Lost within study,

Not seeing, nor feeling yet,

Named–eyes open wide


Breathless minds gathered

Mind to mind mirrors not one

nor two, a flower.

Await in stillness

Perfect beam of starlight wakes

The thorns fall away

I am currently reading/studying Francis Cook’s Record of Transmitting the Light and Lex Hixon’s Living Buddha Zen. Most of my normal commentary will take place with my sangha, as it is a sangha book club reading. Here on my little blog, I am going to approach things a little differently with my readings.

First, both of these books are about Keizan Zenji’s Denkoroku. Both of these books are first and foremost a translation of the Denkoroku, one a literal translation and one more of a personal translation. The Denkoroku is a Buddhist genealogy of sorts, tracing the ancestors from Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, to Keizan’s own master.

Often, I find myself digging a little too deeply. Becoming overly analytical, trying to read between the lines too much. So, before I even begin to think too deeply upon the words, I am going to write down my first impressions.

Now, at first I began to write a few chicken scratches in the margins of my impressions of the texts, but quickly realized this wouldn’t do. The few chicken scratches turned into many and I was right back at the beginning of that long, winding, analytical road. So, in order to focus my mind on the basics, on that first impression left by the reading, I am limiting myself to haiku. Why haiku? It’s simple. I won’t try and and twist my head around a rhyme. I don’t have to set an arbitrary word limit to my initial impressions, which I would then be tempted to break. The limit is already set, the formula is precise and forces one to stick to the point. In other words, haiku allows me to turn of my analytical mind and hopefully will help enable me to capture at least a wisp of the heart of each ancestor.

Sandokai (The Harmony of Difference and Equality) by Sekito Kisen

The mind of the great sage of India
is intimately transmitted from west to east.
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.
Grasping at things is surely delusion;
according with sameness is still not enlightenment.
All the objects of the senses
interact and yet do not.
Interacting brings involvement.
Otherwise, each keeps its place.
Sights vary in quality and form,
sounds differ as pleasing or harsh.
Refined and common speech come together in the dark,
clear and murky phrases are distinguished in the light.
The four elements return to their natures
just as a child turns to its mother;
Fire heats, wind moves,
water wets, earth is solid.
Eye and sights, ear and sounds,
nose and smells, tongue and tastes;
Thus with each and every thing,
depending on these roots, the leaves spread forth.
Trunk and branches share the essence;
revered and common, each has its speech.
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.
Light and dark oppose one another
like the front and back foot in walking.
Each of the myriad things has its merit,
expressed according to function and place.
Phenomena exist; box and lid fit.
principle responds; arrow points meet.
Hearing the words, understand the meaning;
don’t set up standards of your own.
If you don’t understand the Way right before you,
how will you know the path as you walk?
Progress 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,
do not pass your days and nights in vain.

-1997 Soto-Shu liturgy conference translation

A few closing remarks on the Sandokai. First and foremost, I think it is a worthwhile study. When I first scanned the lines of the poems and the first few pages of Suzuki’s Branching Streams I felt as though I was reading gibberish. I’ve mentioned on these pages before that I can be stupid when it comes to seeing past the obvious, and sometimes I can be stupid by making the obvious overly complicated. I think lots of us may suffer from this a bit! My only bit of advice is to stick with it. Read it in small bites, and reread it if you must, but don’t dwell on a single passage too long. Take a break, but never for more than a few days. Longer breaks lead to excuses not to pick up the book!

The Sandokai gives just a brief glimpse of a very important point in the history of Zen, but it also gives a basic guideline for our daily practice. This lends to the timeless quality of Sekito’s words. Zen split, there was arguing, even though there was no need to argue. A similar split has been occurring for the past half century (longer really). DT Suzuki may have started, but it really became apparent during Shunryu Suzuki’s time. Now the mind of the sage has traveled west again, not just to the US and Canada, but to Europe and the UK. While we are not arguing over zen, there are some who see it as a ‘funeral business’ when they look to Japan, while in the west zen has become not just the religion of priests and monks but lay people as well. The great sage of India’s teaching are still being transmitted, and while each new receiver of the dharma may feel as an innovator, we are just reinventing the wheel. The true dharma and the methods of realizing it are unchanged.

No matter how excited we get about zen, about the dharma, we must remember to just practice. Talk is talk is talk, but there comes a time when the reading and talking and studying and debating and planning must all come to a stop and we just sit. Sitting is the act of enlightenment, there is nothing to attain, we have already done so and continue to do so.

If you feel the urge to study the Sandokai, I highly recommend the following:

Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness by Shunryo Suzuki

The free talks and resources offered by Norman Fischer over at Everyday Zen.

Sandokai, pt. 7

If you don’t understand the way right before you,
How will you know the path as you walk?
Practice 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.

Suzuki sensei says on pg 163, “Practice and enlightenment have equal value.” Vital, vital stuff right there. I’ve felt it myself and seen it in others. When first striking out on the path of Zen, we bring these crazy expectations with us. We mistake these expectations for understanding. We think Buddhism, Zen or meditation is going to be some cure for life. Well, only death is the cure for life and even it isn’t, since we continue on after we die even if only to fill the bellies of the worms and give them further life. We think Zen will cure our ills, make us stop drinking, improve our health, cure our sadness or lonliness. We think Zen is about striving for the big E of enlightenment, and we put butt to cushion with this not-understanding foremost in our minds. We sitting on the cushion, foot on the path so to speak, but we completely and utterly misunderstand it. So we have some silly little experience, a trick of the mind perhaps. We cling to it. We are on the path but facing the wrong way because we are clinging to the misunderstanding.

So yeah, practice isn’t far or near. We are right here. Butt on cushion=practicing enlightenment.  But that isn’t really important. If we dwell to much on the importance of that, there we are standing with non-understanding on the path wondering were we are. So yeah, we don’t sit aimless but we are not necessarily trying to achieve a goal.

Gonna wrap up the Sandokai later, maybe tomorrow.  Closing thoughts and such.


Each of the myriad things has its merit,
expressed according to function and place.
Phenomena exist, box and lid fit,
principle responds; arrow points meet.
Hearing the words, understand the meaning;
don’t set up standards of your own.

A place for everything and everything in its place. Suzuki Sensei mentions that a cat is a cat and a human is a human, a cat is never a human and a human is never a cat. The cat is not selfish, it does its cat-like things because it is perfectly in tune with its nature. A human is selfish, and this selfish-ness leads us to need a cage of morality or spirituality to control this. A cat is already in tune with its Buddha-nature, a human must strive to be in tune with the same.

Our individuality is a wondrous thing, but it is just a thing, a word. This moment may only exist at this moment, but at the same time this moment exists in all moments. Not suspended in time, just always existing even after it is over. We cling to our individuality out of our selfish-ness, our very human-ness causes us to cling to our individuality, our moments, time. But there is no need to cling, because this moment is still here even while it is gone, and even after it is gone, it still is there.

Our path is already laid out for us. While we don’t have a road map for life, we still follow its path. There is no ‘point A’ or ‘point B.’ Point A leads to point B, then C, D, E and so forth. An ongoing row of points with no road between them. I may weave around this tree here on the way to B, you may scramble over the small hill to get there. It is our own individual path but we all share the same path. Enough about paths!

I read the final lines up above as a reminder. No one person has the map, the answers or even the questions. They are there to be asked and answered, but the are just a guide to the next point on the path. We don’t need a map, but we can’t appreciate the hints we are given to the next stop on the way up the hill of life. No need to step in the footsteps of the one in front of me.