Archive for the ‘Identity of Relative and Absolute’ Category

Light is also darkness, but do not move with it as darkness.
Darkness is light; do not see it as light.
Light and darkness are not one, not two,
Like the foot before and the food behind in walking

Again Shohaku Okamura describes the light and darkness thus in his book Living by Vow (2012): “Light and darkness are always together. We cannot understand our life through only one aspect (page 241).”[1]

Remember the line says, “Light and darkness are not one, not two, like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.” When we try to make this differentiation or discriminate between the two we give power and focus to one or the other.

Sekkei Harada in his beautiful book Unfathomable Depths (2014) writes:

“Nowadays, the word discrimination has a bad connotation, but discrimination against certain things or other people is not the sense meant here. Difference simply exists, so it is not possible to say that differences are truly good or bad, or to make comparisons. What this means is that in the face of the utter distinction of each of the myriad dharmas, all thoughts and illusions come apart and disappear (page 121).”[2]

As in life there are dark moments and light moments in juxtaposition on all planes: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological and we use our thoughts and actions to discriminate between them. And eventually they all “come apart and disappear.”

It is how we see these juxtapositions of life that make us who we are and make our lives what they are. We use discrimination to put life into neat columns of good and bad, light and dark, up and down. And that just makes life more complex because how do we know what is really good or bad since the word itself holds no power or life.

If someone brings you a delicious cake for your birthday and you enjoy a piece or two that is good! If you eat the entire cake yourself and it makes you sick, that is bad. So is the word “cake” inherently good or bad? Who’s to say? When we use our power of “discrimination” which column would we put the cake in?

If I ruminate over that situation long enough I might just decide to make a change for the better (never eat a whole cake again by myself). Does that make the word “ruminate” bad or good? Did the word have weight and measure and life? If we used our power of “discrimination” here which column would we put the word “cake” in now: good or bad?

Harada again writes some powerful ideas:

“When we use the words “good” or “bad,” we tend to think that there actually is something “good” or something “bad.” But there is no difference with regard to things themselves. We use words to discriminate, but within things themselves, there is neither good nor bad, like nor dislike, beautiful nor ugly. These judgments are only within our minds. Things themselves do not change (page 167).”[3]

That is not to say that we need to totally get rid of “discrimination” from our lives that could be dangerous as well. If we can’t discriminate between good food and spoiled food we could get very sick. If we can’t discriminate between healthy relationships and unhealthy ones we could be in trouble as well. And so…we have “light and darkness” not one and not two.

Okamura goes on to write:

“[Shitou] He shows us that differentiation between darkness and light is just another kind of discrimination. He discriminates between these two and then integrates them. This is a very practical wisdom, free from both discrimination and nondiscrimination. It is a more natural function of our life (page 244)”[4]

It is not easy to decipher these four lines. So I recommend that you contemplate them and discover how and what they mean to you and how they appear in your life.

Our lives are so much better when we give up our demands and preferences and our ideas of good and bad and just live in the moment fully and lovingly and let go of our addictions and our grasping and groping at life as we try desperately to keep it from slipping away.

In gassho,



[1] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow, A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[2] Harada, S. (2014) Unfathomable Depths Drawing Wisdom for Today from a Classical Zen Poem. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[3] Ibid.

[4] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow, A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

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