Harmony of Difference and Equality (Sandōkai)

Crowned and Jeweled Buddha, India ca. 9th century © Metropolitan Museum of Art(Sandōkai 参同契)

The mind of the great sage of India is intimately transmitted from west to east.

While human faculties are sharp or dull, the way has no northern or southern ancestors.

The spiritual source shines clear in the light; the branching streams flow on in the dark.

Grasping at things is surely delusion; according with sameness is still not enlightenment.

All the objects of the senses transpose and do not transpose.

Transposing, they are linked together; not transposing, each keeps its place.

Sights vary in quality and form; sounds differ as pleasing or harsh.

Darkness merges refined and common words; brightness distinguishes clear and murky phrases.

The four elements return to their natures, just as a child turns to its mother.

Fire heats, wind moves, water wets, earth is solid.

Eye and sights, ear and sounds, nose and smells, tongue and tastes;
thus for each and every thing, according to the roots, the leaves spread forth.

Trunk and branches share the essence; revered and common, each has its speech.

In the light there is darkness, but don’t take it as darkness.

In the dark there is light, but don’t see it as light.

Light and dark oppose one another like the front and back foot in walking.

The Sixth Patriarch of Zen at the Moment of Enlightenment. Kano Tan'yū (Japanese, 1602–1674) Edo period. Date: 1635–45 @ Metropolitan Museum of ArtEach of the myriad things has its merit, expressed according to function and place.

Existing phenomenally like box and cover joining; according with principle like arrow points meeting.

Hearing the words, understand the meaning; don’t establish standards of your own.

Not understanding the way before your eyes, how do you know the path you walk?

Walking forward is not a matter of far or near, but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.

I respectfully urge you who study the mystery, don’t pass your days and nights in vain.

From the Soto Zen Text Project website at Stanford University.

The Sandōkai is a poem by Chinese Chan Master Sekito Kisen, (700–790) and is a text used in the Sōtō school of Zen.

See more posts on the Sandokai.

Categories: Chan / Seon / Zen, Foundations

Tags: ,

6 replies

  1. Not to set up standards of ones own, how difficult, how wonderful.
    Some gratitude is required. Many thanks to all who make these teachings available.

  2. This sounds more like Taoist philosophy than Buddhist teaching.

  3. Please now read Suzuki Roshi’s talks on this deep text, ‘Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness’, an all-time Dharma treasure 🙏


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