Monday, October 08, 2012

          Today’s talk has to do with the human senses of sights and sounds. It also touches on 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.” Sandokai is the ancient Chinese poem that deals with the separation of the once-unified school of Zen into northern and southern orders. These orders grew out of the differences individuals made between sudden awakening and gradual awakening.

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.

          You know the elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and so on.

          Humans—especially humans of the western world—tend to label things as good or bad, agreeable or disagreeable.

As Suzuki notes, such tagging and labeling, and clinging to good or bad, creates anxieties and personal distress.

          If your senses experience something you have been led to believe is good, you’ll be pleased. If that something is regarded as bad, you’ll be disturbed.

          Your ideas may not be mine, and that may make one or both of us pissed.

          I like kimchi, the traditional Korean dish made from fermented chili peppers and cabbage. A fellow I know thinks kimchi tastes rotten and stinks to high heaven.

I like kimchi. It offends my friend.

          Is kimchi good, or is it bad?

          It’s neither. Kimchi is kimchi.

          Things in themselves may differ, but things in themselves are neither good nor bad. We make them that way by hanging labels on 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 darkness. Better yet, if we can understand this we are free of subjective limits and mental boundaries.

          Every human feels angry at one time or another. Anger is a natural emotion as much as joy or sorrow.

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 get under my skin. I know he feels the same about some things I do. But that doesn’t mean we dislike each other, or that we should end our friendship. We acknowledge each other as individuals, 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.

          Go along with life instead of fighting it.

          An awakened person is not bothered by something most people would consider bad. An awakened person is not elated 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.”

          Things change.

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.

A final word:

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.


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