Showing posts from July, 2020

In the swirl of things and not - Sandokai, verses nine to twelve

All commentators - Deshimaru, Okumura, Rech and Suzuki - as well as the Sotoshu standard translation agree more or less on the meaning of verses nine to twelve of Sandokai. I am quoting Okumura’s (p. 225) translation as a representation of the general consensus:
“Each sense and every field Interact and do not interact; When interacting, they also merge -  Otherwise, they remain in their own states.”
The Chinese original looks like this:
門門一切境 (verse 9) 迴互不迴互(verse 10) 迴而更相涉(verse 11) 不爾依位住(verse 12)
門 literally means “gate” or “door”. In a more figurative sense it means “class” or “category” - the conceptual gates that we use to sort the objects of the world into mental groups so we can understand them. In this sense 門 can also mean “family” - the conceptual gate that allows us to group individuals into family groups. Similarly, 門 can also mean “school of thought” or “religious sect” - the conceptual gate to classify philosophies and faith groups. 一切 literally means “one cut” which is another w…

Enlightenment is not what you think it is - Sandokai, verses seven and eight

The standard translation of verses seven and eight of the Sandokai is “Grasping at things is surely delusion; according with sameness is still not enlightenment” (Sotoshu). All commentators agree with this rendering (Suzuki, loc. 1392; Rech, p. 151; Deshimaru, p. 23; Okumura, p. 218). Okumura translates verse eight as “Merging with principle is still not enlightenment.” The characters in Chinese are 執事元是迷,契理亦非悟。執 stands for “to grasp”. 事 is the “ji” that Okumura and Suzuki have introduced in their commentaries on the previous two verses. It simply means “thing”, “matter” or “event”. 元 means “first”, “original”, “primary” or “fundamental”. 是 simply means “this”, a pronoun that relates to the first three characters. 迷 means “lost”, “crazy” or “confused”. We can see very clearly how the standard translation has been arrived at with only minor allowances to render an intelligible English phrase. A verbatim translation would be something like “Grasping things as original, this is confusion…

Bright source and murky outflows - Sandokai, verses five and six

Verses five and six are probably the most iconic ones in the whole of Sandokai. The Sotoshu (2001) standard translation renders them as “The spiritual source shines clear in the light; the branching streams flow on in the dark.” Deshimaru (1996), Okumura (2012), Rech (2015) and Suzuki (1999) all basically agree with this translation. The original is 靈源明皎潔 支派暗流注. 靈 itself has a scary connotation of “ghost” or “spirit of the dead”, but here it is used as the adjective “spiritual”. 源 is the source of a river or a fountainhead. 明 is a combination of the signs of “sun” and “moon” and is used describe “bright light” or something “clear”.  皎 on its own also means “bright”, “brilliant” or “clear”. 潔 on its own means “clean” and “pure”. As a compound 皎潔 mean “shining clean” or “bright moonlight”. “The spiritual source shines clear in the light” is an almost verbatim rendering of the Chinese original. As to the following verse, 支 has a number of meanings, but here it is read as “branch” or “off…

A divided sangha - Sandokai - verses three and four

人根有利鈍,道無南北祖。人 means “person”. 根 usually means “root” or “base”, but in a Buddhist context it can also mean “spiritual faculty” or one’s ability to grasp a teaching. 有 - “to have”,  利 - “sharp” and 鈍 - “dull” or “dim witted”. As to the second phrase: 道 - “the way” (of enlightenment), 無 - “not” or “no”, 南 - “south”, 北 - “north” and 祖 - “ancestor”. The Sotoshu standard translation renders this sentence as “While human faculties are sharp or dull, the way has no northern or southern ancestor” (Sotoshu, p. 30.) All four commentators - Deshimaru, Okumura, Rech and Suzuki - agree with this wording. They also agree that “north” and “south”  point to a bitter rift in the young Chinese Zen movement in the 8th century.
“South” stands for the so-called “Southern School” of Zen. Initially a minority movement within Zen, this group saw itself as the exclusive heir of the lineage of Chinese Zen patriarchs and its legendary founder Bodhidharma (Dumoulin, pp. 107-154; The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Pa…

From psychology to cosmology - The mind of the great sage - Sandokai - verses one and two

The Sandokai is neatly laid out in verses of five characters each. Each character is one syllable. Two verses usually combine to form a sentence. The first two verses are: 竺土大仙心  東西密相付. The Sotoshu standard translation renders this sentence as “The mind of the great sage of India is intimately transmitted from west to east” (Sotoshu Shumucho, 2001.) The characters themselves are not difficult. 竺土 means “India” in a Buddhist context - literally "bamboo" and "earth". 大 means great. 仙 in Chinese describes a Taoist immortal being or “Xian” who has realised the Tao, dwells in the mountains and has left behind all worries (Wikitionary, Oldstone-Moore, p. 48.) In Chinese translations of Indian sutras 仙 seems to have been mostly used to describe Indian seers - ṛṣis - who are not necessarily Buddhists. But it eventually also became a shorthand for the Buddha (Soothill, Hodous, 1934.) The standard translation picks up the Japanese interpretation of 仙 as a “sage” or “hermit”.…