Sandōkai (參同契)

Also known as The Identity of Relative and Absolute

  • San means plurality, diversity and difference and is associated with the Japanese concept of “ji” – relative reality
  • Dō means sameness, equality, oneness, or commonality and relates to the Japanese concept of “ri” – absolute reality
  • Kai means “to shake hands” or agreement.

Translated by Nelson Foster

The mind of the great sage of India
was intimately conveyed from west to east.
Though people may be sharp-witted or dull,
there’s no north and south in the Way.
The deep spring sparkles in the pure light,
its branches streaming through the darkness.
Grasping at phenomena is the source of delusion;
uniting with the absolute falls short of awakening.
All of the senses, all the things sensed –
they interact without interaction.
Interacting, they permeate one another.
yet each remains in its own place.
By nature, forms differ in shape and appearance.
By nature, sounds bring pleasure or pain.
In darkness, the fine and mediocre accord;
brightness makes clear and murky distinct.
Each element comes back to its own nature
just as a child finds its own mother.
Fire is hot, the wind blows,
water is wet and earth solid,
eyes see forms, ears hear sounds,
noses smell, tongues tell salty from sour –
so it is with everything everywhere.
The root puts forth each separate shoot.
Both root and shoot go back to the fundamental fact.
Exalted and lowly is just a matter of words.
In the very midst of light, there’s darkness;
don’t meet another in the darkness.
In the very midst of darkness, there’s light;
don’t observe another in the light.
Light and darkness complement each other,
like stepping forward and stepping back.
Each of the myriad things has its particular virtue
inevitably expressed in its use and station.
Phenomena accord with the fundamental as a lid fits its box;
the fundamental meets phenomena like arrows in midair.
Hearing these words, understand the fundamental;
don’t cook up principles from your own ideas.
If you overlook the Way right before your eyes,
how will you know the path beneath your feet?
Advancing has nothing to do with near and far,
yet delusion creates obstacles high and wide.
Students of the mystery, I humbly urge you,
don’t waste a moment, night or day!

The author of Sandōkai, Shitou Xiqian (700–790), was the eighth Chinese ancestor. Shitou also wrote “Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage”