The Great Way

“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinion for or against.” – Sengstan

Sengstan was the Third Zen Patriarch, known in Japanese as Kanchi Sosan. This quotation is from his famous Zen poem, “Faith Mind.”

I’ve been asking myself how I can “hold no opinion for or against” when I see someone I love doing things that cause her pain. Perhaps when “love and hate are both absent” this is possible, but even then, can this work in all situations? Is there a difference between drinking oriyoki tea with all the bits and pieces of residual food and not making a distinction, not even squirming when that taste crosses your lips and slides down your throat, and not saying anything when someone you love is way off track? But look, the operative word here is “love” and I’m already making distinctions between one thing and another. I have so many opinions.

However, who was Kanchi Sosan? He was a monk. Probably celibate. Very little is known about him. If he had been a woman who had carried a child in his womb for nine months would/could he have written these words?

Perhaps I need to keep these words in mind while still doing what needs to be done in the Relative. Zen is also about looking at what is right in front of you and responding to that in a skillful way. Perhaps speaking up and having an opinion can also be upaya, skillful means.

Maezumi Roshi said to me, “You know what to do.” These five simple little words have a profound meaning. Look at them. Be with them.

I will honor my own innate wisdom.

About kesho

Kesho is liaison for new members and coordinator for meditation instruction at Heart Circle Sangha.
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3 Responses to The Great Way

  1. James Jakudo Shammas says:

    There is a famous koan about “not picking and choosing.” But I think the radical Dogen would probably say that not picking and choosing doesn’t mean not picking and choosing! Perhaps picking and choosing is OK if one picks and chooses from a place of bearing witness and and not-knowing as Bernie Glassman would say. One must still live and function in the world and all its dharmas. I am a physician, I work all day, and must pick and choose constantly!


    • Ellen Kesho Risbarg says:

      I’m not sure if you meant that bearing witness and not-knowing are similar or if you were referring to them as the Relative and the Absolute. It feels as though there is a separation of self and other in bearing witness whereas not-knowing has no separation. If you meant it as the Relative and Absolute then both are operating in our lives. They are like the “two arrows meeting in mid-air” of the “Sandokai” sutra. And yes, as one of my teachers used to say, we always must come down off the mountain and bring it into the marketplace. If we don’t do that, then what use is it? As a physician you have to pick and choose in order to help your patients. That is the Dharma functioning in the world. Very beautiful!

  2. Koten says:

    Maybe Kanchi Sosan was a woman – there have been rumors and the story is a woman’s koan spiritual question:

    There is “something” wrong with me? Please help me.
    Show it to me and I will help.
    I have searched for years and cannot find it.
    There you have solved it!

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