Sacred-texts  Buddhism  Zen




Harmony of Difference and Sameness


By Ch'an Master Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien




Title of the Text

Author of the Text

The Ts'an-t'ung-ch'i

The Original Chinese Text

Translation of the Text




Title of the Text



Ts'an-t'ung-ch'i (Wade-Giles)

Cantongqi (Pinyin) Can1tong2qi4

Sandõkai (Japanese)

Literally, Coming [together and] Sameness Vow


Various Translations of the Title

1. Harmony of Difference and Sameness

2. Harmony of Difference and Equality

3. Merging of Difference and Sameness (Thomas Cleary)

4. Identity of Relative and Absolute (Dennis Genpo Merzel)

5. Ode on Identity (Daisetsu Teitarõ Suzuki)


Author of the Text



Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien (Wade-Giles)

Shitou Xiqian (Pinyin) Shi4tou5 Xi1qian1

Sekitõ Kisen (Japanese)



"Shih-t'ou was still a boy while the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-nêng, was yet alive; he was only thirteen years old when Hui-nêng died. Later, he studied Zen under Hsing-szu and became one of the great teachers of the day." (Essays in Zen Buddhism – Third Series 116-7)


"When I was with Shih-t'ou, he used to say whenever anybody asked him a question, 'Close your mouth, no barking like a dog!' " (Essays in Zen Buddhism – Third Series 45)


"While scholars of the Avatamsaka School1 were making use of the intuitions of Zen in their own way, the Zen masters were drawn towards the philosophy of Indentity and Interpenetration advocated by the Avatamsaka, and attempted to incorporate it into their own discourses. For instance, Shih-t'ou in his 'Ode on Identity' depicts the mutuality of Light and Dark as restricting each other and at the same time being fused in each other; Tung-shan2 in his metrical composition called 'Sacred Mirror Samadhi'3 discourses on the mutuality of P'ien4, 'one-sided', and Chêng5, 'correct', much to the same effect as Shih-t'ou in his Ode, for both Shih-t'ou and Tung-shan belong to the school of Hsing-szu known as the Ts'ao-tung6 branch of Zen Buddhism. This idea of Mutuality and Indentity is no doubt derived from Avatamsaka philosophy, so ably formulated by Fa-tsang. As both Shih-t'ou and Tung-shan are Zen masters, their way of presenting it is not at all like that of the metaphysician." (Essays in Zen Buddhism – Third Series 19)


"Sekitõ Kisen carried on the line of transmission of Seigen Gyõshi7. He lived in a hut which he had built for himself in the vicinity of a Buddhist monastery. The writings ascribed to him are Sõanka8 and Sandõkai."

(The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 6)



1 Hua-yen-tsung (Kegonshû 華嚴宗)

2 Tung-shan Liang-chieh (Tõsan Ryõkai, 807-869 洞山良价)

3 Pao-ching San-mei-ko (Hõkyõ Zanmaika 寶鏡三昧歌、宝鏡三昧歌)

4 One-sided (p'ien, hen )

5 Correct (cheng, shõ )

6 Ts'ao-tung (Sõtõ 曹洞)

7 Ch'ing-yüan Hsing-ssu (d. 740) 青原行思

8 Ts'ao-an-ko 草庵歌


The Ts'an-t'ung-ch'i


"Identity of Relative and Absolute (Jap. Sandokai) One of the most important Zen poems, this profound sutra is chanted daily in Soto Zen services." (The Eye That Never Sleeps 135)


"Shitou, whose lifetime spanned nearly the entire eighth century, is particularly well known for his remarkable didactic poem entitled 'Merging of Difference and Sameness.' This is one of the most compact statements of Buddhism on record, written at a high level of concentration. Many attempts have been made to elucidate its inner meanings, with commentaries dating all the way back to the late classical period of Zen, only a few generations removed from the original composition.

         In the typical manner of the texts written in a concentrated Zen style, Shitou's work says a great deal about the fundamental premises of Zen right in the opening statement: 'The mind of the great immortal of India is intimately communicated East and West.' The great immortal of India1 refers to Buddha, and that mind refers to the enlightened mind. The term used for immortal here is a Taoist term, and the characters in the title of the work are identical to an early Taoist classic of spiritual alchemy. Here Shitou is not just using literary embellishment or approximation of concepts; the message is that the enlightened mind cuts through and goes beyond distinctions of religious format, is deeper than and unimpeded by cultural differences such as those between East and West."

(Zen Essence 96)


"In the latter work2 Sekitõ speaks of Buddha as the "Great Hermit" (daisen3); the meaning and foundation of all things he calls the "spiritual source" (reigen4). The dialectical resolution of the dualistic pairs of opposites ji5 and ri6 and light (myõ7) and darkness (an8) into a higher unity, developed by Sekitõ in the Sandõkai, can be regarded as the foundation of, or first step toward, the later doctrine of the "Five Ranks" (goi9) in the Sõtõ Sect." (The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 6-7)


"The two principle terms of the Five Ranks are shõ (the "erect," the "upright") and hen (the "bent," the "inclined"). For the meaning of shõ, Ryõkai's explanatory words will serve: "There is one thing: Heaven is suspended from it and Earth rests upon it. It is black like lacquer, perpetually in movement and activity." Shõ is also the One, the Absolute, the foundation of Heaven and Earth and all being. But this Absolute is dynamic, constantly in motion. The cognizing mind (Geist) cannot fix it or get a firm hold on it. This Absolute corresponds to ri or an ("darkness") in the speculation of Sekitõ Kisen. It is symbolically represented by a solid black circle. In the terminology of Buddhist philosophy it is True Emptiness (shinkû10).

         In hen the Absolute enters into appearances. It completely penetrates the phenomenal world, becomes the All and all things. With Sekitõ Kisen this is ji or myõ ("brightness"). The white circle is its corresponding symbol. But the two, the Absolute and relative-phenomenal, are not separate, are not two, but one. The Absolute is the Absolute with regard to the relative. The relative, however, is relative with reference to the Absolute. Therefore the relative-phenomenal in Buddhist philosophical terminology is "marvelous existence" (myõu11), which is inseparable from True Emptiness. The expression is shinkû myõu12."

(The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 26)



"There is one thing: above, it supports Heaven; below, it upholds Earth. It is black like lacquer, always actively functioning." Tung-shan Ling-chia (Tõsan Ryõkai) (The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch 74)



Shõ represents

the absolute

the fundamental




true nature

Hen represents

the relative

the phenomenal

form and color





(The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen 69 Five degrees (of enlightenment))



1  Tu-tu ta-hsien (Chikudo daisen 竺土大仙)

2  Ts'an-t'ung-ch'i (Sandõkai)

3  Ta-hsien 大仙

4  Ling-yüan 靈源靈原

5  Shih

6  Li

7  Ming

8  An

9  Wu-wei 五位

10 Chen-kung 眞空

11 Miao-yu 妙有

12 Chen-kung miao-yu 眞空妙有


The Original Chinese Text



謹進觸承事萬明當當本然眼火四闇色迴門執靈人竺 石

白歩目言存物暗暗明未於色熱大合本而門事源根土 頭

參非不須函自各中中須一耳風性上殊更一元明有大 參

玄近會會蓋有相有有歸一音動自中質相切是皎利仙 同

人遠道宗合功對明暗宗法聲搖復言像境迷潔鈍心 契








Translation of the Text




Harmony of Difference and Sameness


竺土大仙心    The mind of the great sage of India

東西密相付    is intimately transmitted from west to east.

人根有利鈍    While human faculties are sharp or dull,

道無南北祖    the Way has no northern or southern ancestors.

靈源明皎潔    The spiritual source shines clear in the light;

枝派暗流注    the branching streams flow on in the dark.

執事元是迷    Grasping at things is surely delusion;

契理亦非悟    according with sameness is still not enlightenment.

門門一切境    All the objects of the senses

迴互不迴互    interact and yet do not.

迴而更相       Interacting brings involvement.

不爾依位住    Otherwise, each keeps its place.

色本殊質像    Sights vary in quality and form,

聲元異樂苦    sounds differ as pleasing or harsh.

闇合上中言    Refined and common speech come together in the dark,

明明清濁句    clear and murky phrases are distinguished in the light.

四大性自復    The four elements return to their natures

如子得其母    just as a child turns to its mother;

火熱風動搖    Fire heats, wind moves,

水濕地堅固    water wets, earth is solid.

眼色耳音聲    Eye and sights, ear and sounds,

鼻香舌鹹醋    nose and smells, tongue and tastes;

然於一一法    Thus with each and every thing,

依根葉分布    depending on these roots, the leaves spread forth.

本未須歸宗    Trunk and branches share the essence;

尊卑用其語    revered and common, each has its speech.

當明中有暗    In the light there is darkness,

勿以暗相遇    but don't take it as darkness;

當暗中有明    In the dark there is light,

勿以明相睹    but don't see it as light.

明暗各相對    Light and dark oppose one another

比如前後歩    like the front and back foot in walking.

萬物自有功    Each of the myriad things has its merit,

當言用及處    expressed according to function and place.

事存函蓋合    Phenomena exist; box and lid fit;

理應箭鋒       principle responds; arrow points meet.

承言須會宗    Hearing the words, understand the meaning;

勿自立規矩    don't set up standards of your own.

觸目不會道    If you don't understand the Way right before you,

運足焉知路    how will you know the path as you walk?

進歩非近遠    Progress is not a matter of far or near,

迷隔山河故    but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.

謹白參玄人    I respectfully urge you who study the mystery,

光陰莫虚度    do not pass your days and nights in vain.






The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch. Heinrich Dumoulin. SMC Publishing, Inc. Taipei, n.d..


Essays in Zen Buddhism, 3 vols. Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki. Rider and Company. London, 1949-53.


The Eye That Never Sleeps. Dennis Genpo Merzel. Shambhala Publications. Boston, 1991.


The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen. Shambhala Publications. New York, 1994.


Zen Essence: The Science of Freedom. Ed. and trans. by Thomas Cleary. Shambhala Publications. New York, 1989.