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: 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, Chikudo daisen no shin The mind of the great sage of India
 2 東西密相付, tōzai mitsu ni aifu su. is intimately transmitted from West 
to East.
 3 人根有利鈍, Ninkon ni ridon ari, While human faculties are sharp or dull
 4 道無南北祖。 dō ni nanboku no so nashi. the way has no northern or southern
 5 靈源明皎潔, Reigen myō ni kō kettari;  The spiritual source shines clear in
the light;
 6 支派暗流注。 shiha an ni ruchū su. the branching streams flow on in the dark.
 7 執事元是迷, Ji o shū suru mo moto kore 
 Grasping at things is surely delusion;
 8 契理亦非悟。 ri ni kanō mo mata satori ni
 according with sameness is still not
 9 門門一切境, Mon mon issai no kyō All the objects of the senses
 10 迴互不迴互。 ego to fu ego to. transpose and do not transpose.
 11 迴而更相涉, Eshite sarani ai wataru; Transposing, they are linked together;
 12 不爾依位住。 shikarazareba kurai ni yotte
jū su.
 not transposing, each keeps its place.
 13 色本殊質象, Shiki moto shitsu zō o kotoni
 Sights vary in quality and form;
 14 聲元異樂苦。 shō moto rakku o koto ni su. sounds differ as pleasing or harsh.
 15 暗合上中言, An wa jōchū no koto ni kanai; Darkness merges refined and common
 16 明明清濁句。 mei wa seidaku no ku o
 brightness distinguishes clear and murky
 17 四大性自復, Shidai no shō onozukara
 The four elements return to their natures,
 18 如子得其母, kono sono haha o uru ga
 just as a child turns to its mother.
 19 火熱風動搖, Hi was nesshi, kaze wa dōyō, Fire heats, wind moves,
 20 水溼地堅固。 mizu wa uruoi, chi wa kengo. water wets, earth is solid.
 21 眼色耳音聲, Manako wa iro, mimi wa
 Eye and sights, ear and sounds,
 22 鼻香舌鹹醋, hana wa ka, shita wa kanso. nose and smells, tongue and tastes;
 23 然依一一法, Shikamo ichi ichi no hō ni
 thus for each and every thing,
 24 依根葉分布。 ne ni yotte habunpu su. according to the roots, the leaves spread
 25 本末須歸宗, Honmatsu subekaraku shū
ni kisubeshi;
 Trunk and branches share the essence;
 26 尊卑用其語。 sonpi sono go o mochiyu. revered and common, each has its speech.
 27 當明中有暗, Meichū ni atatte an ari, In the light there is darkness,
 28 勿以暗相遇。 ansō o motte ō koto nakare. but don't take it as darkness.
 29 當暗中有明, Anchū ni atatte mei ari, In the dark there is light,
 30 勿以明相睹。 meisō o motte miru koto
 but don't see it as light.
 31 明暗各相對, Meian ono ono aitai shite Light and dark oppose one another
 32 比如前後步。 hisuru ni zengo no ayumi
no gotoshi.
 like the front and back foot in walking.
 33 萬物自有功, Banmotsu onozukara kō ari, Each of the myriad things has its merit,
 34 當言用及處。 masani yō to sho to o iu beshi. expressed according to function and
 35 事存函蓋合, Jison sureba kangai gasshi; Existing phenomenally like box and
cover joining;
 36 理應箭鋒拄。 riōzureba senpō sasō. according with principle like arrow
points meeting.
 37 承言須會宗, Koto o ukete was subekaraku
shū o e subeshi;
 Hearing the words, understand the
 38 勿自立規矩。 mizukara kiku o rissuru koto
 don't establish standards of your own.
 39 觸目不會道, Sokumoku dō o e szunba, Not understanding the way before your
 40 運足焉知路。 ashi o hakobu mo izukunzo
michi o shiran.
 how do you know the path you walk?
 41 進步非近遠, Ayumi o susumureba gonnon
ni arazu,
 Walking forward is not a matter of far or
 42 迷隔山河固。 mayōte senga no ko o hedatsu. but if you are confused, mountains and
rivers block your way.
 43 謹白參玄人, Tsutsushinde san gen no hito
ni mōsu,
 I respectfully urge you who study the
 44 光陰莫虛度。 kōin munashiku wataru koto
 don't pass your days and nights in vain.


The following list holds the references for all entries belonging to the series on the Sandokai:

Baggini, Julian. (2018). How the World Thinks. A Global History of Philosophy. Granta: London.

Billington, Ray (1997). Understanding Eastern Philosophy. London and New York: Routledge.

Cooper, Arthur. ed. (1973). Li Po and Tu Fu. Poems Selected and Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Aurthur Cooper. London: Penguin. 

Bowker, John, ed. (2002). The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. BCA.

Daman Hongren. (2018). In: Wikipedia. Available from:

Deshimaru, Taisen. (1996). Grands Classiques Zen. San Do Kai. Kannon Gyo. L'identité de la rencontre et de la réunion. Le sutra d’Avalokitesvara. Traduits et commentés par maître Taisen Deshimaru. Enseignement Oral de Maître Taisen Deshimaru. Édition intégrale. Vol. 14. Paris: Daruma.

Diener, M. S., Erhard, F., Fischer-Schreiber, I., Friedrichs, K. (1989). The Rider Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. Buddhism. Taoism. Zen. Hinduism. London: Rider.

Dumoulin, Heinrich. (2005). Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 1: India and China. Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom.

Harada, Rev. Sekkei (2004). Sandokai - The Harmony of Difference and Equality. Dharma Eye [online]. 14 (August 2004). [Viewed 1 Nov 2020]. Available from:

Harvey, Peter (1990). An Introduction to Buddhism. Teachings, history and practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Li (neo-Confucianism). (2020). In: Wikipedia. Available from:

The Lotus Sutra. (2007). Translated from the Chinese of Kumārajiva by Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama. Revised second edition. Berkeley: Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai and
Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. PDF. Available at

The Lotus Sutra. (1993). Translated by Burton Watson. PDF. Available at:

MDBG Word dictionary (2020). MDBG: Available from

Okumura, Shohaku. (2012). Living By Vow. A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Oldstone-Moore, Jennifer. (2003). Understanding Taoism. Origins. Beliefs. Practices. Holy Texts. Sacred Places. London: Duncan Baird.

The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. (2008). Translated from the Chinese of Zongbao by John R. McRae. BDK English Tripitaka Series. PDF of the original by Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Berkeley, California, published in 2000. Available from:

Qingyuan Xingsi. (2018). In: Wikipedia. Available from:

Rech, Roland Yuno. (2015). Sûtras Zen. Commentés et chantés. Nice: Yuno Kusen.

Saddharma-Puṇdarīka or The Lotus of the True Law. (1963) Translated by H. Kern. New York: Dover Publications. Ebook. Available at:

Schumacher, S., Woerner, G. (1989). The Rider Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. Buddhism. Taoism. Zen. Hinduism. London: Rider.

Shenhui. (2019). In: Wikipedia. Available from:

Shitou Xiqian. (2019). In: Wikipedia. Available from:

Skilton, Andrew (2013). A Concise History of Buddhism. 2nd ed. [Kindle]. Cambridge: Windhorse. Available from

Soothill, W. E., Hodous, L. (1934). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms. Available from

Sotoshu Shumucho. (2001). Soto School Scriptures for Daily Services and Practice. Tokyo: Sotoshu Shumucho.

Suzuki, Shunryo. (1999). Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness. Zen Talks on the SANDOKAI [Kindle]. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. Available from

Taiso Keizan Senji. (2017). Record of the Transmission of Illumination by the Great Ancestor, Zen Master Keizan. T. Griffith Foulk, ed. Tokyo: Sōtōshū Shūmuchō.

Uchiyama, Kosho Roshi. (2014). The Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo. Wisdom Publications: Boston.

Watts, Alan. (1975). Tao: The Watercourse Way. New York: Pantheon. PDF. Available at:

Williams, Paul. (1989). Mahāyāna Buddhism. The doctrinal foundations. Abingdon: Routledge.

Yaoshan Weiyan. (2019). In: Wikipedia. Available from:


  1. Looking forward to studying this important Zen poem in more detail and understanding its meaning further


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