Norman begins his 2010 series of talks on the Sandokai referencing Suzuki Roshi’s book Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai. In this first talk Norman gives a detailed talk on the origin and significance of the Sandokai.
Sandokai 2010 – Talk 1
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | October 21, 2010
The following is a segment from this talk concerning the nature of oneself and others.
This quotation [of Shitou, author of the Sandokai] “The myriad things are oneself” is a little longer in the original. Other biographies of Shitou give the quotation like this: “The self is empty and has no form. It is made up of the myriad things.”
It is interesting to think of that. It is like a diagram of a whole bunch of straight lines converging on a center. You look at it, and it looks like a circle. But there is no circle; there are just a bunch of lines converging in that way. There are just lines converging at a point.
So that is the self. That is us. Our feeling of subjectivity is not substantial. There is no hardware to that. There’s no “thing” on which this rests. It’s just the experience that we have when everything converges where we are. It feels like “me.” So that is what this is saying. There is no form to the self. There is no substance to the self. The experience of being a subject is really our being in the midst of everything.
So this is a great thing. Don’t you think? It’s a wonderful teaching, and this is the teaching of Sandokai. What am I? What are you? There isn’t any “I” in me. That would be too limiting. Really I am limitless, and I am disappearing completely. No one can touch me. Yet, also, I appear to be alive. I seem to be here in the world, operating as an individual. How could that be? It’s because of you. I appear because of you and everything that is in this world. And the same with you. Everything in detail makes me, and yet I am beyond everything, and every thing and every one of you are also like this.
So there is this interdependent process of oneness or sameness. In other words, we are all empty of any substance, and, as such, we are all-inclusive. So there is emptiness, which is oneness, and then the other side of the dialectic is the many-ness, or differentiation. It is the myriad things, the ten thousand things.
All of us as particular beings – and every blade of grass – is a particular distinct thing. So there is the oneness and the many-ness, and these two things absolutely depend on each other, and, in some way, are each other. Neither one exists except as the other. Any one of us, any being, can only appear through the existence of the whole world. Through our uniqueness each one of us supports everyone else’s uniqueness.
The working out of how that means, or what that means, and how that is in our lives is really what the Sandokai is about.
Abridged and edited by Barbara Byrum