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A weird title for a beautiful poem - 參同契 - Sandokai

The title of the Sandokai itself is a puzzle, but this is not so obvious if we just look at the standard translations. The official Soto School scripture book (Sotoshu Shumucho, 2001) and Suzuki (1999) give “Harmony of Difference and Equality” as the title. Rech (2015) gives essentially the same version in French, using “identity” instead of “equality”: “L’harmonie entre différence et identité”.  Okumura (2012) gives another version of the same theme, using “merging” instead of “harmony” and “unity” for “equality”: “Merging of Difference and Unity”. Deshimaru’s (1999) translation is slightly different: “L'identité de la rencontre et de la réunion” (“The identity of meeting and joining/bringing together”). Leaving minor variations aside, there are essentially two versions. The majority of commentators and Sotoshu itself speak in highly abstract terms of a coming together of difference and sameness. This makes somewhat sense in grammatical terms and also seems to reflect what the bo…

Shitou Xiqian - "Stone Head", Poet and Lineage Holder

Before immersing ourselves in the finer details of the Sandokai I want to say a few words about its supposed author - Zen Master and Ancestor Shítóu Xīqiān - Sekito Kisen in Japanese. 700  790 CE are given as his birth and death year. In Chinese his name is written like this: 石頭希遷. These characters literally mean “stone head hoping to ascend” (Shitou Xiqian - Wikipedia, 2019). And although I am not suggesting for a second that Shitou was some sort of 8th century Chinese Rastafarian, I cannot help it but also point out that the second poem he is famous for besides the Sandokai is called “The Song of the Grass Roofed Hut”. According to legend, Shitou had earned his nickname because he spent many years sitting in zazen (Zen meditation) on a stone slab on Mount Nanyue in Hunan province, and not for smoking weed. At some point after his death Shitou was awarded the honorific title Wuji Dashi - 無際大師 - which means something like “Boundless Great Teacher”.
Besides writing poems and enduring ha…

Riding the race horse of awareness - discussion of a video of Neo-Advaita teacher Rupert Spira

Last Wednesday’s session of the “Old Street” study group we watched a YouTube video called “Abiding as Awareness is a Non Practice”, featuring a talk by the spiritual teacher and studio potter Rupert Spira (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73hmMugiqGg&t=611s). Spira’s teachings are linked to the Neo-Advaita movement which has its roots in the Indian Advaita Vedanta tradition according to Wikipedia. This video was suggested by a member of the group who found that it had helped him to better understand the ideas of non-duality and “objectless meditation”, terms that we often use to distinguish our practice of zazen from other forms of meditation. All of us found the short video very inspiring, and it allowed us to have an animated discussion about our own practice. Zen practice and Zen teachings are not so easily understood. It is quite common and to look at various traditions and philosophies in order to deepen our understanding. But we also need to be cautious. To the Western mind,…

Sekito Kisen's Sandokai

The next project of the "Old Street" study group will be Sandokai, a famous Zen poem by the Chinese Master Shitou Xiqian (Japanese Sekito Kisen). The Sandokai is one of the most prominent scriptures of the Soto School and is chanted in temples every second day. It is famous for its deep insight into the nature of things. As a starting point, I am providing the Chinese original (yes, although it seems daunting, I believe it is important to look at what Shitou actually wrote in his own words), the Japanese version in Latin writing and an English translation. I have picked up the Chinese original from this website: http://www.worldofmastermind.com/?p=4709. The Japanese and English translations are from the official book of scriptures from the Soto School: Sotoshu Shumucho. (2001). Soto School Scriptures for Daily Services and Practice. Tokyo: Sotoshu Shumucho.

Title: 參同契 - Sandokai - Harmony of Difference and Equality
Verse no.Chinese  Japanese (chanted version)   English 1 竺土大仙心…