It should be self-evident that when we read the discourses of the Buddha it is not through the senses that we must grasp the meaning but, as much as possible, through wisdom (prajñâ). This means Buddhism is esoteric and a mystery for those addicted to the authority of their senses; who have never managed to get beyond this level of being; wallowing in sensory ideas like pigs in slop.
Buddhism, to be sure, is not for hardcore sensualists. Nor can it be easily understood by common folk or prithagjana. To begin the task of trying to understand Buddhism is a little like exercising to lose weight. We have to recognize and then admit to ourselves we are out of shape and unhealthy; then go to Gold’s Gym for serious training.
Giving one example, how many people when they begin reading The Ten Oxherding Pictures turn to the last picture dwelling on it more than the others? I guess they assume that they are Hotei entering the market place; being one with the ordinary world of sentient beings. The truth of the matter is much different.
Those who take up The Ten Oxherding Pictures are not even close to understanding the first picture! This is the sad fact. They are too laden with sensory ideas. They are spiritually out of shape. They have hardly any wisdom.
The first oxherding picture concerns the adept who is in a life and death search for Bodhicitta—not just behaving like some aspirant dunce taking Jukai in a Soto Zen center aspiring to Bodhicitta as if this were all there was to the matter. A real votary of Buddhism, like the oxherd boy, discerns fully (hence wisdom) they have lost something dear and vital. What they are searching for is their lost Buddha-nature or absolute Mind that hides in the jungle of the ordinary deluded mind.
In light of this, the real beginning should begin with realizing that our deluded mind is the jungle. This is extremely important. We are not yet ready for prime time Buddhism—not yet. Realizing our own immaturity (the little oxherd boy), our deluded mind (the jungle), and relinquishing our attachment and belief in the absoluteness of the sensory world, should be our first authentic act of wisdom.
Buddhism is very subtle. It doesn’t matter if it is the Dhammapada, the Pali Nikayas or the Mahayana canon, we have to read these works with wisdom—not with our senses. There is no awakening or enlightenment of the senses. The senses belong to Mara the Evil One. What is awakened is Mind whereas prior to awakening pure Mind is covered over with sensory ideas. As long as we are in this condition, we cannot read the discourses of the Buddha with anything but a sensory eye. As a result, nothing about Buddhism is going to make much sense. That we are thoroughly deluded because of our attachment to sensory ideas should be evident when we find the discourses of the Buddha difficult to comprehend.