Tuesday, July 18, 2006


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.

These are the second and third stanzas of Sandokai, “Harmony of Difference and Equality.”
Humans vary in their acumen and wisdom. As Sandokai says, some individuals are sharp, while others are dull.
When I say dull I don’t mean this in a negative way. I don’t mean boring or uninteresting, I mean unastute. This is not a negative judgment. Humans are diverse in their innate capabilities. Part of this diversity is a result of an individual’s background and formal education. A large part of it is owing to the pressures of society.
     Some people are inherently perceptive, some people are not.
     So what?
     Suzuki Roshi, the late head of San Francisco Zen Center, was respected for his profound, gentle wisdom, yet, he admitted he was not so sharp. He often told the story about his Zen teacher nicknaming him “Crooked Cucumber,” because in Japan crooked cucumbers were considered to be worthless.
     Though Suzuki was revered by his followers, he had no sense of his own dignity or worth, and was very self-effacing. He said there was no dull person or smart person. Both kinds experience their own difficulties and benefits in life. A so-called dull person must study hard and re-read everything several times over in order to remember. A so-called smart person may grasp a concept quickly, but he or she forgets quickly.
     In short, in differences there is no difference, so why make distinctions between sharp or dull, black or white, brilliant or poor?
     What is important is one’s potentiality.
     Every person has the potentiality to be awakened, to be totally aware, to be an enlightened being. To be enlightened is to be free from illusion and false beliefs.
As I’ve said before, to be enlightened is to see without looking, to hear without listening, and to be without rationalizing. It’s to live intuitively, without needing to make an apology.
     Thomas Jefferson probably wasn’t speaking in the Zen sense when he said that if people were enlightened, tyranny and oppression of body and mind would vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.
     Pie in the sky? This world may not be the best of all possible worlds, but it’s all we have to work with. If you give up hope, you might as well give up life.
     Suzuki likened human potentiality to the capability of a bow and arrow. If you merely look at a bow and arrow, or keep them hanging on the wall, nothing happens. But if you make the most of their capability, the arrow will fly.
     Human potentiality is the capacity for growth, or development, or coming into existence. It’s the capacity to be used for a specific purpose.
     The original teaching of Zen established by Bodhidharma was a unified system based on human potentiality. But over many years it became divided over the question whether awakening was a gradual process or a sudden process.
     And here is one of Zen’s beautiful anomalies. Awakening is both gradual and sudden, and it is neither.
     If that boggles your mind, good.
     Some people are innately perceptive, others are not.
     So what?
     What difference does it make if awakening is sudden or is gradual? That isn’t important.
     What is important isn’t the how, or the where, or the why but the awakening itself.
     You’ve probably heard the American expression “Are you going to fish or cut bait?” It’s a goad to do what needs to be done, and stop fiddling around mulling over the options and their potential outcome.
     Don’t think about enlightenment. Let it be, or not be, in what ever shape or form, at what ever time.
The spiritual source shines clear in the light;                                              the branching streams flow on in the dark.
So, what was Sekito Musai Daishin getting at when he wrote “The spiritual source shines clear in the light”? I think this was his figurative way of saying one’s Buddha-nature is all-pervasive, always present. You are imbued with it. It can’t be taken away. All you have to do is awaken to it.
     No matter who you are, your Buddha-nature—that is, your potential for awakening to your true self—is alive and well at all times and in all places.
     As for the lines “The branching streams flow on in the dark,” they refer to the division of Bodhidharma’s basic Zen into the northern and southern schools. Though Zen was split, it was neither diluted nor subjugated. Neither branch was inferior, neither was superior. There was and is no differentiation.
     The two flow from the same source. The two remain one.
     The eye remains clear.


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