a reply. If my head is shaved, it is for your sake . . . what is this ‘Baldy’ to a Your Reverence? . . . I am stuck in Your Reverence and cannot make a real reply.
When the whole body becomes a mouth—to speak negatively, Emptiness, and to speak affirmatively, Unity—without being fixed to anything, then if a word comes it is the form of the holy Buddha. The Buddha is one who puts himself in the condition of Tatha-gata, ‘thus gone’. He never boasts of himself as Tatha-gata; the Buddha forgets Buddhahood and acts for the release of all beings. He who settles himself in Buddhahood is no Buddha. Buddha forgets Buddathood and then teaches. Not asking whether the breeze be from north or south, east or west, it is all the same, he never goes against it and so he can speak.
When a beggar comes he can speak to the beggar, when a noble comes he can speak to the noble. However high an elder may come, he enters the feeling of an elder and speaks to him. He will never be reluctant, they are all absolute sameness. Whoever they are it is the same, there is no slightest bias, no reluctance; for the welfare of all he speaks of the wisdom of ultimate Emptiness, the wisdom of holding nothing in the heart.
Without this teaching there is no touching the hearts of the people. I am speaking of it, but I cannot attain it. Yet if one speaks from ultimate Emptiness, that man may weep but his tears have power to save all the people. He manifests the appearance of affectionate love and in that love is a power which saves all. And if he manifests the appearance of anger, in those very words of his there is a sublime power of salvation.