On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

July 10, 2007

Sho-do-ka – Song of Realization

Yoka-daishi  (d.713)

An ideal Zen student neither seeks the true

Nor avoids the untrue.

They know that these are merely dualistic ideas

That have no form.

Non-form is neither empty nor not empty.

It is the true form of Buddha’s wisdom.

To assist you in the interpretation of this stanza I shall paraphrase a portion of Shin-jin-mei, a poem written by the Third Patriarch in China.

“Truth is like vast space without entrance or exit. There is nothing

more, nor nothing less. Foolish people limit themselves, covering their eyes, but truth is never hidden. Some attend lectures trying to grasp truth in the words of others. Some accumulate books trying to dig truth from the pile of trash. They are both wrong. A few of the wiser ones may learn meditation in their effort to reach an inner void. They chose the void rather than outer entanglements, but it is still the same old dualistic trick. Just think non-thinking if you are a true Zen student.

“There you do not know anything, but you are with everything. There is no choice nor preference, and dualism will vanish by itself. But if you stop moving and hold quietness, that quietness is ever in motion. If children make a noise, you will scold them loudly so that the situation is worse than before. Just forget and ignore the noise, and you will attain peace of mind. When you forget your liking and disliking, you will get a glimpse of oneness. The serenity of this middle way is quite different from the inner void.”

The mind mirror illuminates all ingenuously.

Its penetrating, limitless rays reach everywhere

In the universe.

Without exception everything is reflected

In this mirror.

The whole universe is a gem of light

Beyond the terms of in and out.

Here is another portion of the Shin-jin-mei to interpret the preceding stanza:

“Zen transcends time and space. Ten thousand years are nothing but a thought after all. What you have seen is what you had in the whole world. If your thought transcends time and space, you will know that the smallest thing is large and the largest thing is small; that being is non-being and non-being is being. Without such experience you will hesitate to do anything. If you can realize that one is many, and many are one, your Zen will be completed.

“Faith and mind-essence are not separate from each other. You will see only the ‘not two.’ The ‘not two’ is the faith. The ‘not two’ is the mind essence. There is no other way but silence to express it properly. This silence is not the past. This silence is not the present. This silence is not the future.”

When a Zen student sees emptiness one-sidedly,

They are likely to ignore the law of causation,

Then live aimlessly with impure thoughts and wrong actions.

This idea is morbid as they deny the existence of anything,

But admit an entity of emptiness.

To escape drowning, they have thrown themselves into the fire.

To “see emptiness onesidedly” is to give another name to relativity, phenomenality or nothingness. When Buddhism denies the existence of anything, this of course includes the existence of emptiness. There is order; there is the law of causation. The use of the word “emptiness” implies that which cannot be spoken.

One who rejects delusions to search for truth,

May achieve skill in discrimination,

But such a student will never reach enlightenment

Because they mistake the enemy for their own child.

Some Christians admire an angel but hate a devil. Some Confucians pine for the ancient kingdom but complain of the present government. All of them attempt to take hold of the true by abandoning the false. They struggle endlessly, but never attain true peacefulness. Zen students who try to reach truth by rejecting delusions are making the same mistake. Learn silence and work on constantly in silence, to see clearly what the mind is.

People miss the spiritual treasure and lose merit

Because they depend on dualistic thinking

And neglect the essence of mind.

To pass through the gate of Zen,

One must correct this error.

Then one can attain the wisdom

To enter the palace of Nivana.

Buddhists often refer to the ‘seven treasures’ (paramitas), which are faith, perseverance, listening, humility, precepts, self surrender, and meditation and wisdom. Meditation and wisdom are considered as one, inner cultivation and outer illumination. To acquire these seven treasures one must first of all see Mind-Essence clearly, just as Aladdin had first to find the lamp before he could produce other wonders.

Wobaku, a Chinese Zen master, once said, “Buddhas and sentient beings both grow out of One Mind, and there is no reality other than this Mind…Only because we seek it outwardly in a world of form, the more we seek, the farther away it moves from us. To make Buddha seek after himself, or to make Mind take hold of itself, this is impossible to the end of eternity. We do not realize that as soon as our thoughts cease and all attempts at forming ideas are forgotten, the Buddha is revealed before us.”

Yoka-daishi  (d.713)  Commentary by Nyogen Senzaki 1953

Excerpted from Buddhism and Zen edited and translated by Nyogen Senzaki and Ruth Stout McCandless 1953

The stanzas italicized above were translated from a copy of the original by Nyogen Senzaki, and the commentary following the stanzas was from Senzaki’s own instructions to his students.

I realize some of these readings are a bit challenging for us.  In some ways we have much in common with students of the past; there are qualities we all share in the journey. However, we live in times of rapid change; a planet that is beginning to feel our impact much more intensely; and often we find ourselves in cultures that seem to be going in the opposite direction to a life of sincere practice. This only gives our search a kind of intensity that students of old found in other ways.

We are the embodiment, each day, of the code and values of a different vision of life here on this planet. Even if everything around us seems to be spinning out of control, each day, we sit, we give our best to each situation that we encounter, and realize we are the thread of seekers that continues down through the ages since the time of Buddha and way before that.

So, even if the readings at times seems to be too heady or difficult even to comprehend, let them wash through you and rest confidant that you, too, are a student of the Way. The impact of each teaching is like a seed that will put down roots and spring to life all in its own time.

Encouraging the Journey ahead,


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