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Every box its lid, every arrow its tip - Sandokai, verses 33 to 36

In verses thirty-three to thirty-six Shitou picks up a number of topics that he has touched upon in earlier parts of the poem. He once more talks about competing Buddhist teachings and about the pair of ri and ji or “principle” and “phenomena”. For those in his audience who struggle with such abstract ideas, he illustrates his thinking in terms of boxes and arrows.The Sotoshu translation of verses thirty-three to thirty-six is:(33) Each of the myriad things has its merit,(34) Expressed according to function and place.(35) Existing phenomenally, like box and cover joining,(36) According with principle, like arrow points meeting.In Chinese this passage looks like the following:(33) 萬物自有功(34) 當言用及處(35) 事存函蓋合(36) 理應箭鋒拄萬物 in verse thirty three literally means “ten thousand things”. As a compound it can also mean “all living beings” or simply “everything” which is how it is rendered by the commentators Okumura, Suzuki, Deshimaru and Rech. 自 on its own means “self”, but here it is probably r…

Light and darkness revisited - Sandokai, verses 27 to 31

In these six verses Shitou reveals his final take on the theme of "light" and "darkness" which he has introduced at the beginning of Sandokai in the context of the split in the Zen community into a "Southern" and "Northern" school. We will look at the Lotus Sutra to decipher the meaning behind the poet's words and then see how he manages to give "darkness" and "light" new meaning that goes beyond the one in the great Mahayana text.The Sotoshu translation for verses twenty-seven to thirty is:(27) In the light there is darkness,(28) but don’t take it as darkness.(29) In the dark there is light,(30) but don’t see it as light.Okumura’s and Rech’s renderings are broadly similar. Suzuki and Deshimaru translate the corresponding verses twenty-eight and thirty slightly different, saying we should avoid “dark” or “bright” vision (or prejudice) when interacting with others.The Chinese original is as follows:(27) 當明中有暗(28) 勿以暗相遇(29…