The entire poem attempts to place the relative into a framework of The Absolute. One of the few Zen chants (and one that has a prominent place in most services) that comes so very close to identifying the zen concept of totality in all things. Or as many theists may feel free to identify with: God. This poem expands on the meaning of an finite and infinite view. The conditioned or illusionary view of our life is that it has a specific beginning and a precise ending. This encompasses the Christian view of a specific beginning (Creation) and a precise ending (Armageddon) as well as the atheist view of one life beginning at birth and ending in death. In Zen, both views are a part of the relative and accessible in the Sandokai but do not touch The Absolute. But, whatever way we walk into Zen, into practice, we hope to realize that both these views still are based on the world of phenomena. That both heaven and hell, earth and the beyond hang on an invisible string of realization that is clouded from our view. Seeing the string, realizing the web is what the poem urges us to do.
The Absolute isn’t static; it isn’t based upon the phenomenal world. It is the template that the relative is projected upon. It is the wall on which the movie of our life plays out. Invisible until the lights are turned on and the movie loses its hold on us. We wake up from our slumber coated in butter and stuck to the floor but able to finally move freely…and leave.
The mind of the great sage of India was intimately conveyed from west to east.
Among human beings are wise ones and fools, but in the Way there is no northern or southern ancestor.
The subtle source is clear and bright, the tributary streams flow through the darkness.
To be attached to things is illusion; to encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.
Each and all, the subjective and objective spheres are related, and at the same time, independent.
Related, yet working differently, though each keeps its own place.
Form makes the character and appearance different; sounds distinguish comfort and discomfort.
The dark makes all words one; the brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases.
The four elements return to their nature as a child to its mother.
Fire is hot, wind moves, water is wet, earth hard, eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, tongue tastes the salt and sour.
Each is independent of the other. Cause and effect must return to the great reality.
The words high and low are used relatively.
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.
Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position.
Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid. The absolute works together with
the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air.
Reading words you should grasp the great reality. Do not judge by any standards.
If you do not see the Way, you do not see it even as you walk on it.
When you walk the Way it is not near it is not far.
If you are deluded you are mountains and rivers away from it.
I respectfully say to those who wish to be enlightened:
Do not waste your time by night or day.