Total freedom is to be
totally free from the sense
of anyone being free from anything.
Once a student who was upset told me that he wanted to leave his family. I asked him where he would live. He said he wanted to leave his body too. So I asked him what he would do after he left his body. He replied, “At that point I imagine I would be free.” Unfortunately, this was not the case. He was caught up in yet another attachment. If he left his family and body through a natural process, without pain or regret… that would be all right. But this student did not understand freedom. He desired to be free from the confines of his family and body because he was annoyed by them. He wanted to escape. This is not the kind of separation [renunciation] that the sutras advocate.
Most of us cling to things we like and avoid things we dislike. However, if we aspire to follow the Buddha Path, then we must learn to detach ourselves from worldly phenomena. It is difficult to reach the first level of separation. Yet mastering the next three levels is even more difficult. In mastering the first level of separation one separates himself from the body and the situations around him, but as long as one reflects upon what is seen and experienced, he is still attached to a mind that perceives and discriminates…
When a person detaches himself from the mind of discrimination, he has reached the second level. However, although there is no longer attachment to the mind or its functions, there is still clinging to the idea of a self that avoids attachment. In order to reach and pass the third level of separation, one must drop one’s attachment to a self that avoids, subtle though this may seem. Achieving the third level, a person will no longer have any problems with attachment or nonattachment.
Progressing to the fourth and last level is a positive step. At this level, one is free from all levels of separations and is completely enlightened. If he stopped at the third level, he would exhibit an attitude called “stubborn emptiness.” It is a view that negates the existence of everything. Although it is free from attachment to materialism, it is still a form of attachment because it adheres to the idea of annihilation. At the fourth level, the final obstacle is transcended. You are completely free. If there remains something to separate from, or if the idea of separation persists, then practice must continue.
Complete Enlightenment: Zen Comments On The Sutra Of Complete Enlightenment
Chan Master Sheng-yen