Harmony of Difference
Master Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien
Title of the Text
Author of the Text
The Original Chinese Text
Translation of the Text
Title of the Text
Cantongqi (Pinyin) Can1tong2qi4
[together and] Sameness Vow
of the Title
1. Harmony of Difference
2. Harmony of Difference
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
(Pinyin) Shi4tou5 Xi1qian1
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
"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)
Liang-chieh (Tõsan Ryõkai, 807-869 洞山良价)
San-mei-ko (Hõkyõ Zanmaika 寶鏡三昧歌、宝鏡三昧歌)
4 One-sided (p'ien, hen 偏)
5 Correct (cheng, shõ 正)
6 Ts'ao-tung (Sõtõ 曹洞)
Hsing-ssu (d. 740) 青原行思
8 Ts'ao-an-ko 草庵歌
"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)
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)
Sekitõ speaks of Buddha as the "Great Hermit" (daisen3); the
meaning and foundation of all things he calls the "spiritual source"
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
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
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).
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
Shõ represents the absolute the fundamental emptiness sameness one true nature
form and color
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 事
6 Li 理
7 Ming 明
8 An 暗
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
Translation of the
Harmony of Difference
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
契理亦非悟 according with sameness
is still not enlightenment.
門門一切境 All the objects of the
迴互不迴互 interact and yet do not.
迴而更相涉 Interacting brings involvement.
不爾依位住 Otherwise, each keeps
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
明明清濁句 clear and murky phrases are distinguished in the
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
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;
理應箭鋒拄 principle responds; arrow
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
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
Ed. and trans. by Thomas
Cleary. Shambhala Publications. New York, 1989.