light in dark

Within light there is darkness,
But do not try to understand that darkness.
Within darkness there is light,
But do not look for that light.
Light and darkness are a pair,
Like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.

Sandokai ~ a verse by Shih’tuo

It seems like a little “neural pruning” is in order.  We spent the latter half of last week in Toronto at a workshop on the neuropsychology of trauma and the usefulness of bare awareness in its treatment.  At one level, I “know” all this stuff: notice, notice, suspend judgment, notice some more.  What I didn’t know was how much time I spend diving into the experience of sensations and using it “to understand that darkness.”  It took deep noticing of the subtle ways I glide into the light hoping to grasp the nature of the dark from that vantage.  As if separation of what is unity could make it more accessible.

Neural pruning means letting these old ways of acquiring wisdom die out which encourages the buds of new paths to understanding.  Chances are, given my limited skills then (as now), those old paths are likely to be linear, rigid, and unforgiving of change.  And yet, there is such a resistance to pruning because what if that linear, uncompromising logic is needed one day!

And then compassion says, “It’s not the linear, uncompromising logic you’re pruning away.  It’s the death grip you have on it.”

Thank you for practicing,


4 thoughts on “light in dark

  1. Yes, yes! It’s the death grip. Also, it’s the love grip.

    Any grip at all . . . is probably too much.

    I used to use the image of a sweet, ripe peach. If we hold the peach tightly, we’ll squeeze and bruise its flesh, destroying the lusciousness of the fruit. But if we hold it loosely, letting it sit in the palm of the hand, then we can offer the peach to someone else: “Here, enjoy!”

    That would be a wonderful kind of pruning!

  2. It may be good to go further into that Scripture and see the resolution of the observation about training that is in the part you quoted.

    “All things herein 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 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.*

    It is the first verse done as part of the Morning Office that is usually performed in the Meditation Hall, prior to the monks processing into the the ceremony Hall for the rest of the Morning Office.
    The Sandokai: and The Excellent Mirror Samadhi: are descriptions of HOW to train, and the later scriptures sung/chanted, are the descriptions of of the ongoing training process and what one may encounter as one deepens their training.
    We all get lost in interesting details that seem to correspond to where we’re currently at. But as the scripture goes on to say, WE must go on and not get stuck.
    Best wishes! and thank you for your openness and willingness. I hope I didn’t overstep with my comments, they are not meant as criticism, but hopefully an elaboration. Which may not have been necessary.

    *The Liturgy of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives for the Laity.
    Shasta Abbey Press, 1987

    • Helmut, this is fantastic and thank you! I thought of you when I came across the commentary by MRev Jiyu-Kennett. The first and only recitations I’ve heard were at Zen Mountain Monastery so it’s interesting to learn that it’s part of the Morning Office in your practice. You’re quite correct to say that the lines have a particular correspondence to where I am. Actually, it’s more to where I was when I first heard them; and much like the Heart Sutra, it’s not so much the words but a rhythm that feels (felt) right. There is a feeling of completeness and it liberates me from the rigid (and damaging) idea that I am only darkness. If that is all I get to work on into my last breath, it will be just fine. 😀

      Oh and, you never have to worry about overstepping around here. I respect your practice and feel sustained by the gentleness it projects. Thank you.

  3. Much to my chagrin, even after several edits and proof reads, I changed the whole meaning of the verse by leaving out the word “NOT”

    It should read:
    “If from your experience of the senses basic truth you do NOT (my caps) know…”

    BTW, It is my understanding that this Scripture is part of the morning recitation in all Soto Zen monasteries and temples. It’s not just an OBC practice.

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