Wednesday, February 21, 2007


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.

These thirteenth and fourteenth stanzas of the classic poem, Sandokai, are pretty opaque. Shunryu Suzuki’s interpretation of them is equally dense. My understanding of Suzuki’s perception of Sandokai is also fuzzy. I can only be optimistic that this chain of thickness may flare up a spark of clarity in you.

Suzuki asserts “light” in Sandokai refers to the perceptible world in which we live, and “darkness” refers to the absolute, which is the world our mind can’t possibly reach.

We humans can grasp the visible world. However, most humans may think of the absolute as a deity, as God.

But Buddhists—and Zennists—have no concept of a supreme entity and because of this, some people say Buddhism, or Zen, is atheism.

However, we Zennists neither disbelieve nor believe in the idea of a god. A supreme being or masterful intelligence is something that’s neither verifiable nor provable, and therefore it’s beyond comprehension.

It’s nothing to worry about.

Consequently, we don’t say much about God, with a big letter ”GOD,” or even a small-letter “god.”

There’s enough to deal with in the observable world in which we live. Politics. Warfare. Weather. Wages. Religion. Making a living. Love.

Now I’m going to veer off on a wild tangent. The digression may get back to Suzuki and Sandokai. It may not. But it all has to do with why we—as individuals, and collectively as a group—are sitting here.

I must admit I have a tiny bit of difficulty identifying with ritual, especially in Tibetan Buddhism. The prostrations, the bells, the gongs, the chants. I’m neither against them nor for them. I just can’t grasp such physical expressions in the same way that I’m unable to grasp the notion of an almighty supernatural being.

That doesn’t matter to me.

It shouldn’t matter to anyone else.

Remember, Zen and Buddhism are not doctrines, or tenets, or laws. They are not threats to any beliefs. Whether you are a Jew, a Moslem, an Orthodox, a Baptist, a Catholic, an agnostic, or an atheist, you need not take umbrage with the basics of Buddhism or Zen.

Many people ask me about, or fret about, the meaning of life. Worrying about the meaning of life makes as much sense as worrying about how the universe began, or where we go when we die. There are plenty of theories, plenty of guesses. But there are no sure answers.

Such questions are pointless because there are no certain solutions. So why waste time and energy trying to find black and white answers, or to debate postulated explanations?

Better to concern ourselves with what we know for sure.

So what do we know for sure? Does anyone have an answer?

What we know for sure is this very moment.

That’s it. There is no more.

So be in this moment. Not in some other moment or place.

If the darkness or the light of Sandokai has meaning for you, be it. If not, just be.

As Shunryu Suzuki says, “Our way is to go step by step, appreciating our everyday life. Then we can see what we’re doing, where we are.”


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