Sandokai (Poem)

Desert water flowing in the Fall


From west to east, unseen, flowed out the mind of India’s greatest Sage 

 And to the source kept true as an unsullied stream is clear. 

 Although by wit and dullness the True Way is varied, 

 Yet it has no Patriarch of south or north. 

 Here born we clutch at things 

 And then compound delusion, later on, by following ideals; 

 Each sense gate and its object all together enter thus in mutual relations 

 And yet stand apart in a uniqueness of their own, depending and yet non-depending both. 

 In form and feel component things are seen to differ deeply; 

 Thus are voices, in inherent isolation, soft or harsh. 

 Such words as high and middle darkness match; 

 Light separates the murky from the pure. 

 The properties of the four elements together draw 

 Just as a child returns unto its mother. 

 Lo! The heat of fire, the moving wind, the water wet, the earth all solid. 

 Eyes to see, sounds heard and smells; upon the tongue the sour, salty taste. 

 And yet, in each related thing, as leaves grow from the roots, 

 End and beginning here return unto the source and “high” and “low” are used respectively. 

 Within all light is darkness 

 But explained it cannot be by darkness that one-sided is alone. 

 In darkness there is light 

 But, here again, by light one-sided it is not explained. 

 Light goes with darkness 

 As the sequence does of steps in walking; 

 All things have inherent, great potentiality, 

 Both function, rest, reside within. 

 Lo! With the ideal comes the actual, 

 Like a box all with its lid. 

 Lo! With the ideal comes the actual, 

 Like two arrows in mid-air that meet. 

 Completely understand herein 

 The basic Truth within these words; 

 Lo! Hear! Set up not your own standards. 

 If, from your experience of the senses, basic Truth you do not know, 

 How can you ever find the path that certain is, no matter how far distant you may walk? 

 As you walk on distinctions between near and far are lost 

 And, should you lost become, there will arise obstructing mountains and great rivers. 

 This I offer to the seeker of great Truth, 

 Do not waste time.

(translation by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett) 


Comment: The above ancient poem was lectured on by Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi, who started the San Francisco Zen Center in the last mid-century. It describes the separate and the unity.

My humble interpretation compares its message to the yin yang’s message: dark and light, balance, integrated together. 

I like the ending, which to me, suggests that if you create doubt, you obstruct knowing. Make every minute count in your seeking… 

Which opens up an expansive awareness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s