Friday, November 10, 2006


Before I start tonight’s talk, I want to give a word of warning that everyone will applaud. From now on most of my Zen talks will be much shorter than they have traditionally been. I don’t have less to say about a subject, but I find that I need fewer words to say it. I think such conciseness will be of benefit to everyone, including myself.

     Tonight’s talk has to do with sights, sounds, darkness, and brightness.

Sights vary in quality and form;
Sounds differ as pleasing or harsh.
Darkness merges refined and common words;
Brightness distinguishes clear and murky phrases.

These are the seventh and eighth stanzas of Sandokai, “Harmony of Difference and Equality.” As a reminder, that’s the ancient Chinese poem that deals with the separation of the once-unified school of Zen into northern and southern factions that differed on sudden versus gradual awakening.

As another reminder, my talks on Sandokai are based on the series given by Shunryu Suzuki, late head of San Francisco Zen Center.

     A tree, a butterfly, a blade of grass, a person, each has its own form and its own character. Every thing is different, yet all things are related by being part of existence, and by being made up of the same basic physical elements.

     Humans—especially humans of the western world—tend to label things as good or bad, agreeable or disagreeable. And, as Suzuki notes, this clinging to good or bad creates personal distress.

     If your senses experience something you consider good, you’ll be pleased. If that something is regarded as bad, you’ll be disturbed.

     I like the flavor and the aroma of kimchi, the traditional Korean dish made from fermented chili peppers and cabbage. A fellow I know thinks kimchi tastes foul and smells awful. Kimchi pleases me. It upsets my friend.

     Is kimchi good, or is it bad?

     Things in themselves may differ, but things in themselves are neither good nor bad. We make them that way by tagging them and pigeonholing them in our minds.

     Sandokai says, “Darkness merges refined and common words.”

     As Suzuki notes, things in themselves have no good or bad nature.

     If we can understand this, we can understand what is meant by Sandokai’s “things in darkness.” Better yet, if we can understand this we are free of dualism, of subjective limits and restrictions.

     Anger is a natural emotion. But being angry or annoyed by something a person does or says is no reason to dislike that person. I have a friend I’ve known for many years. Certain things he does or says can piss me off. I know he feels the same about some things I do. But that doesn’t mean we dislike each other, or we should end our friendship. We acknowledge each other as an individual, warts and all.

     A monk asked his master how to escape from the heat and from the cold. The master answered that when it is hot, one should be hot, and when it is cold, one should be cold.

     An awakened person is not bothered by something most people would consider bad. An awakened person is not euphoric about something considered good. Suzuki said, “The basic tone of life remains the same, and in it there are some happy melodies and some sad melodies.”

That’s a fact of existence.

You may not have any control over the state of affairs, but you don’t need to be a slave to circumstances.

In your practice of Zen, don’t be on the lookout for awakening, either sudden or gradual.

If you do that, you are truly awakened.


Blogger Dirk_Star said...

Answer me this, zen master. What jsi the sound of one mouth lecturing?

Friday, November 10, 2006 9:57:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home