Strangely enough, before the last patriarch of Zen became the last patriarch there was a competition to write a stanza to demonstrate the understanding of essence of mind. Shin Shau, the senior disciple at the time wrote this.
Our body is the Bodhi tree,
And our mind a mirror bright.
Carefully we wipe them hour by hour,
And let no dust alight.
It seems to me that from one point of view he was correct. Desire, anger, lust, greed, fear, delusion obscure that subtle ever present awareness. So various sutras instruct us to eliminate desire. This is what Shin Shau pointed to.
Yet other sutras point us to the emptiness of it all. From the perspective of the ever present (and words fail me here) it’s all empty anyway. So what of desire, anger, lust greed, fear and delusion. Vimalakirti pointed to the idea that desire ultimately derives from non-attachment. Hui Neng, who won the competition and became the next patriarch wrote.
There is no Bodhi-tree,
Nor stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is void,
Where can the dust alight?
In some passages Bodhidharm agreed.
Regardless of what we do, our karma has no hold on us.
The Blood Stream Sutra, Bodhidharma
Yet, to paraphrase Bodhidharma, if we don’t realise our nature, we are bound in karma. And apparently those who don’t realise their own nature it’s because of their heavy karma.
I think we have a two pronged instruction here. One is to work on our karma. I can buy that. And the other is zen.
Through zen, it seems to me from my practise, that we become ever more aware of the effect of these things on our awareness. That was Shin Shau’s understanding. Yet from the awareness itself there is no effect. That was Hui Neng’s.