Wednesday, November 10, 2010


My series of talks on Sandokai, the epic poem written by a seventeenth century Zen master on sudden versus gradual awakening, has rambled on long enough. So far I’ve covered 15 of the 21 stanzas. Here are the last six stanzas:

Each 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.

Think of a human being, a bird, a tree a flower, a stone. Think of them individually and collectively. All are related as part of existence. Yet, each is an individual thing, with its own exceptional worth.

You are you. I am I. This singing bowl is this singing bowl. Each is each, and at the same time all are all. All are linked.

Suzuki Roshi mentioned that humans, in their self-absorption, suppose the universe is only for humans. That’s why many people think in self-centered terms and don’t understand birds, trees, flowers, stones.

Buddhism, or Zen, doesn’t treat humans as special entities but only as things in relationship to other things.

Tennyson said: “I am a part of all I have met.”

Byron said: “I live not in myself, but I become portion of that around me.”

Humans can’t—or shouldn’t—try to live like birds, but humans shouldn’t belittle entities that are not human. We all exist together.

Stanza 18 of Sandokai starts by saying, “Hearing the words, understand the meaning; don’t establish standards of your own.”

“Hearing the words, understand the meaning” doesn’t refer to spoken language. It doesn’t mean only audible sounds. It refers to each and all of those “myriad things” we have talked about earlier. Birds, rocks, trees, mountains, rivers.

In other words, everything in existence.

What’s the meaning of a mountain? Must a big mountain, or even a little pebble, have a purpose?

We humans like to assign purpose, meaning, to everything. For many individuals, a mountain is a potential source of gold or some other so-called precious mineral. A desert is a place to rummage around for oil.

Human beings are self-absorbed. They believe nature should serve them instead of the other way around. Mark Twain said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.”

My old Climatology professor said, “The weather is going to do what it wants to do, not what we want it to do.”

One of the weirdest attitudes toward natural processes is exhibited by Stephen Unwin, a risk management consultant, who claims in his book, The Probability of God, that nature does evil things, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes.

Evil things? When the wind blows hard enough to topple trees, is that evil? Isn’t nature being natural?

Can’t a mountain be a mountain in its own right? A big hunk of earth with forests on its flanks, snow on its peak, clouds above it. Does it have to be for something? Does it have to be exploited for human consumption rather than exist for human appreciation?

A high mountain is a feeling.

Can’t things just be?

Can’t we humans be, fully and completely? Without laying our own beliefs and opinions and likes and dislikes on anyone or anything else?

Do we have to want to make changes and modifications on our surroundings and on other humans?

The answer, in a word, is no.

Here is the final stanza of Sandokai.

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

Suzuki Roshi interprets or translates “Walking forward” as “Practice,” meaning the practice of Zen. The living of Zen. Not simply sitting in shikantaza once a week or once a day, but the living out of one’s own Zen.

It means being Zen, with no desire for enlightenment, whether sudden or gradual.

As Dogen said, zazen is enlightenment. Suzuki Roshi said that practice and enlightenment have equal value.

I say enlightenment—rather, awakening—is living one’s daily life. Mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. If you can’t go around them or go through them without changing them, then comprehend mountains and rivers for what they are and don’t mess with them.

Sandokai ends with the words “Don’t pass your days and nights in vain.”

That means persist in your practice. Live your practice. Be your practice.

In other words, don’t goof off.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


check out:

The Seer is Seen


Grande finale

Joyful Seeing and Bergson

Monday, November 15, 2010 8:15:00 AM  

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